Skip to comments.On St. Athanasius
Posted on 06/20/2007 7:48:35 PM PDT by ELS
On St. Athanasius - "God Is Accessible"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 20, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection focused on St. Athanasius.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Continuing with our catechetical series on the great teachers of the ancient Church, today we turn our attention to St. Athanasius of Alexandria. This true protagonist of Christian tradition, just a few years after his death, was celebrated as a "pillar of the Church" by the great theologian and bishop of Constantinople, Gregory Nazianzen (Discourses 26:26). He has always been esteemed as a model of orthodoxy, in the East as well as in the West.
It was no mistake that Gian Lorenzo Bernini placed a statue of him among the four holy doctors of the Eastern and Western Church -- together with Ambrose, John Chrysostom and Augustine -- which surround the chair of Peter in the apse of the Vatican basilica.
Athanasius was, without a doubt, one of the most important and venerated Fathers of the ancient Church. But above all, this great saint is the passionate theologian of the incarnation of the "Logos," the Word of God, which -- as the prologue of the fourth Gospel says -- "was made flesh and lived among us" (John 1:14).
For this reason Athanasius was also the most important and tenacious adversary of the Arian heresy, which at that time was threatening faith in Christ by reducing him to a creature between God and man, following a recurring tendency in history that we still see in various forms today.
Athanasius was most likely born in Alexandria in Egypt, around the year 300, and received a good education before becoming a deacon and secretary of Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. The young cleric worked closely with his bishop, and accompanied him to, and took part in, the Council of Nicaea, the first such ecumenical council, called by the Emperor Constantine in May 325 to ensure the unity of the Church. The fathers of the Nicene Council dealt with many questions, foremost among them, the serious problems that had originated some years before with the preaching of the deacon Arius.
His theory threatened authentic faith in Christ, declaring that the "logos" was not true God, but a created God, a being not quite God and not quite man, but in the middle. And therefore the true God remained inaccessible to us. The bishops in Nicaea responded by emphasizing and establishing the "Symbol of Faith" that, later completed by the first Council of Constantinople, remained in the tradition of various Christian confessions and in the liturgy as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
In this fundamental text -- which expresses the faith of the undivided Church, and which we still recite today, each Sunday in the Eucharistic celebration -- we see the Greek term "homooúsios," in Latin "consubstantialis," which means that the Son, the Logos, is "of the same substance" as the Father, is God from God, is his substance. Therefore the full divinity of the Son, which was negated by the Arians, is seen.
Upon the death of Bishop Alexander, Athanasius became, in 328, his successor as bishop of Alexandria. He immediately decided to fight against every compromise resulting from the Arian theories condemned by the Council of Nicaea. His resolve -- tenacious and at times very tough, even if necessary -- with those who were opposed to his election as bishop and above all against the adversaries of the Nicene Symbol, brought upon him the relentless hostility of the Arians and their supporters.
Despite the unequivocal outcome of the Council, which clearly affirmed that the Son was of the same substance as the Father, these erroneous ideas returned once more to dominate public thought -- so that even Arius himself regained popularity, and was supported for political motives by Emperor Constantine and then by his son Constantine II. The latter was not interested in theological truth but rather the unity of the empire and its political problems; he wanted to politicize the faith, making it more accessible -- in his view -- to all the subjects of the empire.
The Arian crisis, which was thought to be resolved in Nicaea, continued in this way for decades, with difficult incidents and painful divisions in the Church. And five times -- during the 30 years between 336 and 366 -- Athanasius was forced to abandon the city, living 17 years in exile and suffering for the faith.
But during his forced absences from Alexandria, the bishop was able to sustain and spread -- in the West, first in Trier and then in Rome -- the faith of the Nicene Council and the ideals of monasticism, which were embraced in Egypt by the great hermit Anthony whose choice of life Athanasius followed closely. St. Anthony, with his spiritual strength, was the most important person in sustaining the faith of St. Athanasius.
After the definitive return to his see, the bishop of Alexandria was able to dedicate himself to religious pacification and the reorganization of the Christian community. He died on May 2, 373, the day in which we celebrate his liturgical feast.
The most famous work of the Alexandrian bishop is the treatise on the "Incarnation of the Word, " the divine "Logos" made flesh, like us, for our salvation.
In this work, Athanasius says, in a phrase that has become well known, that the Word of God "became man so that we might become God. He manifested himself by means of a body in order that we might perceive the unseen Father. He endured shame from men that we might inherit immortality" (54:3).
In fact, with his resurrection, the Lord made death disappear like "straw in the fire" (8:4). The fundamental idea of the entire theological battle of St. Athanasius was that God is accessible. He is not a secondary God, he is true God, and through our communion with Christ we can truly unite ourselves to God. He truly became "God with us."
Among the other works of this great Father of the Church -- which deal mainly with the events of the Arian crisis -- we recall the four letters that he addressed to his friend Serapion, bishop of Thmius, on the divine nature of the Holy Spirit, which was clearly affirmed.
And there are some 30 or so "festal" letters, written at the beginning of every year, to the Churches and monasteries of Egypt to indicate the date of Easter, but moreover to strengthen the ties among the faithful, reinforcing their faith and preparing them for that great solemnity.
Athanasius is also the author of meditative texts on the Psalms, which were vastly distributed, and a text that constituted a "best seller" of ancient Christian literature: the "Life of Anthony," the biography of St. Anthony the Abbot, written shortly after the death of this saint, while the bishop of Alexandria was in exile, living with the monks of the Egyptian desert. Athanasius was a friend of the great hermit, and even received one of the two sheepskins left by Anthony as his inheritance, together with the mantel that he himself had given him.
The biography of this beloved figure in Christian tradition contributed greatly to the spread of monasticism in the East and the West, as it became very popular and was soon translated twice in Latin and then in other Eastern languages.
The letter of this text, to Trier, is at the center of an emotional telling of the conversion of two ministers of the emperor, which Augustine mentions in the "Confessions" (VIII, 6:15) as a premise of his own conversion.
Athanasius showed that he had a clear awareness of the influence that the figure of Anthony could have on the Christian people.
In fact, he writes in the conclusion of this work: "And the fact that his fame has been blazoned everywhere; that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God's love of his soul. For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Anthony renowned, but solely from his piety toward God.
"That this was the gift of God no one will deny. For from whence into Spain and into Gaul, how into Rome and Africa, was the man heard of who dwelled hidden in a mountain, unless it was God who makes his own known everywhere, who also promised this to Anthony at the beginning? For even if they work secretly, even if they wish to remain in obscurity, yet the Lord shows them as lamps to lighten all, that those who hear may thus know that the precepts of God are able to make men prosper and thus be zealous in the path of virtue" ("Life of Anthony" 93, 5-6).
Yes, brothers and sisters! We have many reasons to thank St. Athanasius. His life, as that of Anthony and countless other saints, shows us that "those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them" ("Deus Caritas Est," 42).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Continuing our catechesis on the great teachers of the ancient Church, we turn today to St. Athanasius of Alexandria. Athanasius is venerated in East and West alike as a pillar of Christian orthodoxy. Against the followers of the Arian heresy, he insisted on the full divinity and consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, and defended the faith of the Church as expressed in the Creed of the Council of Nicea. The Arian crisis did not end with the Council; indeed, for his resolute defense of the Nicene dogma, Athanasius was exiled from his see five times in thirty years. His many writings include the treatise On the Incarnation of the Word, which defends the full divinity of the Son, whose incarnation is the source of our salvation: "he became man so that we could become God." Athanasius also wrote a celebrated Life of Anthony, a spiritual biography of St. Anthony Abbot, whom he had known personally. This popular book had an immense influence in the spread of the monastic ideal in East and West. Like Anthony, Athanasius stands out as one of the great figures of the Church in Egypt, a "lamp" whose teaching and example even today light up the path of the entire Church.
I welcome the participants in the course organized by Foyer Unitas Lay Center. My greetings also go to the Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis Seraphicus. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Australia and the United States, I invoke God's abundant blessings.
© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[The Pope then spoke in Italian:]
Today we celebrate the "World Day of the Refugee," promoted by the United Nations in order to promote attention for those who are forced to escape from their countries because they are in fear for their lives. Welcoming refugees and giving them hospitality is gesture of human solidarity, so that they will not feel isolated because of intolerance and disinterest. For Christians it is a concrete way to show evangelical love. I wish with all my heart that our brothers and sisters who suffer will be guaranteed exile and the recognition of their rights, and I invite the leaders of all nations to offer protection to those who find themselves in need.
I wish every good thing, to everyone. Thank you for your presence!
[Translation by ZENIT]
Please let me know if you want to be on or off this list.
Thank you for the ping.
FYI, for non-Catholics who may not be familiar with the Holy Father’s reference to the Nicene Creed’s definitive explanation of the Incarnate Word:
“We believe in...one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages. God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Begotten, not made, one in being with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, of whose Kingdom there shall be no end.”
Thanks! These are absolutely great!
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God. Born of the Father before all ages. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. Begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And became incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary: AND WAS MADE MAN. He was also crucified for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was buried. And on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, and who spoke through the prophets. And one holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
And here it is in Latin:
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem coeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium. Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum. Et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula. Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero. Genitum, not factum, consubstantialem Patri: per quem omnia facta sunt. Qui propter nos homines, et propter nostram salutem descendit de coelis. Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine: ET HOMO FACTUS EST. Crucifixus etiam pro nobis; sub Pontio Pilato passus, et sepultus est. Et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas. Et ascendit in coelum: sedet ad dexteram Patris. Et iterum venturus est cum gloria judicare vivos et mortuos. cujus regni non erit finis. Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit. Qui cum Patre, et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur: qui locutus est per Prophetas. Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam. Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum. Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum. Et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.
Ecclesiastes says that "there is nothing new under the sun."
Most modern heresies are just reconstitutions of ancient falsehoods.
One of the more recent reconsitutions of Ariansism was the postulation by John Calvin that there were attributes of the Son of God which were not fully possessed by Jesus.
Written against the Arians.
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal. As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are coeternal together, and coequal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.