Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Unchurched Athanasius

Unchurched Athanasius
Athanasius of Alexandria Egypt gained the title of contra mundum or "against the world" because at times, when it came to the issue of the Trinity and the deity of Christ it seemed like it was just Athanasius against the entire world. When emperors and fellow churchmen seemed to waffle on this position, Athanasius stubbornly stuck to it no matter how much he was berated and harassed, even exiled and threatened with execution. Athanasius' story -- the real story, not some fiction -- began between 293AD and 298AD when he was born presumably in the city of Alexandria Egypt. Though little is known of Athanasius' life before the age 20, we know by the time he reached his 20s he was writing polemic theological works. He was tutored by Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria and made a deacon and secretary by Alexander. (see In the capacity of secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, young Athanasius attended the Council of Nicaea and indeed did much of the disputing on behalf of the party that opposed the Arians. The anti-Arian party was actually the minority at the Council. Perhaps like modern heresies, the question of the heresy of Arianism was being argued in front of a mass of uninformed, in that of the over 250 bishops present, about 30 were staunch Arians whereas about 20 were anti-Arians, and about 200 were bishops who for whatever reason were not immediately affected by the dire influence of Arianism and were here to determine if it was any threat at all. But our focus for this article isn't that epic battle at Nicaea, which history records was ultimately won by the Christians who were holding fast to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Our focus is on what Athanasius did during the intervening years of his repeated exile as his Arian foes would intermittently convince some emperor to banish Athanasius. Indeed it must have seemed that at times Athanasius in his zeal to combat Arianism had "played himself right out of relevance", even by his own friends and supporters. How many were likely counseling Athanasius to just drop the issue? Athanasius having obtained the former seat of his mentor, and becoming Bishop of Alexandria would no doubt have an easier time adjusting to the banishment he would have to endure than had he still been merely a deacon or worse, a mere laymen. But nonetheless, Anthanasius would at least 5 times find himself "unchurched". Under what "authority" was Athanasius while he was exiled? I mean if the established government and Church no longer accepted him as Bishop, should he not have humbled himself and come under the authority of the Arians and their supporters? This seems to be the reasoning of some. Before we get full into the life of the unchurched Athanasius, let us first examine his person. His critics took much pleasure in attacking him personally, depicting him as a mere boy. From his kindlier critics, Athanasius was said to be "slightly below the middle height, spare in build" (Orat. xxi, 8 -- St. Gregory Nazianzen) whereas Athanasius' more hostile critics pointed out the "diminutiveness of his person" -- in short, he was short. It was however noticed that even in the face of this, that "he was endowed with a sense of humour that could be as mordant -- we had almost said as sardonic -- as it seems to have been spontaneous and unfailing; and his courage was of the sort that never falters, even in the most disheartening hour of defeat." (source) In essence, Athanasius was not a bitter man, but a cheerful and even humorous fellow. Returning to the scope of this article, Athanasius was first removed from his position in 335AD by a court of Arians. Athanasius appealed directly to the Emperor, even going so far as to stop the Emperor's entourage in the road as the Emperor was returning from a hunt. While Emperor Constantine issued a stay, renewed charges by the Arians would lead once again to Athanasius being removed from his bishopric in 336AD. This continued throughout the rest of Athanasius' life where some Emperor would listen to the Arians and have Athanasius removed and exiled. The point is, Athanasius, also known as the "father of orthodoxy" probably spent more time "unchurched" than he did being in a church? Why? Was it because Athanasius didn't want to be under "authority" or was it because much of that "authority" had become corrupt and compromisers? I dare anyone to call Anthanasius, that "boy" from Alexandria, that "diminutive" fellow who defended the faith in the face of such hardship, I dare any person to challenge Anthanasius' devotion to the Church. And such a person who would even attempt to challenge that devotion is of a weak-constitution, a beggarly person when it comes to facts and sources. So, while Athanasius' devotion was to the church, there are times when for that devotion a person may find themselves outside the "church" if and when the church is unwilling to hold fast to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. SOURCES:

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