I never even heard of St. Athanasius during my formative years in Catholic education. Now, he’s one of my favorite Catholic saint. I first learned of Athanasius when I was taking a Master’s course on the Trinity. On the feast day of St. Athanasius I want to share three key things about his life that make him my favorite saint of all-time!
Fighter against heresy
Born in A.D. 296, Athanasius grew up in, arguably, the most chaotic time for the Catholic Church. A sinister heresy known as Arianism infested the 4th century church. This heresy asserted that Jesus was not the Son of God, but simply the highest creation created by God to carry out his works. Arianism rejected the dogma of the Incarnation. St. Athanasius championed truth with his role in the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea. Here the Nicene Creed proclaimed the belief in the Trinity officially laid out in the dogmatic decree.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Along with fighting Arianism doctrinally, Athanasius as bishop of Alexandria shepherded his diocese toward truth. He talked the talk and walked the walk. Often at odds with the secular leaders of his day (many whom politically aligned themselves with Arius), Athanasius was exiled five times by various emperors including Constantine’s son, Emperor Constantius II. Athanasius even lived with monks during one of his banishments—for six years. The exile of Athanasius did not stop his supporters. Rather his graceful witness galvanized the faithful to push for his continual return despite his many exiles. I have great respect for anyone who witnesses to truth despite such threats.
Promoter of Holiness
Another reason that St. Athanasius is my favorite saint is his promotion of sanctity. Besides championing orthodoxy at the Council of Nicaea, Athanasius is maybe most well-known for his support of asceticism. Athanasius wrote Life of St. Antony—which became a best-seller in his time—and helped spread the acetic movement throughout the Church. I was drawn to the witness of St. Antony’s life of holiness when I read his biography by St. Athanasius. I am grateful for this gift!
With the intercession of St. Athanasius, aay God continue to grant us courage in promoting the truth of the Gospel!