Provided by
D.A. LaGue 


In 367 A.D. a Bishop of the church in Alexandria, Egypt was forced to live in exile for defending his belief – that Jesus of Nazareth was not only fully man, but also, fully God. His firm stance against the pervasive Arian heresy that taught that Jesus Christ was merely a created being would earn him the title of Athanasius contra mundum; Athanasius “against the world.”

Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt around 297 A.D.. A small man with dark skin, Athanasius committed himself to the Christian ministry and attended the catechetical school of Alexandria. An intelligent and enthusiastic student, he wrote an influential work at the time entitled, On the Incarnation of the Word.

Speaking of the deity of Christ he noted, ‘the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm .. took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, .. He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours.’

His defense of the nature of Christ in this treatise would foreshadow the struggles that would typify the rest of his life. For it was during this time that another clergyman, Arius from Alexandria, introduced the idea that Jesus Christ was not equal to God the Father in nature and divinity; that “God begat him, and before he was begotten, he did not exist.” The Arian doctrine concluded that Jesus Christ, although highly exalted and favored of God, was nevertheless a created being.

To decide this and other doctrinal issues, Emperor Constantine organized a church council which met in Nicea in 325 and consisted of 318 bishops from all over the empire. Athanasius attended the council as an assistant and took part in the debates and reportedly, ‘contended earnestly for the apostolic doctrines, and was applauded by their champions, while he earned the hostility of their opponents.’

The controversy would eventually center around two words describing the nature of Christ. Athanasius and others defended the Greek word “homo-ousios” meaning “of the same substance, or nature, or essence” of God to describe the divinity of Christ. Arians preferred “homo-i-ousios” meaning “of similar nature.” The Nicene council would affirm unambiguously that Jesus Christ, the Son of God was “of one substance” (homo-ousios) with the Father.

Although the Nicene Creed was formally adopted by the counsel, the controversy continued. Arius rapidly regained influence resulting in many clergymen adhering to the Arian doctrine.  Athanasius however stood firm and refused fellowship with the advocates of ‘a heresy that was fighting against Christ.’

A pro-Arian council held in 335 found Athanasius guilty of false charges which included the practice of magic and he was ordered into exile. He traveled to Rome to appeal his case and two and a half years later was finally reinstated as Bishop. On his return to Alexandria, ‘the people ran in crowds to see his face; the churches were full of rejoicing .. the ministers and clergy thought the day the happiest in their lives.’

However, the rejoicing would be short-lived. Another council brought up old charges and rather than insight riots, Athanasius left Alexandria to defend his cause. In 345, the Arian Bishop of Alexandria died and Athanasius was again reinstated.

This time he reigned for ten years, strengthening orthodoxy in Egypt and composing some of his greatest works, including his Defense Against the Arians. In 356, yet another Arian council set their sites on Athanasius. As he was conducting a service at the church of St. Thomas, a band of armed men broke into the sanctuary in order to capture him. Athanasius escaped and for six years took refuge among the monasteries and hermitages of Egypt. He would later write a biography on the life of St. Antony which would become an important book promoting monasticism.

Reinstated to his office in Alexandria again, Athanasius continued to defend the full deity of Christ against Arian emperors, bishops and theologians. For this, he was regarded as a troublemaker in the church and would be banished, exiled and reinstated three more times during the course of his life. In 366, he returned for the last time to his post and in 373, died quietly in his own home.

Colossians 1:15 states that Jesus Christ. “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation for by Him all things were created,” and verse 19 says that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”

The deity of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and the pinnacle of God’s redemptive purposes. The eternal Son of God taking on human flesh, a union of two perfect and distinct natures, Godhead and manhood, joined together in the one person of Jesus Christ, is an incomprehensible display of humility, grace and mercy. By His sinless life, subsitutionary death, glorious resurrection and ascension, He opened the gates of heaven to all that would place their faith in Him for the forgiveness of their sins. As Christians today, we are called to continue to defend this doctrine amid postmodern skepticism; shining forth what is an ultimate mystery to the intellect but joy to the believing heart.

As Athanasius, a true hero of the early church stated, ‘the more He is mocked among the unbelieving, the more witness does He give of His own Godhead .. and what men, in their conceit of wisdom, laugh at as merely human, He by His own power demonstrates to be divine.’


Athanasius, On The Incarnation of the Word.
Davis, Athanasius.
Kiefer, Athanasius: Bishop of Alexandria, theologian, doctor.
Shepherd, St. Athanasius the Great.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Athanasius: St. Bishop of Alexandria.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, St. Athanasius

    15 replies to "Historical Renewal Friday: Athanasius"

    • Sean

      Athanasius is one of my favorite persons in church history. One thing that I love about him (as far as I know) was that when he returned to power, he did not abuse those who had abused him.

      I thought about naming our new baby after him if it’s a boy but decided against it as too burdensome a name for a child to bear in this century.

    • Felicity

      Your boy could go by Thane. 😀

    • C Michael Patton

      how about Athan?

    • Sean

      My wife was rather less than thrilled with it so it’s a no-go.

    • Felicity

      “My wife was rather less than thrilled with it so it’s a no-go.”

      Smart man!

    • Roger

      It must be admitted that Jesus Christ is the Godman, the incarnation of a
      Person of the Godhead, and as such (having a temporal aspect in his
      humanity) was not always. His Deity, of course, is eternal but the person we
      call the Son of God, that is, Jesus Christ is the PRODUCT of a triune act and
      may only be described as eternal with regard to his Deity.

    • stevemoore


      Can you please elaborate in general, and clarify your use of the term “person”?



    • ChadS


      I don’t believe you can separate Christ’s two natures – the divine and human – without damaging Christianity’s understanding of Christ’s nature and being and therefore possibly lessening the salvific work that took place on the cross.


    • Roger

      One of the three Persons of the Trinity (Philippians 2) became incarnate (Luke 1:35). Although constantly referred to as the Second Person
      or the Son, I find no warrant for these designations. Mary was told that the One born from her “will” be called the Son of God. I believe that
      the Son is Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. I hate to hear someone say “God became a man”. God became united with a sinless humanity
      miraculously created in the womb of Mary, the PRODUCT of a triune act (all htree Persons of the Divine Being involved)

      When I say I find no warrant for the designation “Son” for the so-called second Person of the Trinity, I mean that I find it unScriptural.
      A lot of problems have been introduced by using terminology INTRODUCED BY JESUS and reading it back into some pre-creation relational
      dynamic in order to bring understanding about the Trinity. Next we have subordinationist heresies and all kinds of confusion. We have a
      very natural psychological tendency to assign hiearchical relations using Father-Son descriptions for members of the Trinity. Further,
      we have the same problem with 1-2-3 (1st Pers, 2nd Pers, 3rd Pers)

      If you have one please tell me why Biblically I should call a Person of the Trinity (and that Person ALONE) ‘Son’.

      Jesus is NOT eternal. The Person who is God integral with (but undiminished by) his humanity is eternal. Jesus had a temporal, a created
      body (now glorified). Jesus was NOT with God in the beginning, the Word was with God and was/is God.

    • Roger

      Of course Jesus IS ETERNAL NOW. I mean to say that he had a created aspect to his individuality.

    • stevemoore


      So, you seem to be taking great strides to make some subtle point that apparently I’m not seeing clearly yet.

      What’s at stake here that causes such concern on your part by calling the second person of the trinity Jesus? Are you saying you don’t hold to a triune God, or something else? Are you saying that the second person of the trinity did not eternally co-exist with the Father and Holy Spirit?

      Please clarify as simply as possible for the slow readers (me). The smaller the words the better. ;^)


    • Roger

      All I’m saying is that recently I’ve been thinking about the way Christianity
      describes the Trinity and I think it’s confusing.

      It overlooks a load of important consideration to simply say that the second
      person of the trinity is “Jesus”. Of course, in Christian circles people have a
      sense that it means we believe that Jesus is God.

      I do believe in a triune God, all three persons co-equal, co-existing eternally.

      To say that Jesus, the individual possessing fully human and fully divine
      natures, existed in pre-creation eternity violates Luke 1:35.

      Secondly, to describe the pre-creation triune Being (God) in terms of
      ‘Father-Son’ reads a temporal (becoming eternal) relationship that BEGAN
      WITH JESUS back into how the Being eternally is.

      I find no reason to assume that one Person of God had a Father relationship
      with another person of God as a pre-creation eternal Son.

    • stevemoore


      While I applaud your attempt at clarity I think I’d have to say that your approach causes more questions than it does answers. This is a mysterious subject – that can be said clearly. ;^)

      You appeal to an argument from silence to make your points. And while you may find no reason, that does not mean there is none, nor does it necessitate your conclusions.

      If you’re saying that Jesus was eternally co-equal in being _and_ function I dont know that you can support the latter with anything more than an argument from silence. Since much of the understanding of the Trinity has to be read back into the texts regardless of the view, there’s not much to work with when we want such detailed precision regarding the mystery of the Trinity. I think it is a harder case to make that He was co-equal in function prior to the incarnation, but that may just be me. I do believe he’s co-equal in being eternally.

      But, while I may not agree with you, you have caused me to think about it more closely – thanks for that.



    • Roger


      An argument from silence may indeed be valid. However, when structure
      begins to weigh on a foundation it had better be sure. Simply, I believe that
      talking about Jesus’ co-equality in the Trinity or referring to His pre-eternal
      existence in terms properly relevant to the Godman are fine provided that
      it is made clear that we are talking about his Deity (Divine nature’s involvement.

      What is not clear is why we should translate temporal terminology
      (Father-Son) into a discussion about the dynamic of the Trinity. In other words,
      using those terms puts us at risk of imposing anthropocentric relational ideas
      and relational heiracrchy upon the Trinity without warrant.

    • Perry Robinson


      You seem to be confusing the union of the two natures with the person of the Word/Son. Jesus speaks clearly of himself as the Son prior to creation. Jn 17:5

      Consequently, the language of Sonship isn’t anthropomorphic or strictly speaking temporal language.

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