Athanasius of Alexandria

Athanasius of Alexandria (/ˌæθəˈneɪʃəs/; Greek: Ἀθανάσιος Ἀλεξανδρείας, Athanásios Alexandrías; Coptic: ⲡⲓⲁⲅⲓⲟⲥ ⲁⲑⲁⲛⲁⲥⲓⲟⲩ ⲡⲓⲁⲡⲟⲥⲧⲟⲗⲓⲕⲟⲥ or Ⲡⲁⲡⲁ ⲁⲑⲁⲛⲁⲥⲓⲟⲩ ⲁ̅;[2] c. 296–298 – 2 May 373), also called Athanasius the Great, Athanasius the Confessor or, primarily in the Coptic Orthodox Church, Athanasius the Apostolic, was the 20th bishop of Alexandria (as Athanasius I). His intermittent episcopacy spanned 45 years (c. 8 June 328 – 2 May 373), of which over 17 encompassed five exiles, when he was replaced on the order of four different Roman emperors. Athanasius was a Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century.

Conflict with Arius and Arianism as well as successive Roman emperors shaped Athanasius' career. In 325, at the age of 27, Athanasius began his leading role against the Arians as a deacon and assistant to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria during the First Council of Nicaea. Roman emperor Constantine the Great had convened the council in May–August 325 to address the Arian position that the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, is of a distinct substance from the Father.[3] Three years after that council, Athanasius succeeded his mentor as archbishop of Alexandria. In addition to the conflict with the Arians (including powerful and influential Arian churchmen led by Eusebius of Nicomedia), he struggled against the Emperors Constantine, Constantius II, Julian the Apostate and Valens. He was known as Athanasius Contra Mundum (Latin for Athanasius Against the World).

Nonetheless, within a few years after his death, Gregory of Nazianzus called him the "Pillar of the Church". His writings were well regarded by all following Church fathers in the West and the East, who noted their rich devotion to the Word-become-man, great pastoral concern and profound interest in monasticism. Athanasius is counted as one of the four great Eastern Doctors of the Church in the Catholic Church.[4] In the Eastern Orthodox Church, he is labeled as the "Father of Orthodoxy". Athanasius is the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today. He is venerated as a Christian saint, whose feast day is 2 May in Western Christianity, 15 May in the Coptic Orthodox Church, and 18 January in the other Eastern Orthodox Churches. He is venerated by the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Catholic Church, the Lutheran churches, and the Anglican Communion.

The Council of Nicaea (325), "passed twenty disciplinary canons for the better government of the Church. By one, C. 6, of these the Bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, were declared to possess jurisdiction over the Churches in their respective provinces". Hence, the Alexandrian Bishop was declared with the authority of Patriarch. [5]

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria
Ikone Athanasius von Alexandria
Icon of St Athanasius
Patriarch of Alexandria; Saint and Doctor of the Church
Bornc. 296–298[1]
Alexandria, Egypt (Roman province)
Died2 May 373 (aged 75–78)
Alexandria, Egypt (Roman province)
Venerated inEastern Orthodoxy, Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglican Communion, and among the Continuing Anglican Movement
Major shrineSaint Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt
Feast7 Pashons (Coptic Christianity)
2 May (Western Christianity)
18 January (Byzantine Christianity)
AttributesBishop arguing with a pagan; bishop holding an open book; bishop standing over a defeated heretic


2896 - Catania - Cattedrale - G. Nicoli - S. Atanasio, nella ''Floretta'' (giardino) - Foto Giovanni Dall'Orto, 4-July-2008
A statue of Athanasius in Catania, Sicily.

Athanasius was born to a Christian family in the city of Alexandria[6] or possibly the nearby Nile Delta town of Damanhur sometime between the years 293 and 298. The earlier date is sometimes assigned due to the maturity revealed in his two earliest treatises Contra Gentes (Against the Heathens) and De Incarnatione (On the Incarnation), which were admittedly written about the year 318 before Arianism had begun to make itself felt, as those writings do not show an awareness of Arianism.[1]

However Cornelius Clifford places his birth no earlier than 296 and no later than 298, based on the fact that Athanasius indicates no first hand recollection of the Maximian persecution of 303, which he suggests Athanasius would have remembered if he had been ten years old at the time. Secondly, the Festal Epistles state that the Arians had accused Athanasius, among other charges, of not having yet attained the canonical age (30) and thus could not have been properly ordained as Patriarch of Alexandria in 328. The accusation must have seemed plausible.[1] The Orthodox Church places his year of birth around 297.[6]


His parents were wealthy enough to afford giving him a fine secular education.[1] He was, nevertheless, clearly not a member of the Egyptian aristocracy.[7] Some Western scholars consider his command of Greek, in which he wrote most (if not all) of his surviving works, evidence that he may have been a Greek born in Alexandria. Historical evidence, however, indicates that he was fluent in Coptic as well given the regions of Egypt where he preached.[7] Some surviving copies of his writings are in fact in Coptic, though scholars differ as to whether he himself wrote them in Coptic originally (which would make him the first patriarch to do so), or whether these were translations of writings originally in Greek.[8][7]

Rufinus relates a story that as Bishop Alexander stood by a window, he watched boys playing on the seashore below, imitating the ritual of Christian baptism. He sent for the children and discovered that one of the boys (Athanasius) had acted as bishop. After questioning Athanasius, Bishop Alexander informed him that the baptisms were genuine, as both the form and matter of the sacrament had been performed through the recitation of the correct words and the administration of water, and that he must not continue to do this as those baptized had not been properly catechized. He invited Athanasius and his playfellows to prepare for clerical careers.[9]

Alexandria was the most important trade center in the whole empire during Athanasius's boyhood. Intellectually, morally, and politically—it epitomized the ethnically diverse Graeco-Roman world, even more than Rome or Constantinople, Antioch or Marseilles.[9] Its famous catechetical school, while sacrificing none of its famous passion for orthodoxy since the days of Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Dionysius and Theognostus, had begun to take on an almost secular character in the comprehensiveness of its interests, and had counted influential pagans among its serious auditors.[10]

Peter of Alexandria, the 17th archbishop of Alexandria, was martyred in 311 in the closing days of the persecution, and may have been one of those teachers. His successor as bishop of Alexandria was Alexander of Alexandria (312–328). According to Sozomen; "the Bishop Alexander 'invited Athanasius to be his commensal and secretary. He had been well educated, and was versed in grammar and rhetoric, and had already, while still a young man, and before reaching the episcopate, given proof to those who dwelt with him of his wisdom and acumen' ".(Soz., II, xvii) [1]

Athanasius' earliest work, Against the Heathen – On the Incarnation (written before 319), bears traces of Origenist Alexandrian thought (such as repeatedly quoting Plato and using a definition from Aristotle's Organon) but in an orthodox way. Athanasius was also familiar with the theories of various philosophical schools, and in particular with the developments of Neo-Platonism. Ultimately, Athanasius would modify the philosophical thought of the School of Alexandria away from the Origenist principles such as the "entirely allegorical interpretation of the text". Still, in later works, Athanasius quotes Homer more than once (Hist. Ar. 68, Orat. iv. 29). In his letter to Emperor Constantius, he presents a defense of himself bearing unmistakable traces of a study of Demosthenes de Corona.

Athanasius Frederikskirken
St. Athanasius (1883–84), by Carl Rohl-Smith, Frederik's Church, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Athanasius knew Greek and admitted not knowing Hebrew [see, e.g., the 39th Festal Letter of St. Athan.]. The Old Testament passages he quotes frequently come from the Septuagint Greek translation. Only rarely did he use other Greek versions (to Aquila once in the Ecthesis, to other versions once or twice on the Psalms), and his knowledge of the Old Testament was limited to the Septuagint.[11] The combination of Scriptural study and of Greek learning was characteristic of the famous Alexandrian School.

Bishop (or Patriarch, the highest ecclesial rank in the Centre of the Church, in Alexandria) Alexander ordained Athanasius a deacon in 319.[12] In 325, Athanasius served as Alexander's secretary at the First Council of Nicaea. Already a recognized theologian and ascetic, he was the obvious choice to replace his aging mentor Alexander as the Patriarch of Alexandria,[13] despite the opposition of the followers of Arius and Meletius of Lycopolis.[12]

At length, in the Council of Nicaea, the term "consubstantial" (homoṏusion) was suggested by Athanasius: it was immediately adopted, and a formulary of faith embodying it was drawn up by Hosius of Córdoba. From this time to the end of the Arian controversies the word "consubstantial" continued to be the test of Catholic orthodoxy. The formulary of faith drawn up by Hosius is known as the Nicene Creed.[5] However, "he was not the originator of the famous 'homoṏusion'. The term had been proposed in a non-obvious and illegitimate sense by Paul of Samosata to the Fathers at Antioch, and had been rejected by them as savouring of materialistic conceptions of the Godhead."[1]

While still a deacon under Alexander's care (or early in his patriarchate as discussed below) Athanasius may have also become acquainted with some of the solitaries of the Egyptian desert, and in particular Anthony the Great, whose life he is said to have written.[9]

Opposition to Arianism

In about 319, when Athanasius was a deacon, a presbyter named Arius came into a direct conflict with Alexander of Alexandria. It appears that Arius reproached Alexander for what he felt were misguided or heretical teachings being taught by the bishop.[14] Arius' theological views appear to have been firmly rooted in Alexandrian Christianity.[15] He embraced a subordinationist Christology which taught that Christ was the divine Son (Logos) of God, made, not begotten, heavily influenced by Alexandrian thinkers like Origen,[16] and which was a common Christological view in Alexandria at the time.[17] Arius had support from a powerful bishop named Eusebius of Nicomedia (not to be confused with Eusebius of Caesarea),[18] illustrating how Arius's subordinationist Christology was shared by other Christians in the Empire. Arius was subsequently excommunicated by Alexander, and he would begin to elicit the support of many bishops who agreed with his position.


Frances A. M. Forbes writes that when the Patriarch Alexander was on his death-bed he called Athanasius, who fled fearing he would be constrained to be made Bishop. "When the Bishops of the Church assembled to elect their new Patriarch, the whole Catholic population surrounded the church, holding up their hands to Heaven and crying; "Give us Athanasius!" The Bishops had nothing better. Athanasius was thus elected, as Gregory tells us..." (Pope Gregory I, would have full access to the Vatican Archives).[19]

T. Gilmartin, (Professor of History, Maynooth, 1890), writes in Church History, Vol. 1, Ch XVII: "On the death of Alexander, five months after the termination of the Council of Nicaea, Athanasius was unanimously elected to fill the vacant see. He was most unwilling to accept the dignity, for he clearly foresaw the difficulties in which it would involve him. The clergy and people were determined to have him as their bishop, Patriarch of Alexandria, and refused to accept any excuses. He at length consented to accept a responsibility that he sought in vain to escape, and was consecrated in 326, when he was about thirty years of age."[5]

Athanasius' episcopate began on 9 May 328 as the Alexandrian Council elected Athanasius to succeed after the death of Alexander, and was consecrated in A.D. 326." [5]. Patriarch Athanasius spent over 17 years in five exiles ordered by four different Roman Emperors, not counting approximately six more incidents in which Athanasius fled Alexandria to escape people seeking to take his life.[13]

During his first years as bishop, Athanasius visited the churches of his territory, which at that time included all of Egypt and Libya. He established contacts with the hermits and monks of the desert, including Pachomius, which proved very valuable to him over the years. [13]

"During the forty-eight years of his episcopate, his history is told in the history of the controversies in which he was constantly engaged with the Arians, and of the sufferings he had to endure in defence of the Nicene faith. We have seen that when Arius was allowed to return from exile in 328, Athanasius refused to remove the sentence of excommunication." [5]

First exile

Athanasius' first problem lay with Meletius of Lycopolis and his followers, who had failed to abide by the First Council of Nicaea. That council also anathematized Arius. Accused of mistreating Arians and Meletians, Athanasius answered those charges at a gathering of bishops in Tyre, the First Synod of Tyre, in 335. There, Eusebius of Nicomedia and other supporters of Arius deposed Athanasius.[12] On 6 November, both sides of the dispute met with Emperor Constantine I in Constantinople.[20] At that meeting, the Arians claimed Athanasius would try to cut off essential Egyptian grain supplies to Constantinople. He was found guilty, and sent into exile to Augusta Treverorum in Gaul (now Trier in Germany).[12][13][21]

When Athanasius reached his destination in exile in 336, Maximinus of Trier received him, but not as a disgraced person. Athanasius stayed with him for two years. Paul I of Constantinople, who was banished by the Emperor Constantius, also stayed with him. Maximinus cautioned the Emperor Constans against the Arians, revealing their plots.[22]

Second exile

Hosios Loukas Crypt (south east groin-vault) - Athanasios
Fresco at Hosios Loukas, Greece (11th century)
Athanasius of Alexandria
Statue of the saint in St Athanasius's Catholic Church in Evanston, Illinois

When Emperor Constantine I died, Athanasius was allowed to return to his See of Alexandria. Shortly thereafter, however, Constantine's son, the new Roman Emperor Constantius II, renewed the order for Athanasius's banishment in 338. 'Within a few weeks he set out for Rome to lay his case before the Church at large. He had made his appeal to Pope Julius, who took up his cause with whole-heartedness that never wavered down to the day of that holy pontiff's death. The pope summoned a synod of bishops to meet in Rome. After a careful and detailed examination of the entire case, the primate's innocence was proclaimed to the Christian world.' [1]. During this time, Gregory of Cappadocia was installed as the Patriarch of Alexandria, usurping the absent Athanasius. Athanasius did, however, remain in contact with his people through his annual Festal Letters, in which he also announced on which date Easter would be celebrated that year.[13]

In 339 or 340, nearly one hundred bishops met at Alexandria, declared in favor of Athanasius,[23] and vigorously rejected the criticisms of the Eusebian faction at Tyre. Plus, Pope Julius I wrote to the supporters of Arius strongly urging Athanasius's reinstatement, but that effort proved in vain. Pope Julius I called a synod in Rome in 340 to address the matter, which proclaimed Athanasius the rightful bishop of Alexandria.[24]

Early in the year 343 we find Athanasius had travelled, via Rome, from Alexandria, North Africa, to Gaul; nowadays Belgium / Holland and surrounding areas, where Hosius of Córdoba was Bishop, the great champion of orthodoxy in the West. Together they set out for Serdica, Sofia. A full Council of the Church was convened / summoned there in deference to the Roman pontiff's wishes. The travel was a mammoth task in itself. At this great gathering of prelates, leaders of the Church, the case of Athanasius was taken up once more, that is, Athanasius was formally questioned over misdemeanours and even murder, (a man called Arsenius and using his body for magic – an absurd charge. They even produced Arsenius' severed hand.[21]).[1]

The Council was convoked for the purpose of inquiring into the charges against Athanasius and other bishops, on account of which they were deposed from their sees by the Semi-Arian Synod of Antioch (341), and went into exile. It was called according to Socrates, (E. H. ii. 20) by the two Emperors, Constans and Constantius; but, according to Baronius by Pope Julius (337–352), (Ad an. 343). One hundred and seventy six attended. Eusebian bishops objected to the admission of Athanasius and other deposed bishops to the Council, except as accused persons to answer the charges brought against them. Their objections were overridden by the orthodox bishops, about a hundred were orthodox, who were the majority. The Eusebians, seeing they had no chance of having their views carried, retired to Philoppopolis in Thrace, Philippopolis (Thracia), where they held an opposition council, under the presidency of the Patriarch of Antioch, and confirmed the decrees of the Synod of Antioch.[5]

Athanasius' innocence was reaffirmed at the Council of Serdica. Two conciliar letters were prepared, one to the clergy and faithful of Alexandria, the other to the bishops of Egypt and Libya, in which the will of the Council was made known. Meanwhile, the Eusebian party had gone to Philippopolis, where they issued an anathema against Athanasius and his supporters. The persecution against the orthodox party broke out with renewed vigour, and Constantius was induced to prepare drastic measures against Athanasius and the priests who were devoted to him. Orders were given that if the Saint attempt to re-enter his see, he should be put to death. Athanasius, accordingly, withdrew from Serdica to Naissus in Mysia, where he celebrated the Easter festival of the year 344.[1] It was Hosius who presided over the Council of Serdica, as he did for the First Council of Nicaea, which like the 341 synod, found Athanasius innocent.[25] &.[5] He celebrated his last Easter in exile in Aquileia in April 345, received by bishop Fortunatianus.[26]

Eastern Bishop Gregory of Cappadocia died, probably of violence in June of 345. (Gregory, an Arian bishop, had taken over the See of Alexandria.) The emissary to the Emperor Constantius sent by the bishops of the Council of Serdica to report the finding of the Council, who had been met at first with most insulting treatment, now received a favourable hearing. Constantius was forced to reconsider his decision, owing to a threatening letter from his brother Constans and the uncertain conditions of affairs on the Persian border, and he accordingly made up his mind to yield. But three separate letters were needed to overcome the natural hesitation of Athanasius. He passed rapidly from Aquileia to Treves, from Treves to Rome and from Rome by way of the northern route to Adrianople, Edirne, and Antioch, Ankara, where he met Constantius. He was accorded a gracious interview by the Emperor, and sent back to his See in triumph, and began his memorable ten years of peace, which lasted to the third exile, 356.[1]

Pope Julius died in April 352, and was succeeded by Liberius. For two years Liberius had been favourable to the cause of Athanasius; but driven at last into exile, he was induced to sign an ambiguous formula, from which the great Nicene text, the "homoousion", had been studiously omitted. In 355 a council was held at Milan, where in spite of the vigorous opposition of a handful of loyal prelates among the Western bishops, a fourth condemnation of Athanasius was announced to the world. With his friends scattered, the saintly Hosius in exile, and Pope Liberius denounced as acquiescing in Arian formularies, Athanasius could hardly hope to escape. On the night of 8 February 356, while engaged in services in the Church of St. Thomas, a band of armed men burst in to secure his arrest. It was the beginning of his third exile.[1]

T. Gilmartin, (Professor of History, Maynooth, 1890), writes in Church History, Vol. 1, Ch XVII: By Constantius' order, the sole ruler of The Roman Empire at the death of his brother Constans, the Council of Arles in 353, was held, which was presided over by Vincent, Bishop of Capua, in the name of Pope Liberius. The fathers terrified of the threats of the Emperor, an avowed Arian, they consented to the condemnation of Athanasius. The Pope refused to accept their decision, and requested the Emperor to hold another Council, in which the charges against Athanasius could be freely investigated. To this Constantius consented, for he felt able to control the Council in Milan.[5]

Three hundred bishops assembled in Milan, most from the West, only a few from the East, in 355. They met in the Church of Milan. Shortly, the Emperor ordered them to a hall in the Imperial Palace, thus ending any free debate. He presented an Arian formula of faith for their acceptance. He threatened any who refused with exile and death. All, with the exception of Dionysius (bishop of Milan), and the two Papal Legates, viz., Eusebius of Vercelli and Lucifer of Cagliari, consented to the Arian Creed and the condemnation of Athanasius. Those who refused were sent into exile. The decrees were forwarded to the Pope for approval, but were rejected, because of the violence to which the bishops were subjected.[5]

Third exile

Saint Athanasius
Athanasius at the Council of Nicea, William of Tyre manuscripts.

Through the influence of the Eusebian faction at Constantinople, an Arian bishop, George of Cappadocia, was now appointed to rule the see of Alexandria. Athanasius, after remaining some days in the neighbourhood of the city, finally withdrew into the desert of Upper Egypt, where he remained for a period of six years, living the life of the monks, devoting himself to the composition of a group of writings; "Apology to Constantius", the "Apology for his Flight", the "Letter to the Monks", and the "History of the Arians".[1]

Constantius, renewing his previous policies favoring the Arians, banished Athanasius from Alexandria once again. This was followed, in 356, by an attempt to arrest Athanasius during a vigil service.[27] Athanasius fled to Upper Egypt, where he stayed in several monasteries and other houses. During this period, Athanasius completed his work Four Orations against the Arians and defended his own recent conduct in the Apology to Constantius and Apology for His Flight. Constantius' persistence in his opposition to Athanasius, combined with reports Athanasius received about the persecution of non-Arians by the new Arian bishop George of Laodicea, prompted Athanasius to write his more emotional History of the Arians, in which he described Constantius as a precursor of the Antichrist.[13]

Constantius ordered Liberius into exile in 356 giving him three days to comply. He was ordered into banishment to Beroea, in Thrace. He sent expensive presents if he were to accept the Arian position, which Liberius refused. He sent him five hundred pieces of gold "to bear his charges" which Liberius refused, saying he might bestow them on his flatters; as he did also a like present from the empress, bidding the messenger learn to believe in Christ, and not to persecute the Church of God. Attempts were made to leave the presents in The Church, but Liberius threw them out. Constantius hereupon sent for him under a strict guard to Milan, where in a conference recorded by Theodore, he boldly told Constantius that Athanasius had been acquitted at Serdica, and his enemies proved calumniators (see: "calumny") and impostors, and that it was unjust to condemn a person who could not be legally convicted of any crime. The emperor was reduced to silence on every article, but being the more out of patience, ordered him into banishment.[5]

Liberius went into exile. Constantius, after two years went to Rome to celebrate the twentieth year of his reign. The ladies joined in a petition to him that he would restore Liberius. He assented, upon condition that he should comply with the bishops, then, at court. He subscribed the condemnation of Athanasius, and a confession or creed which had been framed by the Arians at Sirmium. And he no sooner had recovered his see that he declared himself for the Creed of Niceae, as Theodoret testifies. (Theodoret, Hist. lib. ii. c. 17.).[28] The Emperor knew what he wanted people to believe. So did the bishops at his court. Athanasius stuck by the orthodox creed.[21] Constantius was an avowed Arian, became sole ruler in 350, at the death of his brother, Constans.[5]

T. Gilmartin, (Professor of History, Maynooth, 1890), writes in Church History, Vol. 1, Ch XVII:

The Arians sought the approval of an Ecumenical Council. They sought to hold two councils. Constantius, summoned the bishops of the East to meet at Seleucia in Isauria, and those of the West to Rimini in Italy. A preliminary conference was held by the Arians at Sirmium, to agree a formula of faith. A "Homoeon" creed was adopted, declaring The Son to be "like the Father". The two met in autumn of 359. At Seleucia, one hundred and fifty bishops, of which one hundred and five were semi-Arian. The semi-Arians refused to accept anything less than the "Homoiousion", (see: Homoiousian), formulary of faith. The Imperial Prefect was obliged to disband, without agreeing on any creed.[5]

Acacius, the leader of the "Homoean" party went to Constantinople, where the Sirmian formulary of faith was approved by the "Home Synod", (consisted of those bishops who happened to be present at the Court for the time), and a decree of deposition issued against the leaders of the semi-Arians. At Rimini were over four hundred of which eighty were Arian, the rest were orthodox. The orthodox fathers refused to accept any creed but the Nicene, while the others were equally in favour of the Sirmian. Each party sent a deputation to the Emperor to say there was no probability to agreement, and asked for the bishops to return to their dioceses. For the purpose of wearing-down the orthodox bishops; (Sulpitius Severius says), Constantius delayed his answer for several months, and finally prevailed on them to accept the Sirmian creed. It was after this Council that Jerome said: " ...the whole world groaned in astonishment to find itself Arian."[5]

The Arians no longer presented an unbroken front to their orthodox opponents. The Emperor Constantius, who had been the cause of so much trouble, died on 4 November 361 and was succeeded by Julian. The proclamation of the new prince's accession was the signal for a pagan outbreak against the still dominant Arian faction in Alexandria. George, the usurping Bishop, was flung into prison and murdered. An obscure presbyter of the name of Pistus was immediately chosen by the Arians to succeed him, when fresh news arrived that filled the orthodox party with hope. An edict had been put forth by Julian permitting the exiled bishops of the "Galileans" to return to their "towns and provinces". Athanasius received a summons from his own flock, and he accordingly re-entered his episcopal capitol on 22 February 362.[1]

In 362 he convened a council at Alexandria, and presided over it with Eusebius of Vercelli. Athanasius appealed for unity among all those who had faith in Christianity, even if they differed on matters of terminology. This prepared the groundwork for his definition of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. However, the council also was directed against those who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the human soul of Christ, and Christ's divinity. Mild measures were agreed on for those heretic bishops who repented, but severe penance was decreed for the chief leaders of the major heresies.[29]

With characteristic energy he set to work to re-establish the somewhat shattered fortunes of the orthodox party and to purge the theological atmosphere of uncertainty. To clear up the misunderstandings that had arisen in the course of the previous years, an attempt was made to determine still further the significance of the Nicene formularies. In the meanwhile, Julian, who seems to have become suddenly jealous of the influence that Athanasius was exercising at Alexandria, addressed an order to Ecdicius, the Prefect of Egypt, peremptorily commanding the expulsion of the restored primate, on the ground that he had never been included in the imperial act of clemency. The edict was communicated to the bishop by Pythicodorus Trico, who, though described in the "Chronicon Athanasianum" (XXXV) as a "philosopher", seems to have behaved with brutal insolence. On 23 October the people gathered about the proscribed bishop to protest against the emperor's decree; but Athanasius urged them to submit, consoling them with the promise that his absence would be of short duration.[1]

Fourth exile

In 362, the new Emperor Julian, noted for his opposition to Christianity, ordered Athanasius to leave Alexandria once again. Athanasius left for Upper Egypt, remaining there with the Desert Fathers until Julian's death on 26 June 363. Athanasius returned in secret to Alexandria, where he soon received a document from the new emperor, Jovian, reinstating him once more in his episcopal functions.[1]

His first act was to convene a council which reaffirmed the terms of the Nicene Creed. Early in September 363 he set out for Antioch on the Orontes, bearing a synodal letter, in which the pronouncements of this council had been embodied. At Antioch he had an interview with the new emperor, who received him graciously and even asked him to prepare an exposition of the orthodox faith. The following February Jovian died; and in October, 364, Athanasius was once more an exile.[1]

Fifth exile

Two years later, the Emperor Valens, who favored the Arian position, in his turn exiled Athanasius. This time Athanasius simply left for the outskirts of Alexandria, where he stayed for only a few months before the local authorities convinced Valens to retract his order of exile.[13] Some early reports state that Athanasius spent this period of exile at his family's ancestral tomb[12] in a Christian cemetery. It was during this period, the final exile, that he is said to have spent four months in hiding in his father's tomb. (Soz., "Hist. Eccl.", VI, xii; Soc., "Hist. Eccl.", IV, xii).[1]

The accession of Valens gave a fresh lease of life to the Arian party. He issued a decree banishing the bishops who had been deposed by Constantius, but who had been permitted by Jovian to return to their sees. The news created the greatest consternation in the city of Alexandria itself, and the prefect, in order to prevent a serious outbreak, gave public assurance that the very special case of Athanasius would be laid before the emperor. But Athanasius seems to have divined what was preparing in secret against him. He quietly withdrew from Alexandria, 5 October, and took up his abode in a country house outside the city. Valens, who seems to have sincerely dreaded the possible consequences of another popular outbreak, within a few weeks issued orders allowing Athanasius to return to his episcopal see.[1]

In 366 Pope Liberius died and was succeeded by Pope Damasus, a man of strong character and holy life. Two years later, in a council of the Church, it was decreed that no Bishop should be consecrated unless he held the Creed of Nicea. (F. A. Forbes).[19]

Final years and death

After returning to Alexandria in early 366, Athanasius spent his final years repairing all the damage done during the earlier years of violence, dissent, and exile. He resumed writing and preaching undisturbed, and characteristically re-emphasized the view of the Incarnation which had been defined at Nicaea. On 2 May 373, having consecrated Peter II, one of his presbyters as his successor, Athanasius died peacefully in his own bed, surrounded by his clergy and faithful supporters.[9]


In Coptic literature, Athanasius is the first patriarch of Alexandria to use Coptic as well as Greek in his writings.[8]

Polemical and theological works

Athanasius was not a speculative theologian. As he stated in his First Letters to Serapion, he held on to "the tradition, teaching, and faith proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers."[12] He held that not only was the Son of God consubstantial with the Father, but so was the Holy Spirit, which had a great deal of influence in the development of later doctrines regarding the Trinity.[12]

Athanasius' "Letter Concerning the Decrees of the Council of Nicaea" (De Decretis), is an important historical as well as theological account of the proceedings of that council, and another letter from 367 is the first known listing of all those books now accepted as the New Testament.[12] (Earlier similar lists vary by the omission or addition of a few books.)

Examples of Athanasius' polemical writings against his theological opponents include Orations Against the Arians, his defence of the divinity of the Holy Spirit (Letters to Serapion in the 360s, and On the Holy Spirit), against Macedonianism and On the Incarnation.

Athanasius also wrote a two-part Against the Heathen and The Incarnation of the Word of God. Completed probably early in his life, before the Arian controversy,[30] they constitute the first classic work of developed Orthodox theology. In the first part, Athanasius attacks several pagan practices and beliefs. The second part presents teachings on the redemption.[12] Also in these books, Athanasius put forward the belief, referencing John 1:1–4, that the Son of God, the eternal Word (Logos) through whom God created the world, entered that world in human form to lead men back into the harmony from which they had earlier fallen away.

His other important works include his Letters to Serapion, which defends the divinity of the Holy Spirit. In a letter to Epictetus of Corinth, Athanasius anticipates future controversies in his defense of the humanity of Christ. Another of his letters, to Dracontius, urges that monk to leave the desert for the more active duties of a bishop.[13]

Athanasius also wrote several works of Biblical exegesis, primarily on Old Testament materials. The most important of these is his Epistle to Marcellinus (PG 27:12–45) on how to incorporate Psalm saying into one's spiritual practice. Excerpts remain of his discussions concerning the Book of Genesis, the Song of Solomon, and Psalms.

Perhaps his most notable letter was his Festal Letter, written to his Church in Alexandria when he was in exile, as he could not be in their presence. This letter clearly shows his stand that accepting Jesus as the Divine Son of God is not optional but necessary:

I know moreover that not only this thing saddens you, but also the fact that while others have obtained the churches by violence, you are meanwhile cast out from your places. For they hold the places, but you the Apostolic Faith. They are, it is true, in the places, but outside of the true Faith; while you are outside the places indeed, but the Faith, within you. Let us consider whether is the greater, the place or the Faith. Clearly the true Faith. Who then has lost more, or who possesses more? He who holds the place, or he who holds the Faith?[31]

Biographical and ascetic

His biography of Anthony the Great entitled Life of Antony[32](Βίος καὶ Πολιτεία Πατρὸς Ἀντωνίου, Vita Antonii) became his most widely read work. Translated into several languages, it became something of a best seller in its day and played an important role in the spreading of the ascetic ideal in Eastern and Western Christianity.[13] It depicted Anthony as an illiterate yet holy man who continuously engaged in spiritual exercises in the Egyptian desert and struggled against demonic powers. It later served as an inspiration to Christian monastics in both the East and the West.[33]

Athanasius' works on ascetism also include a Discourse on Virginity, a short work on Love and Self-Control, and a treatise On Sickness and Health (of which only fragments remain).

Misattributed works

There are several other works ascribed to him, although not necessarily generally accepted as being his own. These include the so-called Athanasian creed (which is today generally seen as being of 5th-century Galician origin), and a complete Expositions on the Psalms (PG 27: 60–545).[12]


Athanasius was originally buried in Alexandria, Egypt, but his remains were later transferred to the Chiesa di San Zaccaria in Venice, Italy. During Pope Shenouda III's visit to Rome from 4 to 10 May 1973, Pope Paul VI gave the Coptic Patriarch a relic of Athanasius,[34] which he brought back to Egypt on 15 May.[35] The relic is currently preserved under the new Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt. However, the majority of Athanasius's corpse remains in the Venetian church.[36]

All major Christian denominations which officially recognize saints venerate Athanasius. Western Christians observe his feast day on 2 May, the anniversary of his death. The Catholic Church considers Athanasius a Doctor of the Church.[4] For Coptic Christians, his feast day is Pashons 7 (now circa 15 May). Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendars remember Athanasius on 18 January.

Gregory of Nazianzus (330–390, also a Doctor of the Church), said: "When I praise Athanasius, virtue itself is my theme: for I name every virtue as often as I mention him who was possessed of all virtues. He was the true pillar of the Church. His life and conduct were the rule of bishops, and his doctrine the rule of the orthodox faith."[9]

Tomb of Zaccaria and Saint Athanasius

Tomb of Saint Zaccaria and Saint Athanasius in Venice


Athanasius's Shrine (where a portion of his relics are preserved) under St. Mark's Cathedral, Cairo

Sant'Atanasio Bellante 2007

Procession of a statue at Bellante


Historian Cornelius Clifford said in his account: "Athanasius was the greatest champion of Catholic belief on the subject of the Incarnation that the Church has ever known and in his lifetime earned the characteristic title of "Father of Orthodoxy", by which he has been distinguished ever since." [1]

Bl. John Henry Newman described him as a "principal instrument, after the Apostles, by which the sacred truths of Christianity have been conveyed and secured to the world". [Letters..]

Historian Cornelius Clifford says: "His career almost personifies a crisis in the history of Christianity; and he may be said rather to have shaped the events in which he took part than to have been shaped by them." [1]

The greater majority of Church leaders and the emperors fell into support for Arianism, so much so that Jerome, 340–420, wrote of the period: "The whole world groaned and was amazed to find itself Arian".[5] He, Athanasius, even suffered an unjust excommunication from Pope Liberius (325–366) who was exiled and leant towards compromise, until he was allowed back to the See of Rome. Athanasius stood virtually alone against the world.[22] (..see: "Third Exile", above.)

Historical significance and controversies

New Testament canon

It was the custom of the bishops of Alexandria to circulate a letter after Epiphany each year establishing the date of Easter, and therefore other moveable feasts. They also took the occasion to discuss other matters. Athanasius wrote forty-five festal letters.[37] Athanasius' 39th Festal Letter, written in 367, is widely regarded as a milestone in the evolution of the canon of New Testament books.[38]

Athanasius is the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today. Up until then, various similar lists of works to be read in churches were in use. Athanasius compiled the list to resolve questions about such texts as The Epistle of Barnabas. Athanasius includes the Book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah and places the Book of Esther among the "7 books not in the canon but to be read" along with the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Judith, Tobit, the Didache, and the Shepherd of Hermas.[39]

Athanasius' list is similar to the Codex Vaticanus in the Vatican Library, probably written in Rome, in 340 by Alexandrian scribes for Emperor Constans, during the period of Athanasius' seven-year exile in the city. The establishment of the canon was not a unilateral decision by a bishop in Alexandria, but the result of a process of careful investigation and deliberation, as documented in a codex of the Greek Bible and, twenty-seven years later, in his festal letter.[37]

Pope Damasus I, the Bishop of Rome in 382, promulgated a list of books which contained a New Testament canon identical to that of Athanasius. A synod in Hippo in 393 repeated Athanasius' and Damasus' New Testament list (without the Epistle to the Hebrews), and the Council of Carthage (397) repeated Athanasius' and Damasus' complete New Testament list.[40]

Scholars debate whether Athanasius' list in 367 formed the basis for later lists. Because Athanasius' Canon is the closest canon of any of the Church Fathers to the one used by Protestant churches today, many Protestants point to Athanasius as the Father of the Canon.[39][41]

Episcopal consecration

In the light of Mother F. A. Forbes' research and reference to Pope Saint Gregory's writings, it would appear that Athanasius was constrained to be Bishop: She writes that when the Patriarch Alexander was on his death-bed he called Athanasius, who fled fearing he would be constrained to be made Bishop. "When the Bishops of the Church assembled to elect their new Patriarch, the whole Catholic population surrounded the church, holding up their hands to Heaven and crying; "Give us Athanasius!" The Bishops had nothing better. Athanasius was thus elected, as Gregory tells us..." (Pope Gregory I, would have full access to the Vatican Archives).[19]

Alban Butler, writes on the subject: "Five months after this great Council, Nicae, St Alexander lying on his death-bed, recommended to his clergy and people the choice of Athanasius for his successor, thrice repeating his name. In consequence of his recommendation, the bishops of all Egypt assembled at Alexandria, and finding the people and clergy unanimous in their choice of Athanasius for patriarch, they confirmed the election about the middle of year 326. He seems, then, to have been about thirty years of age."[22]


Athanasius and Cyril
Athanasius (left) and his supporter Cyril of Alexandria. 17th century depiction.

Christian denominations worldwide revere Athanasius as a saint, teacher, and father. They cite his defense of the Christology described in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John[1:1–4] and his significant theological works (C. S. Lewis calls On the Incarnation of the Word of God a "masterpiece")[42] as evidence of his righteousness. They also emphasize his close relationship with Anthony the Great, the ancient monk who was one of the founders of the Christian monastic movement.

The Gospel of St. John and particularly the first chapter demonstrates the Divinity of Jesus. This Gospel in itself is the greatest support of Athanasius' stand. The Gospel of St. John's first chapter began to be said at the end of Mass, we believe as a result of Athanasius, and his life's stand, but quietly, and was later - together with some other originally private devotions - absorbed by the liturgical service proper as so-called Last Gospel[1:1–14]. The beginning of John's Gospel was much used as an object of special devotion throughout the Middle Ages; the practice of saying it at the altar grew, and eventually Pius V made this practice universal for the Roman Rite in his edition of the Missal (1570).[43] It became a firm custom with exceptions in using an other Gospel in use from 1920. [44][45]

Gregory of Nazianzus (330–390) begins Or. 21 with: "When I praise Athanasius, virtue itself is my theme: for I name every virtue as often as I mention him who was possessed of all virtues. He was the true pillar of the church. His life and conduct were the rule of bishops, and his doctrine the rule of the orthodox faith."[9]

Cyril of Alexandria (370–444) in the first letter says: "Athanasius is one who can be trusted: he would not say anything that is not in accord with sacred scripture." (Ep 1).

Many modern historians point out that such a hostile attitude towards Athanasius is based on an unfair judgment of historical sources.[46]

Saint Pope Pius X said in a letter to philosopher-friend and correspondent in the closing years of his life, (Epist. lxxi, ad Max.): "Let what was confessed by the fathers of Nicaea prevail".[9]


Throughout most of his career, Athanasius had many detractors. Classics scholar Timothy Barnes recounts ancient allegations against Athanasius: from defiling an altar, to selling Church grain that had been meant to feed the poor for his own personal gain, and even violence and murder to suppress dissent.[47] Athanasius used "Arian" to describe both followers of Arius, and as a derogatory polemical term for Christians who disagreed with his formulation of the Trinity.[48] Athanasius called many of his opponents "Arian", except for Meletius (Miletus).[49]

Scholars now believe that the Arian Party was not monolithic,[50] but held drastically different theological views that spanned the early Christian theological spectrum.[51][52][53] They supported the tenets of Origenist thought and subordinationist theology,[54] but had little else in common. Moreover, many labelled "Arian" did not consider themselves followers of Arius.[55] In addition, non-Homoousian bishops disagreed with being labeled as followers of Arius, since Arius was merely a presbyter, while they were fully ordained bishops.[56]

The old allegations continue to be made against Athanasius however many centuries later. For example, Richard E. Rubenstein suggests that Athanasius ascended to the rank of bishop in Alexandria under questionable circumstances because some questioned whether he had reached the minimum age of 30 years, and further that Athanasius employed force when it suited his cause or personal interests. Thus, he argues that a small number of bishops who supported Athanasius held a private consecration to make him bishop.[57]

Selected works

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Clifford, Cornelius. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Athanasius". Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  2. ^ St. Takla Haymanout Coptic Orthodox Website
  3. ^ Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972.
  4. ^ a b Chapman, John. "Doctors of the Church". The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 6 December 2015
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n T. Gilmartin, Manual of Church History, Vol. 1. Ch XVII, 1890
  6. ^ a b "St. Athanasius the Great the Patriarch of Alexandria". Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Barnes, Timothy David (2001). Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire. p. 13.
  8. ^ a b "Coptic literature". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Clifford, Cornelius, Catholic Encyclopedia 1930, Volume 2, pp. 35–40 "Athanasius".
  10. ^ Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., VI, xix
  11. ^ Ἀλεξανδρεὺς τῷ γένει, ἀνὴρ λόγιος, δυνατὸς ὢν ἐν ταῖς γραφαῖς
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 2 Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier Incorporated, 1997. ISBN 0-7172-0129-5.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th edition. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. ISBN 0-85229-633-9
  14. ^ Kannengiesser, Charles, "Alexander and Arius of Alexandria: The last Ante-Nicene theologians", Miscelanea En Homenaje Al P. Antonio Orbe Compostellanum Vol. XXXV, no. 1-2. (Santiago de Compostela, 1990), 398
  15. ^ Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1987),175
  16. ^ Williams, 175
  17. ^ Williams 154–155
  18. ^ Alexander of Alexandria's Catholic Epistle
  19. ^ a b c F. A. Forbes; "Saint Athanasius", 1919
  20. ^ Barnes, Timothy D., Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993), 23
  21. ^ a b c Christianity, Daily Telegraph 1999
  22. ^ a b c Butler, Albin, Butler's Lives of The Saints 1860, Volume 1.
  23. ^ Clark, William R. (2007). A History of the Councils of the Church: from the Original Documents, to the close of the Second Council of Nicaea A.D. 787. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 47. ISBN 9781556352478.
  24. ^ Davis, Leo Donald (1983). The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325–787): Their History and Theology. Liturgical Press. p. 82. ISBN 9780814656167.
  25. ^ "St. Athanasius - Christian Classics Ethereal Library - Christian Classics Ethereal Library". Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  26. ^ Barnes, Timothy David, Athanasius and Constantius, Harvard 2001, p. 66
  27. ^ Graves, Dan. Athanasius Exiled Again Web. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  28. ^ Butler, Albin, Butler's Lives of The Saints 1860, Volume 1
  29. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Councils of Alexandria" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  30. ^ Justo L. Gonzalez in A History of Christian Thought notes (p. 292) that E. Schwartz places this work later, around 335, but "his arguments have not been generally accepted". The introduction to the CSMV translation of On the Incarnation places the work in 318, around the time Athanasius was ordained to the diaconate (St Athanasius On the Incarnation, Mowbray, England 1953)
  31. ^ fragment conjectured to belong to a festal letter
  32. ^ "Athanasius of Alexandria: Vita S. Antoni [Life of St. Antony] (written bwtween 356 and 362)". Fordham University. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  33. ^ "Athanasius". Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  34. ^ "Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette". Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  35. ^ "Saint Athanasius". Archived from the original on 25 June 2013. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  36. ^ "The Incorrupt Relics of Saint Athanasios the Great". Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  37. ^ a b "367 Athanasius Defines the New Testament". Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  38. ^ Gwynn, David M., Athanasius of Alexandria, Oxford University Press, 2012 ISBN 9780199210954
  39. ^ a b Aboagye-Mensah, Robert. "Bishop Athanasius: His Life, Ministry and Legacy to African Christianity and the Global Church", Seeing New Facets of the Diamond, (Gillian Mary Bediako, Bernhardt Quarshie, J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, ed.), Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015 ISBN 9781498217293
  40. ^ Von Dehsen, Christian. "St. Athanasius", Philosophers and Religious Leaders, Routledge, 2013 ISBN 9781135951023
  41. ^ "Excerpt from Letter 39". 13 July 2005. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  42. ^ Introduction to St. Athanasius on the Incarnation. Translated and edited by Sister Penelope Lawson, published by Mowbray 1944. p. 9
  43. ^ Fortescue, Adrian, Catholic Encyclopedia 1907, Volume 6, pp. 662–663 "Gospel"
  44. ^ Pope Benedict XV, Missale Romanum, IX Additions & Variations of the Rubrics of The Missal
  45. ^ See also: Jungmann, El Sacrificio de la Misa, No. 659, 660
  46. ^ Arnold, 24–99; Ng, 273–292.
  47. ^ Barnes, Timothy D., Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993), 37
  48. ^ Barnes "Athanasius and Constantius", 14, 128
  49. ^ Barnes "Athanasius and Constantius",135
  50. ^ Haas, Christopher, "The Arians of Alexandria", Vigiliae Christianae Vol. 47, no. 3 (1993), 239
  51. ^ Chadwick, Henry, "Faith and Order at the Council of Nicaea", Harvard Theological Review LIII (Cambridge Mass: 1960),173
  52. ^ Williams, 63
  53. ^ Kannengiesser "Alexander and Arius", 403
  54. ^ Kannengiesser, "Athanasius of Alexandria vs. Arius: The Alexandrian Crisis", in The Roots of Egyptian Christianity (Studies in Antiquity and Christianity), ed. Birger A. Pearson and James E. Goehring (1986),208
  55. ^ Williams, 82
  56. ^ Rubinstein, Richard, When Jesus Became God, The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome, 1999
  57. ^ Rubenstein, Richard E., When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ's Divinity in the Last Days of Rome (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999), 105–106


  • Alexander of Alexandria "Catholic Epistle", The Ecole Initiative,
  • Anatolios, Khaled, Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought (New York: Routledge, 1998).
  • Arnold, Duane W.-H., The Early Episcopal Career of Athanasius of Alexandria (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 1991).
  • Arius, "Arius's letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia", Ecclesiastical History, ed. Theodoret. Ser. 2, Vol. 3, 41, The Ecole Initiative,
  • Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. (New York: Penguin, 1993). ISBN 0-14-051312-4.
  • Barnes, Timothy D., Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993).
  • Barnes, Timothy D., Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1981)
  • Bouter, P.F. (2010). Athanasius (in Dutch). Kampen: Kok.
  • Brakke, David. Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism (1995)
  • Clifford, Cornelius, "Athanasius", Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 2 (1907), 35–40
  • Chadwick, Henry, "Faith and Order at the Council of Nicaea", Harvard Theological Review LIII (Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 1960), 171–195.
  • Ernest, James D., The Bible in Athanasius of Alexandria (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
  • Freeman, Charles, The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003).
  • Haas, Christopher. "The Arians of Alexandria", Vigiliae Christianae Vol. 47, no. 3 (1993), 234–245.
  • Hanson, R.P.C., The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318–381 (T.&T. Clark, 1988).
  • Kannengiesser, Charles, "Alexander and Arius of Alexandria: The last Ante-Nicene theologians", Miscelanea En Homenaje Al P. Antonio Orbe Compostellanum Vol. XXXV, no. 1-2. (Santiago de Compostela, 1990), 391–403.
  • Kannengiesser, Charles "Athanasius of Alexandria vs. Arius: The Alexandrian Crisis", in The Roots of Egyptian Christianity (Studies in Antiquity and Christianity), ed. Birger A. Pearson and James E. Goehring (1986), 204–215.
  • Ng, Nathan K. K., The Spirituality of Athanasius (1991).
  • Pettersen, Alvyn (1995). Athanasius. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Morehouse.
  • Rubenstein, Richard E., When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ's Divinity in the Last Days of Rome (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999).
  • Williams, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1987).

Further reading

External links

Titles of the Great Christian Church
Preceded by
Alexander I
Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria
Succeeded by
Peter II
Gregory of Cappadocia (Anti-patriarch)
Peter II
Agios Athanasios, Cyprus

Agios Athanasios (Greek: Άγιος Αθανάσιος) is an independent municipality of Cyprus located in the Limassol District. Located 3km (1.86 mi) away from the district's capital, Limassol, and named after the Athanasius of Alexandria, it functions as a suburb of the city.

Arian controversy

The Arian controversy was a series of Christian theological disputes that arose between Arius and Athanasius of Alexandria, two Christian theologians from Alexandria, Egypt. The most important of these controversies concerned the substantial relationship between God the Father and God the Son.

The deep divisions created by the disputes were an ironic consequence of Emperor Constantine's efforts to unite Christianity and establish a single, imperially approved version of the faith during his reign. These disagreements divided the Church into two opposing theological factions for over 55 years, from the time before the First Council of Nicaea in 325 until after the First Council of Constantinople in 381. There was no formal resolution or formal schism, though the Trinitarian faction ultimately gained the upper hand in the imperial Church; outside the Roman Empire this faction was not immediately so influential. Arianism continued to be preached inside and outside the Empire for some time (without the blessing of the Empire) but eventually it was killed off. The modern Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as most other modern Christian sects have generally followed the Trinitarian formulation, though each has its own specific theology on the matter.

Asterius of Cappadocia

Asterius of Cappadocia (Ἀστέριος; died c. 341) was an Arian Christian theologian from Cappadocia. Few of his writings have been recovered in their entirety; the latest edition is by Markus Vinzent). He is said to have been a pupil of Lucian of Antioch, but it is unclear to what extent this was the case. He is said to have relapsed into paganism during the persecution under Maximian in 304 and thus, though received again into the church by Lucian and supported by the Eusebian party, never attained to ecclesiastical office. He as present at the synod of Antioch in 341.Fragments of his Syntagmation are preserved by Athanasius of Alexandria and Marcellus of Ancyra.

His extant works include a commentary on the Psalms, a letter to Eusebius, the Syntagmation, and a few fragments.Asterius was a firm defender of Arianism and Eusebius of Caesarea's theology, emphasising the derivative nature of the Son as a spontaneous manifestation and generation of the Father's will.

Bethlehem Abbey, Bonheiden

Bethlehem Abbey in the village of Bonheiden, Belgium, is a house of Benedictine nuns of the Subiaco Cassinese Congregation. The monastery was built in 1965 as a Redemptorist house but was transferred to the Benedictines in 1975.The community formerly ran a publishing imprint which produced Dutch translations of the writings of Basil of Caesarea and Athanasius of Alexandria.

Since 30 May 2015 the Benedictines have shared the monastery buildings with a lay community (the Moriya Community).

Church Fathers

The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were ancient and influential Christian theologians and writers. There is no definitive list. The era of these scholars who set the theological and scholarly foundations of Christianity largely ended by AD 700 (John of Damascus died in 749 AD, Byzantine Iconoclasm began in 726 AD).In the past, the Church Fathers were regarded as authoritative and more restrictive definitions were used which sought to limit the list to authors treated as such. However, the definition has widened as scholars of patristics, the study of the Church Fathers, have expanded their scope.

Constantine of Preslav

Constantine of Preslav (Bulgarian: Константин Преславски) was a medieval Bulgarian scholar, writer and translator, one of the most important men of letters working at the Preslav Literary School at the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 10th century. Biographical evidence about his life is scarce but he is believed to have been a disciple of Saint Methodius. After his death in 885, Constantine was jailed by the Germanic clergy in Great Moravia and sold as slave in Venice. After a successful escape to Constantinople, he came to Bulgaria around 886 and started working at the Preslav Literary School.

He was one of the most prolific and important writers in Old Bulgarian (the Bulgarian recension of Old Church Slavonic). His most significant literary work was Учително евангелие (The Didactic Gospel), usually dated to the first years of the reign of Bulgarian tsar Simeon I, 893 – 894. The work represents a compilation of lectures about a number of church holidays and is the first systematic work treating sermons in Slavic literature. The compilation also features the poetic preface Азбучна молитва (Alphabet Prayer), the first original poetry in Old Church Slavonic.

In 894 Constantine of Preslav wrote the historical work Историкии (Histories), the first historical chronicle in Slavic literature. In 906, by commission from Simeon I, the author translated Четири слова против арианите (Four Epistles against the Arians) by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, as a response to the beginning of the spread of heresies in medieval Bulgaria. Constantine is also the alleged author of Служба на Методия (Service for Methodius), in which he relates the struggle of Saint Methodius for the recognition of Old Church Slavonic, as well as of Проглас към евангелието (Proclamation of the Holy Gospels) in which he rejects and admonishes the admiration of the foreign language (mean. Greek) and champions Old Bulgarian for the development and elevation of Bulgarian culture.

None of the original works of Constantine of Preslav has survived the burning of Preslav by Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimisces in 972 and the period of Ottoman rule (1396 – 1878). All of his works are known from copies, the earliest of which date back to the 12th and the 13th century.

Desert Fathers

The Desert Fathers (along with Desert Mothers) were early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. The Apophthegmata Patrum is a collection of the wisdom of some of the early desert monks and nuns, in print as Sayings of the Desert Fathers. The most well known was Anthony the Great, who moved to the desert in AD 270–271 and became known as both the father and founder of desert monasticism. By the time Anthony died in AD 356, thousands of monks and nuns had been drawn to living in the desert following Anthony's example—his biographer, Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote that "the desert had become a city." The Desert Fathers had a major influence on the development of Christianity.

The desert monastic communities that grew out of the informal gathering of hermit monks became the model for Christian monasticism. The eastern monastic tradition at Mount Athos and the western Rule of Saint Benedict both were strongly influenced by the traditions that began in the desert. All of the monastic revivals of the Middle Ages looked to the desert for inspiration and guidance. Much of Eastern Christian spirituality, including the Hesychast movement, had its roots in the practices of the Desert Fathers. Even religious renewals such as the German evangelicals and Pietists in Pennsylvania, the Devotio Moderna movement, and the Methodist Revival in England are seen by modern scholars as being influenced by the Desert Fathers.

Flavius Dalmatius

This article deals with the censor. For the Caesar (335-337) Flavius Dalmatius, son of the censor, see Dalmatius.Flavius Dalmatius (died 337), also known as Dalmatius the Censor, was a censor (333), and a member of the Constantinian dynasty, which ruled over the Roman Empire at the beginning of the 4th century.

Dalmatius was the son of Constantius Chlorus and Flavia Maximiana Theodora, and thus half-brother of the Emperor Constantine I.

Dalmatius spent his youth in the Gallic Tolosa. It is probable that his two sons, Dalmatius and Hannibalianus, were born here. During the mid-320s, Flavius Dalmatius returned to Constantinople, to the court of his half-brother, and was appointed consul and censor in 333.

In Antioch, Flavius was responsible for the security of the eastern borders of the realm. During this period, he examined the case of bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, an important opponent of Arianism, who was accused of murder. In 334, Flavius suppressed the revolt of Calocaerus, who had proclaimed himself emperor in Cyprus. In the following year he sent some soldiers to the council of Tyros to save the life of Athanasius.

His two sons were appointed to important offices under Constantine's administration, but Flavius Dalmatius and his sons were killed in the purges that followed the Emperor's death in May 337.

Judas Barsabbas

Judas Barsabbas was a New Testament prophet and one of the 'leading men' in the early Christian community in Jerusalem at the time of the Council of Jerusalem in around 50 A.D.

Lešok Monastery

The Monastery of Lešok is a monastery 8 km outside Tetovo in the Republic of Macedonia. Lying at 638 metres above sea level it is located on the southeastern side of the mountain Šar Planina. In its complex are the churches of St. Athanasius of Alexandria and the Holy Mother of God Church. The Church of the Holy Virgin, built in 1326, is an excellent example of Byzantine style and architectural tradition. The church has three layers of frescoes. The 1st and bottom layer is from the first time of construction, the second and middle one was added sometime in the 17th century, and the third and top layer was added in 1879. Several marble columns from the original church can still be seen in the Tetovo museum. The monastery dormitories were redecorated from around 1818 and the library was founded and Lešok became a literature and educational center.

The church of St. Athanasius was built in 1924 next to the Church of the Holy Mother of God. In the yard of the Monastery of Lešok is the tomb of the South Slavic educator Kiril Pejčinovik, who was born in 1770.

In his honor, this monastery hosts an International Meeting of Literary Translators. Tetovo is also a host to the Festival of the Macedonian Choirs.

Today the monastery dormitories have been restored and are used to accommodate summer tourists.

Meletius of Antioch

Saint Meletius of Antioch (Μελέτιος) (died 381) was a Christian bishop, or Patriarch of Antioch, from 360 until his death. There were contrasting views about his theological position: on the one hand, he was exiled three times under Arian emperors; on the other, he was strongly opposed by those faithful to the memory of the staunchly pro-Nicene Eustathius of Antioch, whom the synod of Melitene deposed for his Homousianism (Nicene trinitarianism), which they considered a heresy, and by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, the firm opponent of Arianism. One of his last acts was to preside over the First Council of Constantinople in 381.

Muratorian fragment

The Muratorian fragment, also known as the Muratorian Canon or Canon Muratori, is a copy of perhaps the oldest known list of most of the books of the New Testament. The fragment, consisting of 85 lines, is a 7th-century Latin manuscript bound in a 7th or 8th century codex from the library of Columbanus's monastery at Bobbio Abbey; it contains features suggesting it is a translation from a Greek original written about 170 or as late as the 4th century. Both the degraded condition of the manuscript and the poor Latin in which it was written have made it difficult to translate. The beginning of the fragment is missing, and it ends abruptly. The fragment consists of all that remains of a section of a list of all the works that were accepted as canonical by the churches known to its original compiler. It was discovered in the Ambrosian Library in Milan by Father Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672–1750), the most famous Italian historian of his generation, and published in 1740.The definitive formation of the New Testament canon did not occur until 367, when bishop Athanasius of Alexandria in his annual Easter letter composed the list that is still recognised today as the canon of 27 books. However, it would take several more centuries of debates until agreement on Athanasius' canon had been reached within all of Christendom.

Patriarch Athanasius of Alexandria

Patriarch Athanasius of Alexandria may refer to:

Athanasius of Alexandria, Patriarch of Alexandria in 328–373 or 328–339 and 346–373

Patriarch Athanasius II of Alexandria, Patriarch of Alexandria in 490–496

Patriarch Athanasius III of Alexandria, Greek Patriarch of Alexandria in 1276–1316

Patriarch Athanasius IV of Alexandria, Greek Patriarch of Alexandria in 1417–1425

Paul I of Constantinople

Paul I or Paulus I or Saint Paul the Confessor (died c. 350), was the sixth bishop of Constantinople, elected first in 337 AD. Paul became involved in the Arian controversy which drew in the Emperor of the West, Constans, and his counterpart in the East, his brother Constantius II. Paul was installed and deposed three times from the See of Constantinople between 337 and 351. He was murdered by strangulation during his third and final exile in Cappadocia. His feast day is on November 6.

Pope Alexander I of Alexandria

St Alexander I of Alexandria, 19th Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. During his patriarchate, he dealt with a number of issues facing the Church in that day. These included the dating of Easter, the actions of Meletius of Lycopolis, and the issue of greatest substance, Arianism. He was the leader of the opposition to Arianism at the First Council of Nicaea. He also is remembered for being the mentor of the man who would be his successor, Athanasius of Alexandria, who would become one of the leading Church fathers.

Pope Athanasius

Pope Athanasius may refer to:

Pope Athanasius I of Alexandria (c. 293 – 2 May 373), Coptic Pope

Pope Athanasius II of Alexandria (died 496), Coptic Pope

Pope Athanasius III of Alexandria (fl. 1250–1261), Coptic Pope

St. Athanasius Church (Bronx)

The Church of St. Athanasius is a Roman Catholic parish church under the authority of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, located at Tiffany Street between Fox Street and Southern Boulevard, Longwood, Bronx, New York City. It is dedicated to Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Doctor of the Church.


Syneisaktism is the practice of "spiritual marriage", which is where a man and a woman who have both taken vows of chastity live together in a chaste and non-legalized partnership. More often than not, the woman would move into the house of the man, and they would live as brother and sister, both committed to the continuation of their vows of chastity. The women who entered into a spiritual marriage were known as subintroductae ("those brought in covertly"), agapetae ("beloved ones"), and syneisaktoi ("those brought into the house together"). This practice emerged around the 2nd century CE, and survived into the Middle Ages, despite being condemned by numerous church leaders, writers, and councils.


Saint Tryphillius (sometimes called Tryphillius) was born in Constantinople in the early fourth century. He was educated in law at the school of Beirut. He converted to Christianity and was named bishop of Nicosia. Triphyllius was a follower of Saint Spyridon of Trimythous. He was also an ardent supporter of St. Athanasius of Alexandria against the Arians, and consequently he was persecuted by them. St. Jerome considered him one of the most eloquent Church figures of the era.

Patriarchs prior to the
Chalcedonian schism
Coptic Orthodox
Popes and Patriarchs

Greek Orthodox Popes and Patriarchs
Latin Catholic Patriarchs
(1276 –1954)
Melkite Catholic Titular Patriarchs
Coptic Catholic Patriarchs
Virgin Mary
See also
Seven Archangels
Other Saints
Ethiopian saints by feast day

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