Friday, January 1, 2010

Was Athanasius Just a ‘Bitter Heretic Hunter’?

Sometimes when Christians take a strong stance in contending for the faith (Jude 1:3), especially against teachers & teachings that are clearly unchristian, they are accused of being motivated by "self-righteousness", "bitterness", "hate", or of being "heteric hunters".  One of the Church’s most staunch defenders of the faith was a man named Athanasius of Alexandria Egypt.
Athanasius lived in the 3rd-4th century & is known for his fight against one of the very first heresies within the Church.  This heresy was called Arianism after a man named Arius.  In summary, Arianism taught that Jesus was not one with the Father & that Jesus was not divine & that the Triune nature of God was incorrect.
Athanasius would occupy almost his entire adult life with combatting the teaching of Arianism.  My question is, does this mean Athanasius was merely a bitter, heretic hunter?

During Athanasius’ struggle against the Arians he was accused of "mistreating" the Arians — I can almost hear the charges now…"Athanasius isn’t treating us Arians like Christian brothers…blah blah blah".  That is because Arians WEREN’T Christians brothers, at least how Christians had been historically defined.  What the Arians were promoting was against what the Christians had historically believed about Christ & about the Trinity.
Via the First Council of Nicaea, Athanasius & other pro-Trinitiarians were able to successfully assert & defend the historic Christian view of the divine nature of Jesus & of the view of the Trinity.  Shortly thereafter, Athanasius was exiled six times as various emperors vacillated between supporting the Trinitarians & supporting the Arians.  Under this kind of pressure, you’d think Athanasius would have given up his fight against the Arians, or perhaps lost his faith altogether, but instead he devoted his life to advancing the divine nature of Christ & the notion of the Triune God.  I can almost imagine some of Athanasius’ friends & detractors telling him to "give it up" or just to "let it go".  After all, look how much trouble he was causing & how many enemies he was making among his so-called "brothers" — the Arians.
Athanasius seemed to clearly understand the biblical concept of "tradition".  Whereas some people try to pit "Scripture alone" against "tradition of men", the Bible speaks of yet another tradition:
2 Thessalonians 2:15
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.
This is the apostolic tradition, the very revealed teachings by Jesus’ hand-picked apostles.  Christians WEREN’T just making stuff up as they converted — the apostles, the Church was being guided by the Holy Spirit.  The way some modern Christians paint it, we can & should just forget all of historic Christianity & just become our own private interpreters, making the Bible mean whatever we want it to mean to us & call it "Sola Scriptura" — that is NOT what Sola Scriptura means.  One quote about Athanasius’ approach says:

Athanasius was not what would be called a speculative theologian. As he stated in his First Letters to Serapion, he held onto "the tradition, teaching, and faith proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers." In some cases, this led to his taking the position that faith should take priority over reason. (source)

This is in-line with the principle of the the historic Christian faith — that yes indeed Scripture interprets Scripture but by what measure?  Many today will try to claim they are interpretering Scripture in a "logical & reasoned" manner, yet as we see Athanasius like the true presuppositionalist he was advocated faith over reason — faith being fidelity, not mere leaps of illogic.  In this, I agree fully with Athanasius’ approach.
So, if it is "bitter" & like a "hetetic hunter" to contend for the faith with as much devotion as Athanasius did, then count me in.  I would rather love the faith so much that I am willing to be an "Athanasius contra mundum" than a panderer & a placater.

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