Today, May 2, is the Feast of Saint Athanasius (295-373), Bishop of Alexandria and a great defender of the orthodox faith and trenchant opponent of the Arian heresy. So, who exactly was Athanasius? And what is Arianism? Richard Budd, Director of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Lansing, now gives answer to both those questions and also explains why we should all thank brave Saint Athanasius. Richard writes:
You may have heard the recent unofficial motto of the city of Detroit: “Detroit vs. Everybody.” Often adopted by sports teams to embrace sentiments of being the underdog, the phrase originated in a rap video about the struggle to rise above adversity and come out on top. The sentiment, on the other hand, is centuries older.
Athanasius contra mundum! Athanasius vs. the World! This earlier but similar phrase describes the situation of the early Church father, Athanasius, who’s feast we celebrate today, when the whole world, it seemed, had embraced the heresy of Arianism.
Arius taught that Christ was not God in the same way that the Father was God. It was impossible, he claimed, that two persons could be God since scripture revealed that there was only one God. Arius convinced thousands that Christ was similar in nature to the Father, but not the same.
Bishop Athanasius refused to accept this teaching even under pressure from emperors, other bishops, priests, etc. and found himself exiled on five separate occasions! In the end, by sticking to the truth, his battle, Athanasius vs. the World, was significant because the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon both defined Jesus as ὁμοούσιος or “consubstantial with the Father” and saved Christianity in the process.
Next time you are at Mass and declare that Christ is “consubstantial with the Father” during the Creed, thank God for brave Athanasius and his commitment to the truth. Saint Athanasius, pray for us!