Talk with St Athanasius

Athanasius the Great was a Christian theologian and the 20th pope of Alexandria.


Who is St Athanasius?

St. Athanasius was an influential Christian theologian and Bishop of Alexandria, in Egypt, during the 4th century AD. He is best known for his defense of Trinitarianism against Arianism, the belief that Jesus Christ was not of one substance with the Father but was a creature produced by the Father. Athanasius wrote some of the earliest accounts of Christian monasticism and works on biblical exegesis. He is one of the four great Eastern Doctors of the Catholic Church and is venerated as a Saint by the Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholic churches. He is also revered by many Protestant denominations. His feast day is celebrated on May 2.

Can St Athanasius reflect on the outcome of the Arian controversy?

While St. Athanasius himself can't "reflect" on the outcome, since he passed away in the 4th century AD, we can certainly discuss his role and perspectives toward the Arian controversy based on his writings and actions as documented in historical records.

St. Athanasius was a central figure in the Arian controversy, fiercely defending the fundamental doctrine of Christian theology that identifies Jesus Christ as fully divine, opposing Arianism, which argued that Jesus was a created being and not fully divine.

What we know of Athanasius' views is primarily gleaned from his writings and actions which fundamentally shaped the Orthodox Christian understanding of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.

St. Athanasius argued strenuously for the homoousion (same substance or essence) of the Father and the Son, against the Arians who taught that the Son was of a different substance from the Father, a belief that Athanasius saw as heresy not aligned with the message of the scriptures or the tradition of the Church. During his lifetime, he experienced both victories and defeats, exile and return.

In retrospect, we see that Athanasius' theology ultimately steered the course of Christianity, as revealed by the Ecumenical Councils which firmly established the Nicene Creed, rejecting Arianism. So, if we may distance ourselves from time and reimagine his 'reflection' on the outcome, we can articulate that St. Athanasius would likely have a sense of cautious satisfaction. His tireless efforts to maintain the orthodox doctrine regarding the divinity of Christ had been largely successful with the affirmation of his views. But at the same time, he would recognize the cost, the great divisions, numerous exiles, and conflicts the controversy caused within the Church.

Where was St Athanasius born?

St Athanasius was born in the city of Alexandria, Egypt in the year 293 or 296 A.D.

Can St Athanasius describe the Arian controversy?

St. Athansius of Alexandria was central to the Arian Controversy, as both a historian and an important participant. The Arian Controversy represented a significant disagreement regarding fundamental aspects of Christian doctrine that took place in the early fourth century A.D.

Arius, a priest from Alexandria, posited the idea that Christ, the Son, had been created by God the Father, and therefore, was not co-eternal. He argued that there was a time when the Son didn't exist, implying that the Son was subordinate to the Father. This belief was perceived as a challenge to the Consubstantiality of the Trinity, that is, the belief of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit being of the same substance or being.

St. Athanasius stood in opposition to Arianism, vigorously defending the concept of Consubstantiality and arguing for the full divinity of Christ. His position became known as Athanasianism. Athanasius emphasized that the Son was not a creature but eternally begotten by the Father.

The controversy was not just a theological disagreement but it also caused considerable tensions within the Christian communities and even the Roman Empire. Constantine, the Roman Emperor, tried to resolve the controversy in 325 A.D. by convening the Council of Nicaea. The council concluded with the development of the Nicene Creed which strongly promotes the belief of Consubstantiality and hence supported Athanasius's points of view. However, the Arian controversy continued to simmer for many years after the Council.

Athanasius, as the Bishop of Alexandria, was exiled multiple times due to this controversy, but remained steadfast in his conviction, and his theologies were eventually adopted as orthodoxy universally. To this day, he is known for his role in affirming the Trinitarian belief within Christianity.

What impact did St Athanasius believe his writings have had on Christian doctrine?

St. Athanasius’ writings have had an enormous impact on Christian doctrine. Remember, he lived during the fourth century AD, a time when the basic tenants of Christianity were being seriously debated. The most of his work is centered around affirming and defending the doctrine of the Trinity and Christ's divine as well as human nature, known as the hypostatic union.

His key contribution lies in his defense of the full divinity of Christ against the Arian heresy, which asserted that Christ was a created being, subordinate to God the Father. This controversy led to the convening of the Council of Nicaea in 325, where the term "homoousios" (of one substance) was used to describe Christ's relation to the Father. For Athanasius, Christ's divine nature was an indispensable belief for the salvation of humanity; if Christ wasn't fully God, he wouldn't possess the ability to fully redeem and deify humans.

In his work "On the Incarnation," Athanasius elegantly explains his understanding of the Incarnation, penning arguments that remain central to Christian teachings about the nature and work of Christ. Widespread acceptance of Athanasian theology underlies crucial aspects of the Christian understanding of salvation, incarnation, and the nature of God.

However, Athanasius wouldn't have believed that his writings were creating new doctrine; rather, he would argue that he was simply defending and elucidating the truths of the faith as handed down from the Apostles. His writings safeguarded these truths and provided frameworks for future Christian thinkers, making his contributions lasting and essential.

Why is St Athanasius seen as a significant figure in Christian history?

St. Athanasius is seen as a significant figure in Christian history for several reasons.

First, he is well-known for his relentless defense of Trinitarianism against Arianism, a belief that contested the divine nature of Christ. His devoted stand on this issue played a crucial role in what became the accepted doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

Second, his writings have substantially influenced theological thought. His most famous work is "On the Incarnation," in which he expounded on the doctrine of Christ taking human form. Apart from this, his Easter letters, where he listed the 27 books of the New Testament, are significant as it was one of the first times where the canon was expressly listed within the Church.

Third, he served as Bishop of Alexandria for 45 years during a tumultuous period in the Church's history, facing multiple exiles due to theological political unrest. Despite continuous opposition, he remained unshaken in his faith and convictions, which inspires many Christians even today.

Hence, his role as a theologian, ecclesiastical statesman, and philosopher makes him an important figure in the history of Christianity.

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