Saturday, May 3, 2008

And a Happy belated St. Athanasius Day as well!

If you've ever heard of St. Athanasius, you've probably heard of his primary opponents, namely, the Arian heretics. If you haven't heard of either, let's start with the general principle of what the Arian heresy is. It's basically the brainchild of an a-hole named Arius, who decided that Jesus, rather than being divine (i.e. God), was actually just a created being who was exalted above all other humans but still less than God Himself.

Basically, Jesus was Superman. A guy with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, sent by his Father from above and who has the mission of saving humanity. Believe it or not, there are still Arians these days. Jehovah's Witnesses, for example. Mormons as well, to a certain extent. The problem with ancient Arians is that they weren't just limited to knocking on your door and wasting two or three hours of your day. They were more likely to burn down your church, beat the snot out of you, or have you exiled to harsh foreign lands.

Athanasius, for example, was exiled five times for resisting the heretics. Many don't realize how difficult orthodoxy was back then. Many estimates calculate that 80-90% of the world's bishops were Arians. This is why you often see Athanasius's plight described as "Athanasius contra mundum"- Athanasius against the world.

His most famous treatise is De Incarnatione, which is anti-Arian from beginning to end. His influence was paramount in ridding the world of this blasphemy, even though the real marginalization of Arianism wouldn't be completed for centuries (would that we could speak of its eradication!).

If you really want a good bit of stuff from him, though, go with The Life of At. Anthony about the father of Christian monasticism. It isn't very long or complicated. Just a really moving book about how important holiness should be.

On a side note, there are some modern writers who have attempted to portray this blessed Father and Doctor of the Church as a heartless and unscrupulous thug. The veracity of these claims is highly disputed, as many portraits from his own time very easily could have been designed to discredit him in the public's eyes. Whether they are true or not is actually irrelevant. Excepting the Blessed Mother, no saint was perfect. We come back to the idea of saving souls and what sorts of measures might be engaged in order to accomplish that goal. Modern folk have a problem understanding that there might be things more important than secular ideals of free speech and free association. That's their heresy and hopefully, we'll see a new Athanasius rise to meet them.

St. Athanasius, pray for us!
For now that He has come to our realm, and taken up his abode in one body among His peers, henceforth the whole conspiracy of the enemy against mankind is checked, and the corruption of death which before was prevailing against them is done away. For the race of men had gone to ruin, had not the Lord and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us to meet the end of death .
St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione.

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