Athanasius of Alexandria

Well here at the end of Black History month in the U.S.A. I thought I would take the time to acquaint or reacquaint the readers of Trinity and Humanity with one of the greatest heroes of the Christian Church who happens to have been from Africa.athanasius 

Over the course of nearly 2000 years the Christian Church has had before it a singular question: “Who is Jesus?” In the Christian Church ours is the task of viewing all of our thoughts about God through the lens of Jesus. We have many resources available to us, such as the Bible, the Creeds, the witness of the Early Church Fathers, and most importantly the Father, Son, and Spirit’s personal witness to us in Jesus. But still the quest for us is to know Jesus as he knows us with his Father and the Spirit. In the history of the Christian Church there are certain figures that are remembered for their contributions in answering the question: “Who is Jesus?”  Some of those names are Peter, Paul, Polycarp, Tertullian (who coined the word Trinity), Irenaeus, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Alexander of Alexandria, and even up until the time of Augustine of Hippo and beyond. There is one man though whom I am excited to tell you about. He is like the Superman of Early Church Fathers. His name is Athanasius of Alexandria. He was born around 298 A.D. and died 2 May, 373 A.D. Athanasius was a Coptic Egyptian. His detractors called him “The Black Dwarf”. His life was extraordinary. He basically penned the Nicene Creed at the Council of Nicea in 325. Athanasius held the line against something called the Heresy of Arius. Arius and his followers denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. Arius taught people that Jesus was a created being and that he was not God. Athanasius was Triune God’s champion in the fight against this heresy. He endured multiple attempts on his life by the Arians and even the Roman government sought to have him imprisoned and killed but alas he died of natural causes peacefully around the age of 75 surrounded by his friends.

Sometimes we suffer (as C.S. Lewis called it) from chronological snobbism. This just means that sometimes we think we are better than the Early Church because we are more modern or more knowledgeable. We make a huge mistake if we discount the work of the Early Church Fathers as primitive or naive.  Especially in Athanasius do we find a very sophisticated, systematic, and developed theology. Athanasius connects the dots for us on many areas of Christian thought and probably no one has written more brilliantly and succinctly than him on the Incarnation. His treatise, On the Incarnation of the Word, is the benchmark in terms of commentary on the Son of the Father becoming human. Athanasius was also the first person to list all of the 27 books of the New Testament, nearly 100 years before the New Testament was canonized, and he even listed them in the order we have them today.

 Athanasius is a giant among the Early Church Fathers who has much to say for our benefit today. I implore you to read On the Incarnation of the Word and Contra Gentes

Thank you Father, Son, and Spirit for the life and work of St. Athanasius and for sharing with him your burden that the human race come to know you as we are known by you and share in your eternal life of love and acceptance. Amen!

                                                                                                                                                                          ~Bill Winn

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