Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May 2: St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, 373

Today many Christians are remembering St. Athanasius ( c. 290-373 CE), whom many regard as the most important theologian of the fourth century; with good reason, some contend that he is the man to whom we chiefly owe the preservation of the Christian faith. He began his clerical career in 325 when he was ordained a deacon by Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. During the same year, he accompanied Alexander to the Council of Nicaea as his secretary and deacon. In 328, he was named the successor of Alexander, remaining bishop of Alexandria until his death in 373. However, of his 45 years of reign, Athanasius spent fifteeen years and ten months in exile because of his unpopular Nicene position in the Arian climate of the fourth-century Eastern empire. Most of Athanasius' time in exile was spent with other Egyptian monks or in Rome. While in exile, he wrote several works, many of which stress the significance of the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ and how acts of God are seen through the faith of the Church and in the sacraments. Athanasius is widely regarded as the great defender of the faith of Nicaea against Arianism.

Here is quotation from Athanasius:

We were made "in the likeness of God." But in course of time that image has become obscured, like a face on a very old portrait, dimmed with dust and dirt.

When a portrait is spoiled, the only way to renew it is for the subject to come back to the studio and sit for the artist all over again. That is why Christ came--to make it possible for the divine image in man to be recreated. We were made in God's likeness; we are remade in the likeness of his Son.

To bring about this re-creation, Christ still comes to men and lives among them. In a special way he comes to his church, his "body," to show us what the "image of God" is really like. What a responsibility the Church has, to be Christ's "body," showing him to those who are unwilling or unable to see him in providence, or in creation! Through the Word of God lived out in the Body of Christ they can come to the Father, and themselves be made again "in the likeness of God."

You may wish to ask God to continue to strenthen the Church with more teachers like Athanasius with this prayer:

Uphold your Church, O God of truth, as you upheld your servant Athanasius, to maintain and proclaim boldly the catholic faith against all opposition, trusting solely in the grace of your eternal Word, who took upon himself our humanity that we might share his divinity; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


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