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Saint Athanasius – Church Fathers

Saint Athanasius – Church Fathers


Early Life and Ascendancy to Bishopric

Saint Athanasius was born around 296 AD in Alexandria, Egypt. Raised in a Christian family, he received a thorough education in Christian doctrine as well as Greek classical literature. His early years were marked by a deep commitment to the Christian faith, which prepared him for his future role in the Church.

Athanasius became the Bishop of Alexandria in 328 AD, succeeding Alexander. His ascendancy to this influential position occurred at a time of significant theological turmoil, particularly concerning the nature of Christ and the Arian controversy.


Role in the Arian Controversy

The Arian controversy, named after the presbyter Arius, centered around the question of the divinity of Christ. Arius argued that Christ, as the Son of God, was created by the Father and therefore not co-eternal or co-equal with the Father.

Athanasius emerged as a key opponent of Arianism, arguing vehemently for the full divinity and co-eternality of Christ with the Father. This stance was crucial in the formulation of the Nicene Creed, established at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, which affirmed the homoousios (of the same substance) nature of the Son with the Father.

“On the Incarnation” and Christological Contributions

Athanasius’ work, “On the Incarnation,” is a foundational text in the field of Christology. In this treatise, he articulates the reasons for the Word’s (Logos) incarnation, emphasizing that the Son of God became human to save humanity from corruption and death.

His arguments in “On the Incarnation” are characterized by a deep understanding of both Scripture and the theological implications of the Incarnation. Athanasius underscored that salvation and deification (theosis) of humanity are only possible through a fully divine and fully human Savior.

Defense Against Arianism and Exiles

Athanasius’ unwavering stance against Arianism led to significant personal and political challenges. He was exiled five times, spending a total of 17 years in exile, under various Roman emperors who were sympathetic to Arianism or pressured by Arian factions within the Church.

Despite these challenges, Athanasius remained steadfast in his theological convictions. His persistence in defending orthodox Christian doctrine against Arian influences was instrumental in preserving the Nicene faith within the Church.

Formation of the New Testament Canon

Athanasius also played a pivotal role in the development of the New Testament canon. His Easter letter of 367 AD is one of the earliest extant lists of New Testament writings that align with the current canon. This list was influential in the Church’s gradual recognition and acceptance of the canonical books.

Theological and Pastoral Writings

Apart from “On the Incarnation,” Athanasius wrote numerous other theological and pastoral works. His “Life of Antony,” a biography of the monk Antony the Great, contributed significantly to the spread of monasticism in Eastern and Western Christianity. This work portrayed the monastic life as an ideal form of Christian discipleship and had a profound impact on Christian spirituality.

Legacy and Influence

The legacy of Saint Athanasius is immense. His defense of orthodox doctrine during the Arian controversy and his contributions to Christology and the formation of the New Testament canon have had a lasting impact on Christianity. He is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the Anglican Communion.

Despite facing opposition, exile, and political intrigue, Athanasius’ commitment to the truth of the Christian faith remained unshakeable. His writings continue to be studied for their theological depth, clarity, and spiritual insight.


Saint Athanasius stands as a towering figure in the history of Christian theology. His defense of the full divinity of Christ, contributions to the development of the New Testament canon, and influence on Christian spirituality and monasticism mark him as one of the most significant Church Fathers. His enduring legacy is a testament to his profound impact on the shaping of Christian orthodoxy and practice.

Read More

  1. “Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought” by Khaled Anatolios
  2. “The Incarnation: On the Divine Unity and Trinity” by Saint Athanasius

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