Athanasius (298–373 A.D.) was a bishop of Alexandria (Egypt), in the fourth century. He is revered as a Saint by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, and recognized as a great leader and doctor of the early church by Protestants.
Before reaching the age of 20, Athanasius wrote a treatise entitled
On the Incarnation, affirming and explaining that Jesus was both God and Man. In about 319, when Athanasius was a
deacon, a presbyter named Arius began teaching that there was a time before God the Father begat Jesus Christ when the latter did not exist. Athanasius responded that the Father's begetting of the Son, or uttering of the Word,
was an eternal relationship between them, not an event that took place within time. Thus began catholic Christianity's fight against the heresy of Arianism. Athanasius fought consistently against Arianism all his life. He
accompanied bishop Alexander to the First Council of Nicaea in 325, which council produced the
Nicene Creed and anathematized Arius and his followers. On May 9, 328, he succeeded Alexander as bishop of Alexandria. As a result of rises and falls in Arianism's influence, he was banished from Alexandria only to be
later restored on at least five separate occasions, perhaps as many as seven. This gave rise to the expression "Athanasius contra mundum" or "Athanasius against the world". During some of his exiles, he spent time with the Desert
Fathers, monks and hermits who lived in remote areas of Egypt.
Athanasius is also the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today; up until his Easter letter, various similar lists were in use. However, his list was the one that was eventually ratified by a series of synods
and came to be universally recognized as the New Testament canon.
The Athanasian Creed is a statement of Christian doctrine traditionally ascribed to Athanasius; however most of today's historians agree that in all probability it was originally written in Latin, not in Greek, and
thus Athanasius cannot have been the original author. Its theology is closely akin to that found in the writing of western theologians, especially
Ambrose of Milan (340 - 397 A.D.). It was designed to overcome
Arianism, the focus of much of Athanasius' work, and though not the author it rightly bears his name.
- Thomas Weinandy, Athanasius: A Theological Introduction. Great Theologians Series. Ashgate, 2007.
- Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius. The Early Church Fathers. Routledge, 2004.
- _____, Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought. Routledge Early Church Monographs. Routledge, 2004.