Bishop of Alexandria, Teacher of the Faith


Bishop of Alexandria,
Teacher of the Faith

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Athanasius was a bishop of strong character, whose contribution to the disputes of the 4th century ensured the eventual triumph of the doctrine affirmed at Nicea.

Alexandria, where Athanasius was born, with it's famous great library was at that time, the intellectual centre of the Roman world, and he was probably educated there. He was ordained a deacon (at that time a deacon was a close administrative assistant to the bishop), and he accompanied his bishop, Alexander of Alexandria, to the Council of Nicea in 325. He eventually succeeded him and became Bishop in 328.

The church was immersed at this time in theological and political bickering and argument, Paul wrote against this in 2 Timothy 2:14-19, where was their love for each other? To complicate matters, theological parties vied for political support from the Emporer to oust their opponents. Rivalry between the different churches in the empire (not different denominations yet, although it was heading in that direction, but different locations, there was a growing division between the way the eastern churches and the western churches understood and opperated) this was also a factor causing tensions.

Athanasius supported the Nicea doctrine that Christ is “of one being with the Father”. Athanasius was exiled no fewer than 4 times through the efforts of his theological and political opponents. It was probably during his first exile to Trier in Gaul in 336 that he wrote his best-known treatise, 'On the Incarnation of the Word of God'. He returned to Alexandria in 337. Like many of his contemporaries, Athanasius was attracted by the idea of living a more simplistic and moral lifestyle, like those joining the new monestries and separating themselves from the decadence of the world. During his 2nd exile, which was in Rome (339-346), he did much to promote the support of the western church for Nicene theology, and the growth there of the monastic ideal of separation from the world. His further work on the 'Life of Antony' became a popular spiritual classic on the monastic way and a simpler life. He depicted it as offering a proper balance between things earthly and heavenly.

He was exiled twice more (356-363 and 365-366), though on these occasions he went into hiding in the vicinity of Alexandria. Through-out his life he wrote a great deal in order to establish understanding and acceptance of the Nicene doctrine. In this he was largely successful, but did not live long enough to know it, the arguments were finally settled at Constantinople in 381.

BORN:c.296, Alexandria, Egypt.

DIED:373, Alexandria, Egypt.