A Tribute To A Hero: Athanasius

Truth is important. Such a statement does not represent the sentiment of the majority of our culture today. Truth, today, is whatever you want it to be. To believe in truth that is universal and morally binding on all people- is considered being old fashioned, and irrational. Such was not the sentiment of a man who lived in the 4th century- whose name was Athanasius (and such should not be the sentiment of any Christian). The Apostle Paul was clear on the importance of truth. There was no room for compromise and tolerance for false teaching in his mind (1Tim 1:19-20, 1Tim 1:3-7,1 Tim 4:1-2,Titus 1:11,Titus 1:13-14). False teaching ought to be exposed, and false teachers ought to be confronted- Athanasius did just that.

A teacher by the name of Arius came in at the start of the 4th century, claiming that Jesus is not God, nor did He eternally exist. He claimed that Jesus was created by the Father from nothing. The biblical position (the position Athanasius defended) is that Jesus IS God, and has eternally existed with God the Father. Arius, despite claiming Christ was not God, held that Jesus was something more than just a creation. He acknowledged that Christ was something worthy of worship (If his proposition that Christ is not God is true- this is idolatry). Arius being a musician, put his theology to music, and popularized the idea. It soon seemed that all of Christiandom was dancing to Arius’s tune.

Due to the dispute- a council was arranged by Constantine to deal with the issue. At the Council Of Nicea in 325 AD, the question of whether The Son is of the same substance as The Father (Orthodox/Athanasius)- homoouisos, or whether the Son is of a different substance- (Arius) heteroousios, was the debate. The council ruled that Arianism was not biblical, and affirmed that Christ is of the same substance. Hence the words from the Council:

“I believe….. in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;”

One would think that all was settled, but, such was not the case. Many in power remained sympathetic towards Arius, and Arianism resurged stronger than ever. Arius claimed that he had been misunderstood, and made an attempt at sounding more Orthodox. Arius, though exiled, returned at the permission of Constantine. Athanasius refused to accept Arius back into fellowship. Athanasius was then exiled. Athanasius in his life time, was exiled five different times. While away from his church, He continued to preach and write about the deity of Christ, and against the heresy of Arianism. Arianism, it seemed, had triumphed. Jerome is quoted as saying ” The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian”. It seemed to Athanasius that he was alone in fighting this war, hence the phrase: Athanasius Contra Mundum (Athanasius Against The World). Arius eventually died, though, his heresy was still rampant. It plagued the church for decades. By the providential hand of God, men who loved the Trinity began to have a greater influence and Arianism saw its demise.

No matter what the odds were, no matter what Emperor was in power- Athanasius remained faithful to the truth. The truth that is found not only in Nicea, but, ultimately in scripture. It is said that Athanasius spent seventeen years of his life in exile. He could have sat back, and played nice with the Roman emperors. Athanasius refused to compromise, and the church is better today because of it.

Dr. James White comments:

Yet, in the midst of this darkness, a lone voice remained strong. Arguing from Scripture, fearlessly reproaching error, writing from refuge in the desert, along the Nile, or in the crowded suburbs around Alexandria, Athanasius continued the fight. His unwillingness to give place — even when banished by the Emperor, disfellowshipped by the established church, and condemned by local councils and bishops alike — gave rise to the phrase, Athanasius contra mundum: “Athanasius against the world.” 

Though he did not write it, the Athanasius creed resembles the conviction the early church father fought for. Here is a portion of that creed:

That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
    neither blending their persons
    nor dividing their essence.
        For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
        the person of the Son is another,
        and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
        But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
        their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.

– awretchsaved


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