St. Athanasius of Alexandria
What if there were one saint, revered by just about everyone? That one guy, who everyone loves, looks up to, and says, “Hey guy, you’re awesome!”? Well, there is one, and his name is St. Athanasius.
Born in the late 290s in Egypt, Athanasius was the son of parents who were wealthy enough to afford a good education for their boy. Sometime before the year 319 he had already written his first work, Against the Heathen. By the age of just 27, Athanasius was playing a pivotal role in one of the most important councils in Church history, the Council of Nicea. That’s right, at an age when many today are still struggling to figure out what it is they want from life, here was a man who was ardently working to defend the faith and the church from the heinous heresy of Arianism. What’s that you say? You don’t quite remember which heresy that is? Well, quite basically, it’s the one where people believe that Jesus, God the Son, was created by God the Father, and is hence separate and less than the First Person of the Trinity. It’s the reason we have that little line in the Nicene Creed:
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial
with the Father
just so everyone is absolutely clear on this point. Athanasius was just a deacon at the time, but was made bishop of Alexandria not long afterwards (after the death of the previous bishop).
His issues with the Arians did not end with being made a bishop. Far from it, in fact. During the course of his time as bishop, he was exiled five separate times, by more than one emperor who sympathized with Bishop Arius and his beliefs. At a time when it would have made his life far easier to just go with the flow, Athanasius instead chose to go with God, and to fight the heresy that was threatening the faithful. Clearly, he believed the words of God spoken to Jeremiah: he never said he was too young to do the will and work of God.
So why does everyone love him so much? The Eastern churches consider him the Father of Orthodoxy. The Western church lists him as one of the four great Doctors of the Eastern church. He is celebrated in the Oriental Christian churches for defeating the heresy. Even the Anglicans and the Lutherans still hold a soft spot for him, and that’s saying a lot. (Of course, any time the Catholics and the Protestants agree on something, one should probably give it a closer look because it’s probably a big deal.) St. Athanasius, in his stalwart denial of the Arian heresy, helped to preserve the Catholic faith and church in a time of serious strife, and in doing so, he earned himself a place in the hearts of all the faithful, regardless of their church.