Athanasius, Saint

Athanasius, Saint

(ăthənā`zhəs), c.297–373, patriarch of Alexandria (328–73), Doctor of the Church, great champion of orthodoxy during the Arian crisis of the 4th cent. (see ArianismArianism
, Christian heresy founded by Arius in the 4th cent. It was one of the most widespread and divisive heresies in the history of Christianity. As a priest in Alexandria, Arius taught (c.
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). In his youth, as secretary to Bishop Alexander, he took part in the christological debate against AriusArius
, c.256–336, Libyan theologian, founder of the Arian heresy. A parish priest in Alexandria, he advanced the doctrine famous as Arianism and was excommunicated locally (321).
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 at the Council of Nicaea (see Nicaea, First Council ofNicaea, First Council of,
325, 1st ecumenical council, convened by Roman Emperor Constantine the Great to solve the problems raised by Arianism. It has been said that 318 persons attended, but a more likely number is 225, including every Eastern bishop of importance, four
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), and thereafter became chief protagonist for Nicene orthodoxy in the long struggle for its acceptance in the East. He defended the homoousion formula that states that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father, against the various Arian parties who held that Jesus was not identical in substance with the Father. Made bishop of Alexandria upon the death of his superior, he faced a conspiracy led by Eusebius of NicomediaEusebius of Nicomedia
, d. 342, Christian churchman and theologian, leader of the heresy of Arianism. He was bishop of Nicomedia (330–39) and patriarch of Constantinople (339–42); Eusebius was powerful because of his influence with Roman Emperor Constantine I and
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 to return the condemned Arius to Egypt. When Athanasius refused to yield, a pro-Arian council held at Tyre (335) found him guilty of sacrilege, the practice of magic, dishonest grain dealings, and even murder. Athanasius appealed to Constantine who demanded a retrial, then unaccountably ordered Athanasius into exile—the first of five. Reinstated (337) and exiled again (339), he fled to the West where, under Pope Julius IJulius I, Saint,
pope (337–52), a Roman; successor of St. Marcus. In the controversy over Arianism, when both sides appealed to him for support, he convened a synod at Rome (340), at which were present St.
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, the Council of Sardica vindicated him (343). To placate his Catholic brother Constans, the Arian Constantius permitted Athanasius to return to his see in 346. There he reigned, a beloved pastor, for ten fruitful years, strengthening orthodoxy in Egypt and composing some of his greatest works, including his Defense Against the Arians (348). When Constans died, Constantius procured the condemnation of Athanasius (Arles, 357), again forcing him into exile. It was during this period of hiding with the hermit monks of the Egyptian desert, whom he admired greatly, that he wrote his best exposition of Nicene christology, Discourses Against the Arians, attacking both the Arians and the views of Marcellus of AncyraMarcellus of Ancyra
, fl. 350, Galatian churchman, the most violent opponent of Arianism in Asia Minor. He developed the theory that the Trinity was the result of emanations from God that would ultimately revert to God in the final judgment.
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. By now a conservative reaction in the East issued in the strongly anti-Arian Lucianic creed promulgated at the Council of Seleucia (359), a step which led to the final victory of Nicene orthodoxy at the Council of Constantinople in 381. Athanasius was restored briefly in 362, only to be quickly exiled by Julian and again by Valens (365). The climate was changing, however, and by 366 Athanasius was secure in his see, where he remained the spokesman for orthodoxy until his death. After him, St. Basil the GreatBasil the Great, Saint
, c.330–379, Greek prelate, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Doctor of the Church and one of the Four Fathers of the Greek Church. He was a brother of St. Gregory of Nyssa.
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, Gregory of NyssaGregory of Nyssa, Saint
, d. 394?, Cappadocian theologian; brother of St. Basil the Great and his successor as champion of orthodoxy. He became bishop of Nyssa in Cappadocia in 371, was removed in 376, and was restored in 378.
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, and Gregory NazianzenGregory Nazianzen, Saint
, c.330–390, Cappadocian theologian, Doctor of the Church, one of the Four Fathers of the Greek Church. He is sometimes called Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory Theologus. He studied widely in his youth and was from his student days a friend of St.
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 secured the victory of orthodoxy in the East. Feast: May 2.

Bibliography

See translation of Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione by R. W. Thomson (1974); translation of Life of Saint Antony and Letter to Marcellinus by R. C. Gregg (1980).

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