Tag Archives: St. Athanasius

What appears to be harsh.

“The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and to conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things.

“For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His  providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.”

-St. Anthony the Great, 251-356

We are commemorating St. Anthony today, which prompted me to read a little about him. I learned about this book that looks like basic reading:

“The Life of the famed ascetic Saint Anthony the Great was written by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. This is the first biography of a saint who was not a martyr, and is considered to be one of the finest of Saint Athanasius’ writings. Saint John Chrysostom recommends that this Life be read by every Christian.”

And one sentence from the story of his life jumped out at me:

“Saint Anthony spent twenty years in complete isolation
and constant struggle with the demons,
and he finally achieved perfect calm.”

Pray for us, Holy Father Anthony!

The Word of the Father has been made manifest.

I must have read C.S. Lewis’s introduction to St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation twice before in an attempt on the whole book, without getting much beyond it, but on this third try I have kept going. It seemed a fitting little paperback to read during Advent.

In the introduction we have an instance of Lewis’s exhorting us to read more of the Old Books, like this one from the 4th century, though we are timid: “The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.”

And Lewis also writes here about devotional vs. doctrinal works, On the Incarnation being one of the latter, that he finds the doctrinal books often “more helpful in devotion” than the expressly devotional ones. I can relate to his description of people who “find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

Actually I don’t know about the pipe in the teeth, but I always have a pencil in my hand as I lie in bed with my book of theology or literature or whatever. And I marked some passages from St. Athanasius to share in this season when we focus on God With Us.

You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to his own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men.

We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.

From the archives – 2010

Through Athanasius wisdom shone.

athanasius_frescoAthanasius of Alexandria has been highly regarded throughout Christian history, East and West. Today is one of his feast days In the Orthodox Church. I first heard of Athanasius when I was a Protestant, because his treatise On the Incarnation was recommended to me many times. I finally read it a few years ago at Christmastime, and found it very encouraging. I notice lots of discussion of Athanasius still going on in the blogosphere in this century.

Athanasius was born about 297 and was present as a deacon at the Council of Nicea in 325. It was he who suggested the word “consubstantial” (homoousion) to describe Christ’s relationship to the Father, in opposition to the Arians who believed Christ to be a creature. The word was immediately adopted and became an important point of sound doctrine from then on.

When Bishop Alexander of Alexandria died, Athanasius reluctantly consented to take the bishopric, and he remained bishop for 43 years, though he spent a total of 17 of those years in exile at the command of four different emperors, and was many times forced to leave the city under threats to his life. These incidents led to the phrase “Athanasius contra mundum” or “Athanasius against the world.”

I don’t need to repeat what I have written before, or tell you things about St. Athanasius that you can easily discover online, but I wanted to remember this important saint here. Here is are some excerpts from St. Nicolai in his Prologue for today:

Only for a while before his death did he live peacefully, as a good shepherd among his good flock, who truly loved him. Few are the saints who were so mercilessly slandered and so criminally persecuted as was St. Athanasius. His great soul patiently endured all for the love of Christ and, in the end, emerged victorious from this entire terrible and long-lasting struggle.

For counsel, for comfort and for moral support, Athanasius often visited St. Anthony the Great, whom he respected as his spiritual father. A man who formulated the greatest truth, Athanasius had much to suffer for that truth–until the Lord gave him repose in His kingdom as His faithful servant, in the year 373 A.D.

Through Athanasius, wisdom shone,
And the truth of God enlightened men.
The people recognized that wisdom is not bitter,
But, to all who drink it to the bottom, it is sweet;
To all who suffer for it, it is dear.