Recently, we celebrated the feast of St. Athanasius, a man whom very few might have known about, but who was so crucial to the survival of Christianity. In honor of his role in our history, Cale spent a segment of The Cale Clarke Show educating us on the achievements of this great saint and why we owe so much to him.
To his detractors, Athanasius was often referred to as “the dwarf” because of his small stature. But as Cale pointed out, there was nothing those insults could do to stop him from becoming a theological giant.
In the 4th century, Bishop Alexander of Alexandria began encountering difficulty with one of his priests, Arius. Arius was a great preacher, charismatic, and very popular. Some people would even go out of their way to find out where he was preaching in order to hear him speak. However, one of Arius’ teachings stood out from among the rest:
There was when he was not.
In other words, Arius meant that there was a time when Jesus Christ was not; when He didn’t exist. Therefore, if Jesus was not eternal, He was not God. This was a new teaching, but to early Christians it was very difficult to distinguish between interpretations, the full truth, and heretical teaching. Because he was so charismatic and popular, people listened to him.
“Now Bishop Alexander, his bishop, was very orthodox. He held the Catholic Faith and he said, ‘No, no, no. The Word, the divine Word, existed from all eternity with the Father. The Word is eternal.’” Arius disagreed, saying that God the Father must’ve had to speak the word into existence. He knew the Bible front to back and he would pick verses out to back up his claims.
But that doesn’t work. It’s possible to make the Bible say almost anything you want if you cherry-pick passages and cobble them together to fit your argument. Only with the full guiding principles of the Church established by Jesus Christ do scriptural interpretations remain consistent. Based on Arius’ heretical teaching and followers, some have tried to contest that Christians didn’t worship Jesus as God from the beginning and that was added later.
After the Arians were formally denounced at the Council of Nicaea, it seemed like all was well. Arius and his followers were labeled heretics and cast out from the Church, and Christianity was free from them…or so it seemed. Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia began working on Constantine to ease up on the Arians and let Arius back into the Church. He eventually gave in. Even though Arius and Bishop Alexander died before that could transpire, the deed was done. The door had been opened to Arianism.
Slowly but surely, it crept into orthodox Christianity and one day the world awoke to realize that over half of the bishops were Arian. One of the last faithful bishops was Athanasius, Alexander’s successor. Eusebius and his fellow Arians spread rumors about Athanasius, saying that he practiced magic, solicited prostitutes, and enforced tyrannical practices on his congregations. They also falsely accused Athanasius in a synod before the emperor of murdering bishop, Arsenius, and cutting off his hand to use in his magic.
Arsenius had actually been in on the scheme to pretend to be dead and make Athanasius look bad, but he had a change of heart. He defected to Athanasius’ side and was brought into the synod to show that the accusations were completely fabricated. Athanasius never broke the faith and he never strayed from the true teachings of the Church. He practiced ascetic living to make him strong in the face of the many trials he faced. He was even forced into exile and hiding on several occasions.
But even on the run, Athanasius never stopped defending the faith. He wrote many things, including the Life of St. Anthony, a masterclass on monasticism, and many documents responding to the claims of pagans and Jews. Athanasius is the one who corrected the dates for Christian feasts, as well as curated the official list of books that should be included in the New Testament. We still follow his example to this day.
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