ATHANASIUS- A HERO OF THE FAITH




          ___________________



           A Paper Presented to


             Dr. Bi...
Athanasius is one of the true heroes of the early church. His life was manifested by boldness,

courage and persistence in...
We know very little about the early years in the life of Athanasius. His parents were people of

social status and wealthy...
Alexander, the bishop of Alexander had been the subject of some adverse criticism because of

his slow reaction against Ar...
Little would Athanasius realize how precious these relationships would be for him during his

lifetime. Because as he cont...
was estimated that the numbers of bishops attending were a little over 300. The primary concern

at this council was the c...
people who supported treason. The emperor Constantine did not like his hard line passion

against those who didn’t support...
this was a matter that strongly impacted the livelihood of the empire Constantine was now

starting to doubt Athanasius.9 ...
Two years later Constantius was persuaded by Eusebius to get rid of Athanasius. The Council of

Antioch met in 339 and rei...
After this Constantius summons two counsels:

1.      Council in Arles 353 AD

2.      Council in Milan 355 AD

In these c...
during his third exile that he achieved his greatest success. It should also be noted that

Athanasius was able to influen...
But at the end of the series several told me they had been in church for years and had never

heard one message on the Tri...
Athanasius was a hero with the early church and his contributions to our doctrine of

understanding of the Father and Son ...
Bibliography


Anatolios, K. (2004). Athanasius. 11 New Fetter Lane, London: Routledge.


Dowley, T. (1977). Eerdmans' Han...
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Athanasius Final

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One of the heroes of the faith as evidenced by his participation at the Council of Nicaea in 325 B.C.

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Athanasius Final

  1. 1. ATHANASIUS- A HERO OF THE FAITH ___________________ A Paper Presented to Dr. Bill Davidson Columbia Biblical Seminary ___________________ For Global Church History 100 AD – 1500 AD ___________________ By Bert Brimberry March 2007
  2. 2. Athanasius is one of the true heroes of the early church. His life was manifested by boldness, courage and persistence in the relentless pursuit for Biblical truth especially as it involved the relationship between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. It was in this endeavor that marked his ministry and the key contribution that he made almost single handedly to the church. He was proactive in speaking out against Arianism, which was a heresy that threatened to compromise the true relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Athanasius was born in either 297 or 298 AD and became the bishop of Alexandria at the age of 30 in which he assumes the leadership in the Christian community in one of the most important providences in the Roman Empire. He died on May 2, 373 at the age of 75 and during these 45 years of service in ministry he was exiled five times for a total of seventeen years. However, he was so loved by those he shepherded that the people never recognized the validity of other bishops who were sent to take his place.1 Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389) gave a memorial sermon in Constantinople seven years after the death of Athanasius and described the affections of the Egyptian people for their bishop. At the end of the third exile from his homeland, when Athanasius returned in 364 after six years away, Gregory tells us: amid such delight of the people of the city and of almost all Egypt, that they ran together from every side, from the furthest limits of the country, simply to hear the voice of Athanasius, or feast their eyes upon the sight of him. From their standpoint none of the foreign appointments to the office of bishop in Alexandria for 45 years was valid but one, Athanasius. This devotion was owing to the kind of man Athanasius was. Gregory remembered him like this: Let one praise him in his fastings and prayers . . . another his unweariedness and zeal for vigils and psalmody, another his patronage of the needy, another his dauntlessness towards the powerful, or his condescension to the lowly . . .. [He was to] the unfortunate their consolation, the hoary-headed their staff, youths their instructor, the poor their resource, the wealthy their steward. Even the widows will . . . praise their protector, even the orphans their father, even the poor their benefactor, strangers their entertainer, brethren the man of brotherly love, the sick their physician.2 1 K. Anatolios. (2004). Athanasius. 11 New Fetter Lane, London: Routledge 2 P. Schaff, Henry. (1991). St. Anthanasius; Select works and letters. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans 2
  3. 3. We know very little about the early years in the life of Athanasius. His parents were people of social status and wealthy. His education included a combination of Scriptural study and of Greek learning in what was the well-known Alexandrian School. It was in his later teens that Athanasius received his critical training from Alexander the Bishop of Alexander. This training and influence would be key factors that would lead Athanasius into a life long battle to explain and defend the deity of Christ against any and all opponents. This life long battle was primarily with a man named Arius and his followers. Arius was born in Libya in 256 AD and there is very little writing that we have from his own hand – only three letters and a fragment of a fourth. However, in 319 AD he presented a letter to the bishop of Alexandria arguing that if the Son of God was truly a Son then he must have a beginning. In addition those who held to Arianism made the following claims. 1. God was not always Father, for there was not always a Son. Prior to the Son, God was simply God. 2. The Son or Logos is a creature, made out of nonexistence. 3. The Son is variable, changeable by nature, and is stable by the gift of God. 4. The Son’s knowledge of God and of himself is imperfect. 5. The Son was created by God as an instrument by which he created the world. 6. The Trinity, such as it is, is of unlike hypostases. Any unity is purely moral, not ontological, and dependent on will, not essence.3 It was to this service that Athanasius would give his life to over the next 45 years. As he spoke out and wrote tracts during his time of exile in order to hammer constantly against this Arian heresy until it would finally crumble. During the time this controversy first broke out Athanasius was in the service of Alexander the bishop of Alexander. Athanasius was just over 20 years of age and Arius at this time was over 40 years his senior. 3 R. Letham. (2004). The Holy Trinity. : P&R Publishing Company, P.O. Box 817, Phillipsburg, New Jersey 3
  4. 4. Alexander, the bishop of Alexander had been the subject of some adverse criticism because of his slow reaction against Arius. He called a council of bishops in 321 AD and asked for their advice. Once they decided against Arius, then Alexander no longer hesitated and it was at this time that he deposed Arius from his office and his views were declared a heresy. Eusebius of Nicomedia, who like Arius was a pupil of Lucian of Antioc, took up the Arian cause and became the centerpiece focus for the Arius theology. In the next 40 years the eastern part of the empire would be mostly Arian. This happened in spite of the fact that the Council at Nicaea concluded for the full deity of Christ. And even though hundreds of bishops would sign this document they would then twist and turn the language in order to fit their Arianism beliefs. The influence of Anthony the Monk Monastic asceticism saw its beginnings in Christianity during the third and forth centuries. Even before Constantine the general toleration of Christianity saw a tremendous rise of new members into the church. As the numbers increased the resulting standards within the church decreased. The number of martyrs in the church became less and less and the monks replaced them as those who were considered the spiritual elite. There is debate as to where monasticism began but some think the first monks retreated to the desert of Egypt. Athanasius, in a visit with Alexander to Thebaid, made contact with some of the early desert monks. These monks lived lives of celibacy, prayer, solitude, discipline and tremendous acts of service to those who were poor. Athanasius was significantly influenced by the holiness that they displayed in their lives. During the rest of his life, Athanasius, carried on a special relationship with these desert monks. It was said that Athanasius treated them as equals or even superiors and he would invite them to be critical and correcting of any of his writings. 4
  5. 5. Little would Athanasius realize how precious these relationships would be for him during his lifetime. Because as he continued to be exiled from office, which happened on five different occasions, he would go to them for protection, as he knew that he could trust them. One monk that was most influential in the life of Athanasius was a monk by the name of Anthony (about 256-356). He was a Coptic peasant from Egypt and became a rather famous hermit.4 When Anthony was at the age of 20 he sold all his possessions and went to live in the desert. Around the age of 35 he went into seclusion for approximately 20 years and little was known about him or if he was even alive. He did come out of seclusion at age 55 and made a rare appearance in Alexandria. The reason was to dispel a rumor that said the monks were on the side of Arianism. Anthony publicly denounced Arianism as the worst of heresies. The life of this monk Anthony so impacted Athanasius that he decided to write a biography of his life. Later this was translated from Greek to Latin and through a series of events found itself in the hands of Saint Augustine after 380 AD. As Augustine read about the life of this monk he was overcome with a fearful sense of shame. It was this that supposedly led to the struggles that Augustine would have in the garden in Milan and the thing that would lead to his final conversion.5 The Council of Nicaea – 325 AD The emperor Constantine had converted to Christianity thirteen years prior when during a decisive battle he saw the sign of the cross. He was extremely concerned about the divisiveness that the Arian controversy was having within the kingdom. Since bishops had much influence, when they were at odds it made the unity and harmony of the empire very tenuous. The council opened in May of 325 and did not conclude their deliberations until July of that same year. It 4 T. Dowley. (1977). Eerdmans' Handbook to History of Christianity. Berkhamsted, Herts, England: Lions 5 J. Piper. (Biography). (February 1, 2005). Contending for our all. In Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God ministries 5
  6. 6. was estimated that the numbers of bishops attending were a little over 300. The primary concern at this council was the controversy between Bishop Alexander and Arius. The main challenge was for those who wanted to refute Arius and his followers in regard to the language that they were using to articulate the relationship between the Father and the Son. Arius believed that the Son actually had a beginning and therefore was created. Also this would mean that since the Son was created that He was in fact subordinate to the Father. 6 It eventually became necessary for the council to adopt unscriptural language, which was the word “homoousios.” This was a key phrase “homoousion to patri” (one being with the Father) and it was added by the insistence of the emperor. This made the issue very clear because the Son did not have a similar being to the Father “homoiusion to patri” but the Son was of the very being of the Father. The Son was not brought into being by the Father but has always existed and is eternally One with the Father. 7 Alexander the Bishop of Alexander died in 328 AD, which was three years after the Council at Nicaea. In June of that same year Athanasius was ordained as bishop. His jurisdiction stretched to all the bishops of Egypt and Libya. It was from Egypt that Athanasius brought his Empire wide influence in which under his rule Arianism died out in Egypt. Athanasius was embroiled in controversy within two years after taking the office of bishop. The other bishops who had signed off on the creed at Nicaea had a real problem with calling others heretics just because they disagreed. They understood that Athanasius was passionately opposed to anyone who did not support the creed written at Nicaea so many of these bishops tried to find a way to oust him from office. There were a number of charges that were brought against Athanasius like he was too young to occupy the office, he was levying illegal taxes and was even accused of subsidizing 6 K. Anatolios. (2004). Athanasius. 11 New Fetter Lane, London: Routledge 7 J. Piper. (Biography). (February 1, 2005). Contending for our all. In Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God ministries 6
  7. 7. people who supported treason. The emperor Constantine did not like his hard line passion against those who didn’t support the creed at Nicaea and he called Athanasius to Rome around 331 AD. Between 331 AD and 332 AD, Athanasius has to deal with a charge from his opponents concerning the death of a man named Arsenius. The accusers of Athanasius produce the severed hand of Arsenius, which they say has been used by Athanasius for magical purposes. Because of the seriousness of the accusation Constantine appoints his brother-in-law, Dalmatius to preside over this hearing. Supposedly the agents of Athanasius discovered that Arsenius was alive and hiding out in Thebaid where they were able to track him down. At the trial the severed hand is presented but the agents of Athanasius are able to secure Arsenius and bring him into the courtroom. They are able to show that not only is he alive but when they take off his cloak they are able to prove that he also has both of his hands.8 Melitian resistance to Athanasius was also growing. The canons of Nicaea required that there be gentile reconciliation with the Melitians. However it seemed that Athanasius was not facilitating that kind of reconciliation. These examples show the kind of opposition and difficulty that Athanasius was facing and that would eventually lead to the Council of Tyre, which convened in the summer of 335 AD. The Council at Tyre and the first exile of Athanasius (336-338) The purpose for the council was a gathering of bishops to evaluate these various charges that had been brought against Athanasius. Originally Athanasius agreed to come and partake in this council meeting. However when he determined that the odds were being heavily stacked against him at this council he fled in a boat with four bishops and went to Constantinople. He originally found favor with the emperor but after a while his opponents were able to convince the emperor that Athanasius had threatened to withhold the exporting of grain shipments from Egypt. Since 8 R. P. Hanson. (1988). The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God. New York, NY: T & T Clark 7
  8. 8. this was a matter that strongly impacted the livelihood of the empire Constantine was now starting to doubt Athanasius.9 Because Constantine thought that he was becoming too powerful and was a threat to the peace and stability of the empire Athanasius was exiled to Trier in 335 AD. However unlike most bishops he was not replaced and he kept in contact with his people by letter. After the Council at Tyre a pro-Arian presbyter named Eutokius assisted in a process of reconciliation for Arius and his friends. It seems now with Athanasius out of the way there is a door of opportunity to bring Arius back into the Church. Constantine has now returned back to the capital and has been informed that Arius has made a profession of faith that would be considered orthodox and to be in agreement with the Council at Nicaea. However, within the year Arius died, and most place his death in Constantinople in 336 AD.10 It was rumored that Athanasius had heard about this profession of faith and not only was he unsupportive; the rumor was that he in fact was praying for the death of Arius. In May of 337 AD the emperor Constantine died and at that time everything changed. His three son’s took over the empire Constanius took the east, Constans took Italy and Illyricum, and Constantine II took the Gauls and Africa. In one of his first acts Constantine II restored Athanasius as the Bishop of Alexandria in November of 327. The second exile of Athanasius (339-346 AD) 9 K. Anatolios. (2004). Athanasius. 11 New Fetter Lane, London: Routledge 10 R. P. Hanson. (1988). The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God. New York, NY: T & T Clark 8
  9. 9. Two years later Constantius was persuaded by Eusebius to get rid of Athanasius. The Council of Antioch met in 339 and reiterated the same charges that had been brought against Athanasius in Tyre along with new charges that he was responsible for violence that occurred upon his return to Egypt. It was decided that since the charges at the Council at Tyre had not been overturned by another council therefore Athanasius was again exiled and this for the second time. Athanasius left in April of 339 and did not return until October of 346. Constans and Constantine II were supporters of Athanasius and they called a council in Sardica in 343. Constans went to the point of threatening war against his brother Constantius if he would not restore Athanasius as bishop of Alexandria. If was during the three years after the council at Sardica that Gregory the reigning bishop died and all the factors fell into place for Athanasius to again be restored to his office. The Golden Decade (346-356) In 350 AD the emperor Constans is murdered by his general Magnetius who takes over control of the Western Empire. After this Constantius initiated a campaign against his brother’s usurper and in 353 Magnetius who in fact commits suicide. Now Constantius has control over the whole Roman Empire and now he can pursue his anti-Nicene policies, which will not bode well for Athanasius. In 351 a council was held in Sirmium and Constantius was present and this council refused to accept the doctrine definition of the Father and Son relationship at the Nicaea This further entrenched Athanasius to declare the unimpeachable authority of the Council of Nicaea and the necessity for adhering to its definition of the relationship between the Father and the Son.11 11 A. Pettersen. (1995). Athanasius. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse 9
  10. 10. After this Constantius summons two counsels: 1. Council in Arles 353 AD 2. Council in Milan 355 AD In these councils there is pressure that is brought to bear on Western bishops to dispose of Athanasius and accept a doctrinal formula that is directly opposed to Nicene doctrine. As opposition to the Nicene doctrine is moved forward so does the emperor move against Athanasius. Initially the mission was handed over to Diogenes but when he failed it was taken over by Syrianus. It was indicated by Syrianus that he would take no actions against Athanasius until the emperor settled the matter. But he was lying and using this as a tactic to build a surprise attack against Athanasius and the church on Feb. 8, 356 AD.12 The third exile (356-362) It was at this time that Athanasius flees and goes into hiding. Constantius writes to denounce Athanasius by saying “a man who had come from the lowest pits … and deserves to be killed “ten times over.” Therefore Constantius replaces Athanasius with Bishop George. The appointment proves to be a terrible move on the part of Constantius. Bishop George exacts a violent persecution on any of those who have sided with Athanasius and do not support the Arian cause. This results in many people being killed and at last the people turn on Bishop George and he is lynched.13 Athanasius would go on to be exiled two more times, his forth exile (362-364) and then his fifth exile (365-366). But what impressed me most in this study of Athanasius was the fact that it was 12 K. Anatolios. (2004). Athanasius. 11 New Fetter Lane, London: Routledge 13 R. P. Hanson. (1988). The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God. New York, NY: T & T Clark 10
  11. 11. during his third exile that he achieved his greatest success. It should also be noted that Athanasius was able to influence with great power even though he was a wandering fugitive. Emperors spent much time, effort and resources to look for and to capture Athanasius but as a mark of the fidelity of the people to their pastor he was never found. It became obvious that the root of Biblical doctrine that he fought so hard for during his lifetime and especially during the golden age (346-356) was now being much fruit during his time of forced abstinence from office. The final commencement of this victory was the collapse of Arianism. Athanasius died in May of 373 and spent the last years of his life as a pastor and a presbyter of other pastors. He continued to write and gave much exhortation to the work and cause of orthodoxy within his sphere of influence. Lessons learned from the life of Athanasius  This study for me has provided a renewed passion and fire to be sure the people in our church understand the importance of learning and living sound biblical doctrine. I can see more clearly through this study the valuable connection between right thinking (doctrine) and right living (holiness). We in the church need to be able to explain and defend doctrine and it seems that the 21st Century Church can’t do either very well. This has also stirred my juices as to how much of our doctrine we take for granted. The doctrines that we have in the Orthodox Church have been wrestled through to the point of death for some. I recently did a series on the Trinity and am thrilled now to know the tremendous contribution that Athanasius made to our present day understanding of this doctrine. 11
  12. 12. But at the end of the series several told me they had been in church for years and had never heard one message on the Trinity. Athanasius reminds me once again that our congregations are starved for good doctrine.  In my reading of Athanasius I have also been impressed with how God used him in such a powerful way, more often it seems in exile than while he was in office. It just goes to show how God’s ways and God’s thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts. I also marvel at how Athanasius befriended the desert monks early on in his career and it seems they were his protection or safety net each time that he went into exile. In other words it continues to amaze me how God provides for his children in ways that are too numerous for us to count.  This reading of Athanasius has been ministry changing for me as a pastor. I have come to realize that in reading about Athanasius and his documents that there is such a deep level of introspection and meditation. It has taken me a good bit of time just to read and re- read the statements of doctrinal truth because my brain did not have an existing category for this to be filed. By this I mean there is a love for Christ and doctrine with this man Athanasius that I don’t see in the present church. We rarely hear this kind of preaching or teaching that challenges people to the point of a “brain cramp.” I think this has caused me to re-evaluate my dumbing down the word of God instead of challenging those in our church to grow up, mature and eat meat instead of just a diet of soda pop and milk. 12
  13. 13. Athanasius was a hero with the early church and his contributions to our doctrine of understanding of the Father and Son relationship will continue to have a tremendous influence on the church until Jesus returns. It is for that dedication, commitment and relentless pursuit of the truth that I want to say thanks Saint Athanasius! 13
  14. 14. Bibliography Anatolios, K. (2004). Athanasius. 11 New Fetter Lane, London: Routledge. Dowley, T. (1977). Eerdmans' Handbook to History of Christianity. Berkhamsted, Herts, England: Lions. Hanson, R. P. (1988). The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God. New York, NY: T & T Clark. Letham, R. (2004). The Holy Trinity. : P&R Publishing Company, P.O. Box 817, Phillipsburg, New Jersey. Pettersen, A. (1995). Athanasius. Harrisburg, PA : Morehouse. Schaff, P., Henry. (1991). St. Anthanasius;Select works and letters. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans. 14

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