mercredi 2 mai 2012

Saint ATHANASE d'ALEXANDRIE, évêque, confesseur et Docteur de l'Église


Le Verbe de Dieu s'est fait homme pour que nous devenions Dieu ; 
il s'est rendu visible dans le corps pour que nous ayons une idée du Père invisible, 
et il a lui-même supporté la violence des hommes pour que nous héritions de l'incorruptibilité

Saint Athanase. Sur l'Incarnation du Verbe, 54,3.

Saint Athanase, évêque et docteur de l'Église

Evêque d'Alexandrie de 328 à 373, Athanase n'eut qu'un objectif : défendre la foi en la divinité du Christ, qui avait été définie à Nicée, mais se trouvait battue en brèche de partout. Ni la pusillanimité des évêques, ni les tracasseries policières, ni cinq exils ne vinrent à bout de son caractère et surtout de son amour pour le Seigneur Jésus, Dieu fait homme.

SOURCE : http://www.paroisse-saint-aygulf.fr/index.php/prieres-et-liturgie/saints-par-mois/icalrepeat.detail/2015/05/02/624/-/saint-athanase-eveque-et-docteur-de-l-eglise

SAINT ATHANASE

Docteur de l'Église

(296-375)

Saint Athanase naquit à Alexandrie, métropole de l'Égypte. Sa première éducation fut excellente; il ne quitta le foyer paternel que pour être élevé, nouveau Samuel, dans le temple du Seigneur, par l'évêque d'Alexandrie.

Athanase était simple diacre, quand son évêque le mena au concile de Nicée, dont il fut à la fois la force et la lumière. Cinq mois après, le patriarche d'Alexandrie mourut, et Athanase, malgré sa fuite, se vit obligé d'accepter le lourd fardeau de ce grand siège. Dès lors, ce fut une guerre acharnée contre lui. Les accusations succèdent aux accusations, les perfidies aux perfidies; Athanase, inébranlable, invincible dans la défense de la foi, fait à lui seul trembler tous ses ennemis.

La malice des hérétiques ne servit qu'à faire ressortir l'énergie de cette volonté de fer, la sainteté de ce grand coeur, les ressources de cet esprit fécond, la splendeur de ce fier génie. Exilé par l'empereur Constantin, il lui fit cette réponse:

"Puisque vous cédez à mes calomniateurs, le Seigneur jugera entre vous et moi."

Avant de mourir, Constantin le rappela, et Athanase fut reçu en triomphe dans sa ville épiscopale. Le vaillant champion de la foi eut à subir bientôt un nouvel exil, et deux conciles ariens ne craignirent pas de pousser la mauvaise foi et l'audace jusqu'à le déposer de son siège.

Toujours persécuté et toujours vainqueur, voilà la vie d'Athanase; il vit périr l'infâme Arius d'une mort honteuse et effrayante et tous ses ennemis disparaître les uns après les autres. Jamais les adversaires de ce grand homme ne purent le mettre en défaut, il déjoua toutes leurs ruses avec une admirable pénétration d'esprit. En voici quelques traits.

En plein concile, on le fit accuser d'infamie par une courtisane; mais il trouve le moyen de montrer que cette femme ne le connaissait même pas de vue, puisqu'elle prit un de ses prêtres pour lui.

Au même concile, on l'accusa d'avoir mis à mort un évêque nommé Arsène, et coupé sa main droite; comme preuve on montrait la main desséchée de la victime; mais voici qu'à l'appel d'Athanase, Arsène paraît vivant et montre ses deux mains.

Une autre fois, Athanase, poursuivi, s'enfuit sur un bateau; puis bientôt il rebrousse chemin, croise ses ennemis, qui lui demandent s'il a vu passer l'évêque d'Alexandrie: "Poursuivez, leur dit-il, il n'est pas très éloigné d'ici."

Ses dernières années furent les seules paisibles de sa vie. Enfin, après avoir gouverné pendant quarante-six ans l'Église d'Alexandrie, après avoir soutenu tant de combats, il alla recevoir au Ciel la récompense de "ceux qui souffrent persécution pour la justice".

Abbé L. Jaud, Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l'année, Tours, Mame, 1950.

SOURCE : http://magnificat.ca/cal/fr/saints/saint_athanase.html


BENOÎT XVI

AUDIENCE GÉNÉRALE

Mercredi 20 juin 2007

Saint Athanase


Chers frères et sœurs,

En poursuivant notre évocation des grands Maîtres de l'Eglise antique, nous voulons aujourd'hui tourner notre attention vers saint Athanase d'Alexandrie. Cet authentique protagoniste de la tradition chrétienne, déjà quelques années avant sa mort, fut célébré comme "la colonne de l'Eglise" par le grand théologien et Evêque de Constantinople Grégroire de Nazianze (Discours 21, 26), et il a toujours été considéré comme un modèle d'orthodoxie, aussi bien en Orient qu'en Occident. Ce n'est donc pas par hasard que Gian Lorenzo Bernini en plaça la statue parmi celles des quatre saints Docteurs de l'Eglise orientale et occidentale - avec Ambroise, Jean Chrysostome et Augustin -, qui dans la merveilleuse abside la Basilique vaticane entourent la Chaire de saint Pierre.

Athanase a été sans aucun doute l'un des Pères de l'Eglise antique les plus importants et les plus vénérés. Mais ce grand saint est surtout le théologien passionné de l'incarnation, du Logos, le Verbe de Dieu, qui - comme le dit le prologue du quatrième Evangile - "se fit chair et vint habiter parmi nous" (Jn 1, 14). C'est précisément pour cette raison qu'Athanase fut également l'adversaire le plus important et le plus tenace de l'hérésie arienne, qui menaçait alors la foi dans le Christ, réduit à une créature "intermédiaire" entre Dieu et l'homme, selon une tendance récurrente dans l'histoire et que nous voyons en œuvre de différentes façons aujourd'hui aussi. Probablement né à Alexandrie vers l'an 300, Athanase reçut une bonne éducation avant de devenir diacre et secrétaire de l'Evêque de la métropole égyptienne, Alexandre. Proche collaborateur de son Evêque, le jeune ecclésiastique prit part avec lui au Concile de Nicée, le premier à caractère œcuménique, convoqué par l'empereur Constantin en mai 325 pour assurer l'unité de l'Eglise. Les Pères nicéens purent ainsi affronter diverses questions et principalement le grave problème né quelques années auparavant à la suite de la prédication du prêtre alexandrin Arius.

Celui-ci, avec sa théorie, menaçait l'authentique foi dans le Christ, en déclarant que le Logos n'était pas le vrai Dieu, mais un Dieu créé, un être "intermédiaire" entre Dieu et l'homme, ce qui rendait ainsi le vrai Dieu toujours inaccessible pour nous. Les Evêques réunis à Nicée répondirent en mettant au point et en fixant le "Symbole de la foi" qui, complété plus tard par le premier Concile de Constantinople, est resté dans la tradition des différentes confessions chrétiennes et dans la liturgie comme le Credo de Nicée-Constantinople. Dans ce texte fondamental - qui exprime la foi de l'Eglise indivise, et que nous répétons aujourd'hui encore, chaque dimanche, dans la célébration eucharistique - figure le terme grec homooúsios, en latin consubstantialis: celui-ci veut indiquer que le Fils, le Logos est "de la même substance" que le Père, il est Dieu de Dieu, il est sa substance, et ainsi est mise en lumière la pleine divinité du Fils, qui était en revanche niée par le ariens.

A la mort de l'Evêque Alexandre, Athanase devint, en 328, son successeur comme Evêque d'Alexandrie, et il se révéla immédiatement décidé à refuser tout compromis à l'égard des théories ariennes condamnées par le Concile de Nicée. Son intransigeance, tenace et parfois également très dure, bien que nécessaire, contre ceux qui s'étaient opposés à son élection épiscopale et surtout contre les adversaires du Symbole de Nicée, lui valut l'hostilité implacable des ariens et des philo-ariens. Malgré l'issue sans équivoque du Concile, qui avait clairement affirmé que le Fils est de la même substance que le Père, peu après, ces idées fausses prévalurent à nouveau - dans ce contexte, Arius lui-même fut réhabilité -, et elles furent soutenues pour des raisons politiques par l'empereur Constantin lui-même et ensuite par son fils Constance II. Celui-ci, par ailleurs, qui ne se souciait pas tant de la vérité théologique que de l'unité de l'empire et de ses problèmes politiques, voulait politiser la foi, la rendant plus accessible - à son avis - à tous ses sujets dans l'empire.

La crise arienne, que l'on croyait résolue à Nicée, continua ainsi pendant des décennies, avec des événements difficiles et des divisions douloureuses dans l'Eglise. Et à cinq reprises au moins - pendant une période de trente ans, entre 336 et 366 - Athanase fut obligé d'abandonner sa ville, passant dix années en exil et souffrant pour la foi. Mais au cours de ses absences forcées d'Alexandrie, l'Evêque eut l'occasion de soutenir et de diffuser en Occident, d'abord à Trèves puis à Rome, la foi nicéenne et également les idéaux du monachisme, embrassés en Egypte par le grand ermite Antoine, à travers un choix de vie dont Athanase fut toujours proche. Saint Antoine, avec sa force spirituelle, était la personne qui soutenait le plus la foi de saint Athanase. Réinstallé définitivement dans son Siège, l'Evêque d'Alexandrie put se consacrer à la pacification religieuse et à la réorganisation des communautés chrétiennes. Il mourut le 2 mai 373, jour où nous célébrons sa mémoire liturgique.

L'oeuvre doctrinale la plus célèbre du saint Evêque alexandrin est le traité Sur l'incarnation du Verbe, le Logos divin qui s'est fait chair en devenant comme nous pour notre salut. Dans cette œuvre, Athanase dit, avec une affirmation devenue célèbre à juste titre, que le Verbe de Dieu "s'est fait homme pour que nous devenions Dieu; il s'est rendu visible dans le corps pour que nous ayons une idée du Père invisible, et il a lui-même supporté la violence des hommes pour que nous héritions de l'incorruptibilité" (54, 3). En effet, avec sa résurrection le Seigneur a fait disparaître la mort comme "la paille dans le feu" (8, 4). L'idée fondamentale de tout le combat théologique de saint Athanase était précisément celle que Dieu est accessible. Il n'est pas un Dieu secondaire, il est le vrai Dieu, et, à travers notre communion avec le Christ, nous pouvons nous unir réellement à Dieu. Il est devenu réellement "Dieu avec nous".

Parmi les autres œuvres de ce grand Père de l'Eglise - qui demeurent en grande partie liées aux événements de la crise arienne - rappelons ensuite les autres lettres qu'il adressa à son ami Sérapion, Evêque de Thmuis, sur la divinité de l'Esprit Saint, qui est affirmée avec netteté, et une trentaine de lettres festales, adressées en chaque début d'année aux Eglises et aux monastères d'Egypte pour indiquer la date de la fête de Pâques, mais surtout pour assurer les liens entre les fidèles, en renforçant leur foi et en les préparant à cette grande solennité.

Enfin, Athanase est également l'auteur de textes de méditation sur les Psaumes, ensuite largement diffusés, et d'une œuvre qui constitue le best seller de la littérature chrétienne antique: la Vie d'Antoine, c'est-à-dire la biographie de saint Antoine abbé, écrite peu après la mort de ce saint, précisément alors que l'Evêque d'Alexandrie, exilé, vivait avec les moines dans le désert égyptien. Athanase fut l'ami du grand ermite, au point de recevoir l'une des deux peaux de moutons laissées par Antoine en héritage, avec le manteau que l'Evêque d'Alexandrie lui avait lui-même donné. Devenue rapidement très populaire, traduite presque immédiatement en latin à deux reprises et ensuite en diverses langues orientales, la biographie exemplaire de cette figure chère à la tradition chrétienne contribua beaucoup à la diffusion du monachisme en Orient et en Occident. Ce n'est pas un hasard si la lecture de ce texte, à Trèves, se trouve au centre d'un récit émouvant de la conversion de deux fonctionnaires impériaux, qu'Augustin place dans les Confessions (VIII, 6, 15) comme prémisses de sa conversion elle-même.

Du reste, Athanase lui-même montre avoir clairement conscience de l'influence que pouvait avoir sur le peuple chrétien la figure exemplaire d'Antoine. Il écrit en effet dans la conclusion de cette œuvre: "Qu'il fut partout connu, admiré par tous et désiré, également par ceux qui ne l'avaient jamais vu, est un signe de sa vertu et de son âme amie de Dieu. En effet, ce n'est pas par ses écrits ni par une sagesse profane, ni en raison de quelque capacité qu'Antoine est connu, mais seulement pour sa piété envers Dieu. Et personne ne pourrait nier que cela soit un don de Dieu. Comment, en effet, aurait-on entendu parler en Espagne et en Gaule, à Rome et en Afrique de cet homme, qui vivait retiré parmi les montagnes, si ce n'était Dieu lui-même qui l'avait partout fait connaître, comme il le fait avec ceux qui lui appartiennent, et comme il l'avait annoncé à Antoine dès le début? Et même si ceux-ci agissent dans le secret et veulent rester cachés, le Seigneur les montre à tous comme un phare, pour que ceux qui entendent parler d'eux sachent qu'il est possible de suivre les commandements et prennent courage pour parcourir le chemin de la vertu" (Vie d'Antoine 93, 5-6).

Oui, frères et soeurs! Nous avons de nombreux motifs de gratitude envers Athanase. Sa vie, comme celle d'Antoine et d'innombrables autres saints, nous montre que "celui qui va vers Dieu ne s'éloigne pas des hommes, mais qu'il se rend au contraire proche d'eux" (Deus caritas est, n. 42).

* * *

Rencontre avec des groupes dans la Basilique Saint-Pierre

Chers pèlerins de langue française,

je vous accueille avec joie auprès de la tombe de Pierre. Que la démarche spirituelle que vous accomplissez ici affermisse votre foi au Christ et votre lien avec l’Église.

En vous confiant à l’intercession de la Bienheureuse Vierge Marie, je vous assure de ma prière pour vous, pour vos familles et à toutes vos intentions.


* * *

Aula Paolo VI

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française. À la lumière de l’enseignement et de la vie des saints, puissiez-vous découvrir que ceux qui vont vers Dieu ne s’éloignent pas des hommes, mais qu’ils se rendent au contraire vraiment proches d’eux.

________________________________________


Appel du Pape Benoît XVI pour la Journée mondiale des Réfugiés

On célèbre aujourd'hui la Journée mondiale des Réfugiés, promue par les Nations unies pour que l'attention de l'opinion publique ne manque pas à ceux qui ont été obligés de fuir de leurs pays à la suite de réels dangers pour leur vie. Accueillir les réfugiés et leur accorder l'hospitalité représente pour tous un geste juste de solidarité humaine, afin que ces derniers ne se sentent pas isolés à cause de l'intolérance et du manque d'intérêt. En outre, il s'agit pour les chrétiens de manifester l'amour évangélique d'une manière concrète. Je souhaite de tout cœur que soient garantis l'asile et la reconnaissance de leurs droits à nos frères et sœurs durement éprouvés par la souffrance, et j'invite les responsables des nations à offrir leur protection à ceux qui se trouvent dans une situation de besoin aussi délicate.
© Copyright 2007 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

SOURCE : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20070620_fr.html


Saint Athanase naquit vers l’an 295 et très probablement à Alexandrie. Il est certain qu’il reçut une excellente éducation classique, et plus tard, il dut étudier dans une école chrétienne, sans doute à Césarée. Jeune homme, il enseigna comme lecteur ou didascalos, à l’école catéchétique d’Alexandrie. Avant sa vingt-cinquième année, il se rendit au désert et y connut saint Antoine le Grand ; sans doute même essaya-t-il de vivre en ermite, car il semble avoir été durant toute sa vie un contemplatif. Vers l’an 320, Athanase était diacre d’Alexandre, évêque d’Alexandrie. Il fut le véritable auteur, tant pour la forme que pour le contenu, de l’encyclique publiée en 322 par l’évêque Alexandre contre la doctrine d’Arius, prêtre de Baucalis. Conseiller de ce même Alexandre, trois ans plus tard, au concile de Nicée, Athanase collabora certainement à la définition qui y fut finalement formulée et selon laquelle le Fils est de la même substance que le Père. De retour en Égypte, Athanase succéda à Alexandre sur le siège épiscopal d’Alexandrie durant l’été 328. Au cours des sept premières années de son épiscopat, Athanase, tout en dispensant son enseignement, visita et administra la vallée du Nil de plus en plus loin vers le Sud ; il envoya la première mission en Afrique centrale, et sous la direction de saint Frumence, elle assura la conversion du royaume d’Axoum, en Éthiopie. Partout, il établit d’étroites relations avec les moines et les ermites, et ceux-ci devaient le révérer comme un faiseur de prodiges et lui décerner les titres de « Père de la Vérité » et de « Porte-Christ ». Aucun évêque d’Alexandrie n’avait, avant lui, disposé d’un tel pouvoir. Aussi est-ce sans doute une intrigue politique autant que théologique qui amena l’empereur Constantin à le convoquer à Byzance, puis à le bannir à Trèves, sur la frontière de la Germanie, en 335. Athanase ne retourna en Égypte que deux ans plus tard, quand il put constater que les factions ariennes ne bénéficiaient plus que d’un patronage hésitant de la part du nouvel empereur d’Orient, Constance, fils de Constantin. De 337 à 366, sa vie fut avant tout un combat, au cours duquel il se trouva par moments presque seul, contre toutes les tendances qui auraient conduit à la destruction de l’œuvre accomplie par le concile de Nicée. Par sa résistance, saint Athanase ne devint pas seulement le champion de la substance unique de la Trinité, mais aussi de l’autonomie de l’Église. Fidèle aux décisions du concile de Nicée, il demeura toute sa vie un farouche opposant à l’arianisme en dépit des persécutions et des cinq exils successifs entre 335 et 366. Trois fois encore, il fut arrêté et envoyé en exil – chaque fois il revint. De 356 à 361, il dut se cacher en Égypte, tantôt dans les ermitages du désert et tantôt dans les citernes et les tombeaux. Il y eut de courts moments d’accalmie, puis, durant les dernières années de sa vie, il put demeurer sans trouble à Alexandrie ; sa sécurité, toutefois, ne fut jamais assurée, et quand il mourut, un peu avant l’aube du 2 mai 373, l’issue du combat semblait encore indécise. En effet, Valens, alors empereur d’Orient, était anti-nicéen et de nombreux évêques soutenaient sa politique ; mais cinq années plus tard, Valens mourut et la cause défendue par le concile de Nicée triompha définitivement. En Occident, il est devenu le docteur de la Trinité. Mais il fut avant tout le docteur de l’Incarnation et de la grâce. Il est l’auteur de trois Discours contre les Ariens et d’une Vie de saint Antoine écrite peu après la mort de celui-ci et traduite en latin dès 388. L’église S. Zaccaria de Venise abrite le corps de saint Athanase d’Alexandrie. Saint Athanase est fêté en Occident le 2 mai et en Orient le 18 janvier.

SOURCE : http://www.martyretsaint.com/athanase-dalexandrie/


St Athanase, évêque, confesseur et docteur

Mort à Alexandrie le 2 mai 373. Sa fête apparaît dans le nord de la France au milieu du XIIe siècle mais elle n’est pas reçue à Rome avant le XVIe siècle. Simple au bréviaire de 1550, elle devient double avec la réforme de St Pie V en 1568.

Leçons des Matines avant 1960

Quatrième leçon. Athanase, l’énergique défenseur de la religion catholique, était né à Alexandrie ; ordonné Diacre par l’Évêque de cette ville, nommé Alexandre, il devint dans la suite son successeur. Il avait accompagné ce Prélat au concile de Nicée, où, ayant confondu l’impiété d’Arius, il s’attira tellement la haine des Ariens que, depuis lors, ils ne cessèrent jamais de lui dresser des embûches. Dans un concile réuni à Tyr, et composé en grande partie d’Évêques ariens, ils subornèrent une femme pour qu’elle accusât Athanase, d’avoir par violence, porté atteinte à son honneur, abusant de son hospitalité. Athanase fut donc introduit, et avec lui un Prêtre nommé Timothée, qui, feignant d’être Athanase, dit à cette femme : « C’est donc moi qui ai logé chez vous, moi qui vous ai outragée ? — Oui, répondit-elle effrontément, c’est vous qui m’avez fait violence » ; et elle affirmait le fait avec serment, invoquant l’autorité des juges, pour qu’ils "vengeassent une telle infamie. La fourberie étant découverte, l’impudence de cette femme fut confondue.

Cinquième leçon. Les Ariens firent aussi courir le bruit qu’un Évêque, nommé Arsène, avait été assassiné par Athanase. Tandis qu’Arsène était secrètement détenu, ils produisirent devant les juges la main d’un mort, accusant Athanase d’avoir coupé cette main à Arsène, pour s’en servir dans des opérations magiques. Mais Arsène s’enfuit la nuit et vint se présenter devant tout le concile, ce qui dévoila la scélératesse des ennemis d’Athanase. Ils attribuèrent néanmoins la justification d’Athanase à des artifices de magie, et ne cessèrent pas de conspirer contre sa vie. Condamné à l’exil, il fut relégué à Trêves, dans les Gaules. Sous le règne de l’empereur Constance, qui favorisait les Ariens, il vit se soulever contre lui de longues et violentes tempêtes, souffrit d’incroyables épreuves, et parcourut de nombreuses contrées, souvent expulsé de son Église, souvent aussi rétabli sur son siège, et par l’autorité du Pape Jules, et par la protection de l’empereur Constant, frère de Constance, ou encore en vertu des décrets des conciles de Sardique et de Jérusalem. Pendant ce temps les Ariens continuaient à lui demeurer hostiles ; pour se soustraire à leur fureur opiniâtre et éviter la mort, il demeura caché pendant cinq ans dans une citerne desséchée, sans que personne connût sa retraite, sauf un de ses amis qui lui apportait en secret sa nourriture.

Sixième leçon. Constance étant mort, Julien l’Apostat, son successeur, permit aux Évêques exilés de rentrer dans leurs Églises. Athanase revint donc à Alexandrie, où il fut reçu avec les plus grands honneurs. Mais bientôt les intrigues des mêmes Ariens le firent persécuter par Julien, et il fut de nouveau forcé à s’éloigner Les satellites de ce prince le cherchant pour le mettre à mort, Athanase fit retourner le bateau sur lequel il s’enfuyait, et vint à la rencontre des émissaires lancés à sa poursuite. Ceux-ci demandant à quelle distance se trouvait Athanase, il leur répondit qu’il n’était pas loin. Il échappa ainsi à ses ennemis qui continuèrent leur route et, rentrant à Alexandrie, il y demeura caché jusqu’à la mort de Julien. Quelque temps après, une nouvelle tempête s’étant élevée contre lui à Alexandrie, il resta enfermé quatre mois dans le tombeau de son père. Enfin, délivré par le secours divin de tant de périls de tous genres, il mourut dans son lit, à Alexandrie, sous Valens. Sa vie et sa mort furent illustrées par de grands miracles, il a écrit beaucoup d’ouvrages pleins de piété et de clarté pour expliquer la foi catholique, et il a gouverné très saintement l’Église d’Alexandrie durant quarante-six ans, au milieu des plus grandes vicissitudes.

Dom Guéranger, l’Année Liturgique

Le cortège de notre divin Roi, qui s’accroît chaque jour d’une manière si brillante, se renforce aujourd’hui par l’arrivée de l’un des plus valeureux champions qui aient jamais combattu pour sa gloire. Est-il un nom plus illustre que celui d’Athanase parmi les gardiens de la Parole de vérité que Jésus a confiée à la terre ? ce nom n’exprime-t-il pas à lui seul le courage indomptable dans la garde du dépôt sacré, la fermeté du héros en face des plus terribles épreuves, la science, le génie, l’éloquence, tout ce qui peut retracer ici-bas l’idéal de la sainteté du Pasteur unie à la doctrine de l’interprète des choses divines ? Athanase a vécu pour le Fils de Dieu ; la cause du Fils de Dieu fut la même que celle d’Athanase ; qui bénissait Athanase bénissait le Verbe éternel, et celui-là maudissait le Verbe éternel qui maudissait Athanase.

Jamais notre sainte foi ne courut sur la terre un plus grand péril que dans ces tristes jours qui suivirent la paix de l’Église, et furent témoins de la plus affreuse tempête que la barque de Pierre ait jamais essuyée. Satan avait en vain espéré éteindre dans des torrents de sang la race des adorateurs de Jésus ; le glaive de Dioclétien et de Galérius s’était émoussé dans leurs mains, et la croix paraissant au ciel avait proclamé le triomphe du christianisme. Tout à coup l’Église victorieuse se sent ébranlée jusque dans ses fondements ; dans son audace l’enfer a vomi sur la terre une hérésie qui menace de dévorer en peu de jours le fruit de trois siècles de martyre. L’impie et obscur Arius ose dire que celui qui fut adoré comme le Fils de Dieu par tant de générations depuis les Apôtres, n’est qu’une créature plus parfaite que les autres. Une immense défection se déclare jusque dans les rangs de la hiérarchie sacrée ; la puissance des Césars se met au service de cette épouvantable apostasie ; et si le Seigneur lui-même n’intervient, les hommes diront bientôt sur la terre que la victoire du christianisme n’a eu d’autre résultat que de changer l’objet de l’idolâtrie, en substituant sur les autels une créature à d’autres qui avaient reçu l’encens avant elle.

Mais celui qui avait promis que les portes de l’enter ne prévaudraient jamais contre son Église, veillait à sa promesse. La foi primitive triompha ; le concile de Nicée reconnut et proclama le Fils consubstantiel au Père ; mais il fallait à l’Église un homme en qui la cause du Verbe consubstantiel fut, pour ainsi dire, incarnée, un homme assez docte pour déjouer tous les artifices de l’hérésie, assez fort pour attirer sur lui tous ses coups, sans succomber jamais. Ce fut Athanase ; quiconque adore et aime le Fils de Dieu doit aimer et glorifier Athanase. Exilé jusqu’à cinq fois de son Église d’Alexandrie, poursuivi à mort par les ariens, il vint chercher tantôt un refuge, et tantôt un lieu d’exil dans l’Occident, qui apprécia l’illustre confesseur de la divinité du Verbe. Pour prix de l’hospitalité que Rome s’honora de lui accorder, Athanase lui fit part de ses trésors. Admirateur et ami du grand Antoine, il cultivait avec une tendre affection l’élément monastique, que la grâce de l’Esprit-Saint avait fait éclore dans les déserts de son vaste patriarcat ; il porta à Rome cette précieuse semence, et les moines qu’il y amena furent les premiers que vit l’Occident. La plante céleste s’y naturalisa ; et si sa croissance fut lente d’abord, elle y fructifia dans la suite au delà de ce qu’elle avait fait en Orient.

Athanase, qui avait su exposer avec tant de clarté et de magnificence dans ses sublimes écrits le dogme fondamental du christianisme, la divinité de Jésus-Christ, a célébré le mystère de la Pâque avec une éloquente majesté dans les Lettres festales qu’il adressait chaque année aux Églises de son patriarcat d’Alexandrie. La collection de ces lettres, que l’on regardait comme perdues sans retour, et qui n’étaient connues que par quelques courts fragments, a été retrouvée presque tout entière, dans le monastère de Sainte-Marie de Scété, en Égypte. La première, qui se rapporte à l’année 329, débute par ces paroles qui expriment admirablement les sentiments que doit réveiller chez tous les chrétiens l’arrivée de la Pâque : « Venez, mes bien-aimés, dit Athanase aux fidèles soumis à son autorité pastorale, venez célébrer la fête ; l’heure présente vous y invite. En dirigeant sur nous ses divins rayons, le Soleil de justice nous annonce que l’époque de la solennité est arrivée. A cette nouvelle, faisons fête, et ne laissons pas l’allégresse s’enfuir avec le temps qui nous l’apporte, sans l’avoir goûtée. » Durant ses exils, Athanase continua d’adresser à ses peuples la Lettre pascale ; quelques années seulement en furent privées. Voici le commencement de celle par laquelle il annonçait la Pâque de l’année 338 ; elle fut envoyée de Trêves à Alexandrie. « Bien qu’éloigné de vous, mes Frères, je n’ai garde de manquer à la coutume que j’ai toujours observée à votre égard, coutume que j’ai reçue de la tradition des Pères. Je ne resterai pas dans le silence, et je ne manquerai pas de vous annoncer l’époque de la sainte Fête annuelle, et le jour auquel vous en devez célébrer la solennité. En proie aux tribulations dont vous avez sans doute entendu parler, accablé des plus graves épreuves, placé sous la surveillance des ennemis de la vérité qui épient tout ce que j’écris, afin d’en faire une matière d’accusation et d’accroître par là mes maux, je sens néanmoins que le Seigneur me donne de la force et me console dans mes angoisses. J’ose donc vous adresser la proclamation annuelle, et c’est au milieu de mes chagrins, à travers les embûches qui m’environnent, que je vous envoie des extrémités de la terre l’annonce de la Pâque qui est notre salut. Remettant mon sort entre les mains du Seigneur, j’ai voulu célébrer avec vous cette fête : la distance des lieux nous sépare, mais je ne suis pas absent de vous. Le Seigneur qui accorde les fêtes, qui est lui-même notre fête, qui nous fait don de son Esprit, nous réunit spirituellement par le lien de la concorde et de la paix. »

Qu’elle est magnifique, cette Pâque célébrée par Athanase exilé sur les bords du Rhin, en union avec son peuple qui la fêtait sur les rives du Nil ! Comme elle révèle le lien puissant de la sainte Liturgie pour unir les hommes et leur faire goûter au même moment, et en dépit des distances, les mêmes émotions saintes, pour réveiller en eux les mêmes aspirations de vertu ! Grecs ou barbares, l’Église est notre patrie commune ; mais la Liturgie est, avec la Foi, le milieu dans lequel nous ne formons tous qu’une même famille, et la Liturgie n’a rien de plus expressif dans le sens de l’unité que la célébration de la Pâque. Les malheureuses Églises de l’Orient et de l’empire russe, en s’isolant du reste du monde chrétien pour fêter à un jour qui n’est qu’à elles la Résurrection du Sauveur, montrent déjà par ce seul fait qu’elles ne font pas partie de l’unique bergerie dont il est l’unique pasteur.

L’Église grecque, qui célèbre dans une autre saison la fête du saint Docteur, exprime son admiration pour lui dans des chants remplis d’enthousiasme dont nous extrairons, selon notre usage, quelques strophes.

(DIE XVIII JANUARII.)

Salut, ô Athanase, la règle des vertus, le vaillant défenseur de la foi ! C’est toi qui, par tes paroles dignes de tout respect, as dissous sans retour l’impiété d’Anus ; tu nous as enseigné quelle est la puissance de la divinité unique en trois personnes , qui dans sa bonté a tiré du néant les êtres spirituels et les êtres sensibles, et tu nous as expliqué les profonds mystères de l’opération divine ; daigne prier le Christ d’accorder à nos âmes sa grande miséricorde.

Salut, toi qui as servi d’appui aux patriarches mêmes, trompette résonnante, génie admirable, langue éloquente, œil lumineux, illustrateur de la saine doctrine, pasteur véritable, flambeau éclatant, cognée par laquelle a été abattue la forêt entière des hérésies, toi qui l’as incendiée par le feu de l’Esprit-Saint : très ferme colonne, tour inébranlable, toi qui enseignes la puissance supersubstantielle de la Trinité, daigne la supplier d’accorder à nos âmes sa grande miséricorde.

Tu as armé l’Église, ô Père, des dogmes divins de l’orthodoxie ; par ta science l’hérésie a été tranchée : tu as achevé ta sainte carrière, et comme Paul tu as conservé la foi ; de même, ô glorieux Athanase, une juste couronne t’est préparée pour prix de tes travaux.

Semblable à un astre qui n’a pas de coucher, tu éclaires encore après ta mort la multitude des fidèles par les rayons de ta doctrine, ô Athanase, Pontife rempli de sagesse.

Guidé par le Saint-Esprit, tu as conduit ta pensée dans les hauteurs de la contemplation, o saint Pontife ! Tu as cherché les trésors de vérité caches sous les divins oracles, et tu as fait part au monde des richesses que tu as découvertes.

Tu as été le phare élevé et lumineux de la divine doctrine, et tu as dirigé ceux qui étaient battus sur l’océan de l’erreur, les conduisant, par la sérénité de tes paroles, au tranquille port de la grâce.

Général de l’armée de Dieu, tu as défait les bataillons des adversaires du Seigneur ; avec le glaive du Saint-Esprit tu les as vaillamment taillés en pièces. Père saint, tu as arrosé la terre entière des eaux vives dont la source était dans ton cœur.

Père saint, par les persécutions que tu as souffertes pour son Église, tu as complète en ta chair les souffrances du Seigneur.

Habitants de la terre, venez apprendre la doctrine de justice dans les enseignements sacrés d’Athanase : la pureté de sa foi a fait de lui comme la bouche du Verbe qui est avant tous les siècles.

Par toi, ô bienheureux, l’Église du Christ est devenue un paradis véritable ; tu y as semé la parole sainte et tu en as arraché les épines de l’hérésie.

Tu nous as apparu comme un fleuve de grâce, comme un Nil spirituel, ô toi qui portes Dieu ! Tu as apporte aux fidèles les fruits de la doctrine de piété, tu as arrosé toutes les campagnes et nourri au loin la terre. Par le bâton de tes enseignements tu as chasse les loups de l’hérésie loin de l’Église du Christ : tu l’as entourée et protégée du rempart de tes paroles, et tu l’as présentée saine et sauve au Christ ; prie-le donc, le Christ Dieu, qu’il daigne nous délivrer de la séduction et de tout péril, nous qui célébrons avec foi ta mémoire digne de vénération.

Vous vous êtes assis, ô Athanase, sur la chaire de Marc dans Alexandrie, et vous brillez non loin de lui sur le Cycle sacre. Il partit de Rome, envoyé par Pierre lui-même, pour aller fonder le second siège patriarcal ; et trois siècles après, vous arriviez vous-même à Rome, successeur de Marc, pour obtenir du successeur de Pierre que l’injustice et l’hérésie ne prévalussent pas contre ce siège auguste. Notre Occident vous a contemplé, sublime héros de la foi ; il vous a possédé dans son sein ; il a vénéré en vous le noble exilé, le courageux confesseur ; et votre séjour dans nos régions est demeuré l’un de leurs plus chers et de leurs plus glorieux souvenirs. Soyez l’intercesseur des contrées sur lesquelles s’étendit autrefois votre juridiction de Patriarche, ô Athanase ! Mais ayez souvenir aussi du secours et de l’hospitalité que vous offrit l’Occident. Rome vous protégea, elle prit en main votre cause, elle rendit la sentence qui vous justifiait et vous rétablissait dans vos droits ; du haut du ciel, rendez-lui ce qu’elle fit pour vous ; soutenez et consolez son Pontife, successeur de Jules qui vous secourut il y a quinze siècles. Une tempête affreuse s’est déchaînée contre le roc qui porte toutes les Églises, et l’arc-en-ciel ne paraît pas encore sur les nuées. Priez, ô Athanase, afin que ces tristes jours soient abrégés, et que le siège de Pierre cesse bientôt d’être en butte à ces attaques de mensonge et de violence qui sont en même temps un sujet de scandale pour les peuples.

Vos efforts, ô grand Docteur, étouffèrent l’odieux arianisme ; mais en nos temps et dans nos régions occidentales, cette audacieuse hérésie a levé de nouveau la tête. Elle étend ses ravages à la faveur de cette demi-science qui s’unit à l’orgueil, et qui est devenue le péril principal de nos jours. Le Fils éternel de Dieu, consubstantiel au Père, est blasphémé par les adeptes d’une pernicieuse philosophie, qui consent à voir en lui le plus grand des hommes, à la condition qu’on leur accordera qu’il fut seulement un homme. En vain la raison et l’expérience démontrent que tout est surnaturel en Jésus ; ils s’obstinent à fermer les yeux, et contre toute bonne foi ils osent mêler au langage d’une admiration hypocrite le dédain pour la foi chrétienne, qui reconnaît dans le fils de Marie le Verbe éternel incarné pour le salut des hommes. Confondez les nouveaux ariens, ô Athanase ! Mettez à nu leur faiblesse superbe et leur artifice ; dissipez l’illusion de leurs malheureux adeptes ; qu’il soit enfin reconnu que ces prétendus sages qui osent blasphémer la divinité du Christ, vont se perdre les uns après les autres dans les abîmes honteux du panthéisme, ou dans le chaos d’un désolant scepticisme, au sein duquel expire toute morale et s’éteint toute intelligence.

Conservez en nous, ô Athanase, par l’influence de vos mérites et de vos prières, le précieux don de la foi que le Seigneur a daigné nous confier ; obtenez-nous de confesser et d’adorer toujours Jésus-Christ comme notre Dieu éternel et infini, Dieu de Dieu, lumière de lumière, vrai Dieu de vrai Dieu, engendré et non fait, qui pour notre salut, à nous hommes, a daigné prendre chair en Marie. Révélez-nous ses grandeurs jusqu’au jour où nous les contemplerons avec vous dans le séjour de gloire. En attendant, nous converserons avec lui par la foi sur cette terre témoin des splendeurs de sa résurrection. Vous l’avez aimé, ô Athanase ! ce Fils de Dieu, notre Créateur et notre Sauveur. Son amour a été l’âme de votre vie, le mobile de votre dévouement héroïque à son service. Cet amour vous a soutenu dans les luttes colossales où le monde entier semblait se soulever contre vous ; il vous a rendu plus fort que toutes les tribulations ; obtenez-le pour nous, cet amour qui ne craint rien parce qu’il est fidèle, cet amour que nous devons à Jésus, qui, étant la splendeur éternelle du Père, sa Sagesse infinie, a daigné « s’humilier jusqu’à prendre la forme d’esclave , et se rendre pour nous obéissant jusqu’à la mort, et la mort de la Croix [1] ». Comment paierons-nous son dévouement, si ce n’est en lui donnant tout notre amour, à votre exemple, ô Athanase ! Et en exaltant d’autant plus ses grandeurs qu’il s’est lui-même plus abaissé pour nous sauver ?

[1] Philip. II, 8.


Bhx Cardinal Schuster, Liber Sacramentorum

La fête de cet invincible champion de la consubstantialité du Logos n’entra dans les Bréviaires romains que durant le bas moyen âge, et elle fut enrichie de leçons propres et du rite double seulement au temps de saint Pie V. Cela s’explique parfaitement. Le Calendrier romain primitif avait un caractère local tranché ; les anciens Pères orientaux n’eurent jamais une grande popularité en terre latine ; si bien qu’aujourd’hui encore on ne célèbre aucun office liturgique d’un grand nombre de ces antiques flambeaux de sagesse. Saint Grégoire de Nysse, saint Denys d’Alexandrie, saint Épiphane, etc. n’ont, dans le Bréviaire romain, aucune commémoraison. Toutefois saint Athanase a des mérites spéciaux pour avoir quasi-droit de cité dans la Ville éternelle, puisque, condamné par les Ariens, déposé de son siège et fugitif dans le monde entier qui s’était comme mis d’accord pour se coaliser contre lui, il chercha un asile assuré à Rome où il trouva, en la personne du pape Jules, un vengeur autorisé de la sainteté de sa cause. Ce fut là, sur l’Aventin, dans le palais de la noble Marcella, dont il était l’hôte, que l’évêque exilé décrivit pour la première fois aux Romains la vie merveilleuse d’Antoine et de Pacôme en Égypte. La première semence de vertus monastiques, jetée par Athanase sur le mont Aventin, fut suivie rapidement d’une abondante floraison de moines et de monastères qui, au dire de saint Jérôme, changea l’insouciante capitale du monde romain en une nouvelle Jérusalem.

Il convient de rappeler que ce fut le pape Jules qui, ayant cassé l’injuste déposition d’Athanase, le rendit à son trône patriarcal.

Socrate [2] et Sozomène, racontant le fait, l’attribuent expressément à la primauté du Pape sur toute l’Église : Parce qu’à lui, à cause de la dignité du siège, appartenait le soin de tous, il restitua à l’un et à l’autre (Athanase d’Alexandrie et Paul de Constantinople) leur propre Église [3].

Sous Grégoire XIII, on érigea à Rome, en l’honneur de saint Athanase, une église qui est annexée au Collège pontifical grec, et où, pour cette raison, les offices sont célébrés en rit byzantin.

La messe est en partie du Commun des Confesseurs, en partie celle des Docteurs, et elle fait allusion aux persécutions et aux bannissements dont Athanase fut victime.

Dans la lecture, il est question des souffrances de l’Apôtre et de leur ultime raison d’être dans la vie chrétienne, car l’âme, avant d’arriver à la vie glorieuse, doit revivre la vie du Christ affligé et souffrant (II Cor., IV, 5-14). C’est pourquoi, quelque grandes que soient les tribulations, et bien que l’esprit se sente incapable de vaincre la tempête, la foi cependant le soutient, parce qu’elle lui montre que l’adversité n’est pas destinée, dans les conseils de Dieu, à l’abattre, mais à l’entraîner à la victoire, puisque, comme le dit l’Apôtre : Virtus in infirmitate perficitur.

Le premier verset alléluiatique est tiré du psaume 109 : Tu es sacerdos, etc... Cette divine promesse est appliquée fort gracieusement à saint Athanase, qui fut plusieurs fois déposé de son trône patriarcal grâce aux manœuvres des Ariens, en sorte que, dans tout le monde, il n’y avait plus un pouce de terre où il fût à l’abri de leurs représailles. A cause de lui furent aussi persécutés des papes et de nombreux et saints évêques qui ne voulaient pas participer à ces manœuvres. Et pourtant, seul contre tous, il réussit finalement à rentrer à Alexandrie, et, comme le dit le Bréviaire : mortuus est in suo lectulo.

Le second verset alléluiatique est le même que pour la fête d’un autre saint évêque persécuté et exilé, saint Jean Chrysostome, le 27 janvier.

L’Évangile (Matth., X, 23-28) trace, pour ainsi dire, le programme de vie d’Athanase dans les persécutions, et il a été magnifiquement illustré par lui dans sa propre apologie De fuga sua. Même durant la persécution, on ne doit pas être prodigue de sa vie, pas plus que d’aucun autre bien reçu de Dieu. La vie d’un évêque appartient moins à lui qu’à l’Église, et il ne peut l’exposer inutilement si cela doit porter préjudice aux âmes et être pour lui d’un faible avantage. En ce cas, le fait de se soustraire par la fuite à la haine des ennemis est aussi méritoire que de prolonger son martyre pour l’amour du troupeau de Jésus-Christ, et c’est le signe d’une âme sage et généreuse que de savoir endurer l’épreuve.

L’antienne pour la Communion, tirée de la lecture évangélique de ce jour, est empruntée à la messe Salus, de plusieurs martyrs. En voici le sens : Quand il ne peut faire plus, le monde voudrait du moins nous réduire au silence, pour que nous ne prêchions pas aux peuples cette parole évangélique qui est la condamnation de ses principes. Mais cela même ne nous est pas permis, comme le déclarèrent au sanhédrin Pierre et Jean : Non enim possumus quae vidimus et audivimus non loqui [4] Voilà vraiment l’instrument de notre victoire sur le monde : la foi. Toute la terre avait conspiré contre Athanase, et pourtant, pendant près d’un demi-siècle, il tint tête à ses adversaires ; patriarche invisible, car il paraissait à Alexandrie et en disparaissait sans que les Ariens pussent arriver à s’emparer de lui, il gouverna son Église avec tant d’autorité qu’être en communion avec lui équivalait alors à être catholique, c’est-à-dire fidèle à la consubstantialité du Verbe définie à Nicée.

Nous ne saurions renoncer à rapporter aujourd’hui, en l’honneur d’un si grand docteur, son énergique proposition sur l’indépendance de l’Église vis-à-vis du pouvoir laïque.

« S’il s’agit d’une décision des évêques, en quoi cela regarde-t-il l’empereur ? Quand a-t-on jamais entendu parler d’une chose pareille ? Quand un décret ecclésiastique a-t-il jamais reçu son autorité de l’empereur ou obtenu de lui sa reconnaissance ? De nombreux conciles ont été célébrés jusqu’ici ; beaucoup de décrets ecclésiastiques ont été rendus ; mais jamais les Pères n’ont sollicité de telles approbations de l’empereur ; jamais celui-ci ne s’est immiscé dans les affaires ecclésiastiques. » [5]

[2] Hist. Eccl. II, c. 15, P. Gr., LXVII, col. 211-212.

[3] Hist. Eccl. III, VIII, P. Gr., LXVII, col. 1051-52.

[4] Act., IV, 20.

[5] Hist. Arian. ad Monachos. n. 54 (P. Gr. XXV, col. 755-756).

Dom Pius Parsch, le Guide dans l’année liturgique

Si l’on vous poursuit dans une ville, fuyez dans l’autre.

Saint Athanase. — Jour de mort : 2 mai 373. Tombeau : Actuellement dans l’église de Sainte-Croix, à Venise. Image : On le représente en évêque grec, avec un livre à la main. Vie : Nous sommes en présence d’un héros de la foi, né vers 295. Sans doute il ne fut pas martyr, mais sa vie fut un martyre au vrai sens du mot. Athanase le Grand, le père de l’orthodoxie (de la vraie foi), mena le combat de l’Église contre l’arianisme — une hérésie qui niait la divinité du Christ. Jeune diacre, il avait déjà été, au Concile de Nicée (325), le « plus intrépide champion contre les Ariens et le principal soutien de la foi de l’Église ». A la mort de son évêque (328), « tout le peuple de l’Église catholique se réunit comme un corps et une âme et cria, à mainte reprise, qu’Athanase devait être évêque. C’était d’ailleurs le désir de l’évêque Alexandre, à son lit de mort. Tout le monde appelait Athanase un homme vertueux et saint, un chrétien, un ascète, un véritable évêque » ; Ce fut alors un combat de 50 ans. Sous cinq empereurs différents, le saint évêque fut exilé cinq fois. Au prix de ces épreuves incessantes, il rendit témoignage à la vérité de la foi catholique. Jamais son attachement à l’Église ne fut ébranlé ; jamais son courage ne faiblit. Au milieu des horribles calomnies et des terribles persécutions dont il était l’objet, il trouva sa principale consolation dans l’amour indéfectible du peuple catholique. Mais la haine des Ariens était implacable. Pour échapper à leur rage et au péril continuel de mort, il dut se cacher pendant cinq ans dans une citerne desséchée. Seul un ami fidèle connaissait sa retraite et lui apportait de la nourriture. Mais quand il fuyait devant ses persécuteurs, Dieu le protégeait visiblement. Un jour que les satellites de l’empereur le poursuivaient pour le tuer, il tourna son bateau, lui fit remonter le courant et alla ainsi à la rencontre de ceux qui le poursuivaient. Les soldats lui demandèrent si Athanase était loin. Il répondit bravement : . Il n’est pas loin d’ici ». Les soldats continuèrent la poursuite dans le sens opposé et le saint gagna du temps pour se mettre en sûreté. Il échappa ainsi à plusieurs dangers par la protection divine. Il mourut enfin à Alexandrie, dans son lit, sous le règne de l’empereur Valens (373). Saint Athanase laissa plusieurs écrits remarquables tant pour l’édification des fidèles que pour la défense de la foi catholique. Il avait gouverné l’Église d’Alexandrie pendant 46 ans.

La messe (In medio). — La messe décrit, dans ses différentes parties, la vie mouvementée du grand évêque. A l’Introït, le saint docteur se tient « au milieu » de nous et nous prêche la parole de Dieu. Dans l’Épître, saint Athanase nous dépeint, en empruntant les mots de l’Apôtre des nations, les fatigues et les peines qu’il a endurées pour l’Évangile du Seigneur : « Nous portons toujours la mort du Christ dans notre corps afin que la vie de Jésus se manifeste en nous ». L’Alléluia chante sa dignité sacerdotale qui est un reflet du sacerdoce suprême du Christ. « Si l’on vous persécute dans une ville, fuyez dans une autre » ; ces paroles de l’Évangile, le saint docteur les a réalisées. Sa vie fut un enchaînement de fuites et de bannissements. Mais le saint trouva dans la visite intime du Seigneur, dans l’Eucharistie, la consolation et la force. Il doit en être de même pour nous (Comm.).


Symbolum Athanasianum

Quicúmque vult salvus esse, * ante ómnia opus est, ut téneat cathólicam fidem :

Quam nisi quisque íntegram inviolatámque serváverit, * absque dúbio in ætérnum períbit.

Fides autem cathólica hæc est : * ut unum Deum in Trinitáte, et Trinitátem in unitáte venerémur.

Neque confundéntes persónas, * neque substántiam separántes.

Alia est enim persóna Patris, ália Fílii, * ália Spíritus Sancti :

Sed Patris, et Fílii, et Spíritus Sancti una est divínitas, * æquális glória, coætérna maiéstas.

Qualis Pater, talis Fílius, * talis Spíritus Sanctus.

Increátus Pater, increátus Fílius, * increátus Spíritus Sanctus.

Imménsus Pater, imménsus Fílius, * imménsus Spíritus Sanctus.

Ætérnus Pater, ætérnus Fílius, * ætérnus Spíritus Sanctus.

Et tamen non tres ætérni, * sed unus ætérnus.

Sicut non tres increáti, nec tres imménsi, * sed unus increátus, et unus imménsus.

Simíliter omnípotens Pater, omnípotens Fílius, * omnípotens Spíritus Sanctus.

Et tamen non tres omnipoténtes, * sed unus omnípotens.

Ita Deus Pater, Deus Fílius, * Deus Spíritus Sanctus.

Ut tamen non tres Dii, * sed unus est Deus.

Ita Dóminus Pater, Dóminus Fílius, * Dóminus Spíritus Sanctus.

Et tamen non tres Dómini, * sed unus est Dóminus.

Quia, sicut singillátim unamquámque persónam Deum ac Dóminum confitéri christiána veritáte compéllimur : * ita tres Deos aut Dóminos dícere cathólica religióne prohibémur.

Pater a nullo est factus : * nec creátus, nec génitus.

Fílius a Patre solo est : * non factus, nec creátus, sed génitus.

Spíritus Sanctus a Patre et Fílio : * non factus, nec creátus, nec génitus, sed procédens.

Unus ergo Pater, non tres Patres : unus Fílius, non tres Fílii : * unus Spíritus Sanctus, non tres Spíritus Sancti.

Et in hac Trinitáte nihil prius aut postérius, nihil maius aut minus : * sed totæ tres persónæ coætérnæ sibi sunt et coæquáles.

Ita ut per ómnia, sicut iam supra dictum est, * et únitas in Trinitáte, et Trínitas in unitáte veneránda sit.

Qui vult ergo salvus esse, * ita de Trinitáte séntiat.

Sed necessárium est ad ætérnam salútem, * ut Incarnatiónem quoque Dómini nostri Iesu Christi fidéliter credat.

Est ergo fides recta ut credámus et confiteámur, * quia Dóminus noster Iesus Christus, Dei Fílius, Deus et homo est.

Deus est ex substántia Patris ante sǽcula génitus : * et homo est ex substántia matris in sæculo natus.

Perféctus Deus, perféctus homo : * ex ánima rationáli et humána carne subsístens.

Æquális Patri secúndum divinitátem : * minor Patre secúndum humanitátem.

Qui licet Deus sit et homo, * non duo tamen, sed unus est Christus.

Unus autem non conversióne divinitátis in carnem, * sed assumptióne humanitátis in Deum.

Unus omníno, non confusióne substántiæ, * sed unitáte persónæ.

Nam sicut ánima rationális et caro unus est homo : * ita Deus et homo unus est Christus

Qui passus est pro salúte nostra : descéndit ad ínferos : * tértia die resurréxit a mórtuis.

Ascéndit ad cælos, sedet ad déxteram Dei Patris omnipoténtis : * inde ventúrus est iudicáre vivos et mórtuos.

Ad cuius advéntum omnes hómines resúrgere habent cum corpóribus suis ; * et redditúri sunt de factis própriis ratiónem.

Et qui bona egérunt, ibunt in vitam ætérnam : * qui vero mala, in ignem ætérnum.

Symbole de Saint Athanase

Quiconque veut être sauvé doit, avant tout, tenir la foi catholique :

s’il ne la garde pas entière et pure, il périra sans aucun doute pour l’éternité.

Voici la foi catholique : nous vénérons un Dieu dans la Trinité et la Trinité dans l’Unité,

sans confondre les Personnes ni diviser la substance :

autre est en effet la Personne du Père, autre celle du Fils, autre celle du Saint-Esprit ;

mais une est la divinité du Père, du Fils et du Saint-Esprit, égale la gloire, coéternelle la majesté.

Comme est le Père, tel est le Fils, tel est aussi le Saint-Esprit :

incréé est le Père, incréé le Fils, incréé le Saint-Esprit ;

infini est le Père, infini le Fils, infini le Saint-Esprit ;

éternel est le Père, éternel le Fils, éternel le Saint-Esprit ;

et cependant, ils ne sont pas trois éternels, mais un éternel ;

tout comme ils ne sont pas trois incréés, ni trois infinis, mais un incréé et un infini.

De même, tout-puissant est le Père, tout-puissant le Fils, tout-puissant le Saint-Esprit ;

et cependant ils ne sont pas trois tout-puissants, mais un tout-puissant.

Ainsi le Père est Dieu, le Fils est Dieu, le Saint-Esprit est Dieu ;

et cependant ils ne sont pas trois Dieux, mais un Dieu.

Ainsi le Père est Seigneur, le Fils est Seigneur, le Saint-Esprit est Seigneur ;

et cependant ils ne sont pas trois Seigneurs, mais un Seigneur ;

car, de même que la vérité chrétienne nous oblige à confesser que chacune des personnes en particulier est Dieu et Seigneur, de même la religion catholique nous interdit de dire qu’il y a trois Dieux ou trois Seigneurs.

Le Père n’a été fait par personne et il n’est ni créé ni engendré ;

le Fils n’est issu que du Père, il n’est ni fait, ni créé, mais engendré ;

le Saint-Esprit vient du Père et du Fils, il n’est ni fait, ni créé, ni engendré, mais il procède.

Il n’y a donc qu’un Père, non pas trois Pères ; un Fils, non pas trois Fils ; un Saint-Esprit, non pas trois Saint-Esprit.

Et dans cette Trinité il n’est rien qui ne soit avant ou après, rien qui ne soit plus grand ou plus petit, mais les Personnes sont toutes trois également éternelles et semblablement égales.

Si bien qu’en tout, comme on l’a déjà dit plus haut, on doit vénérer, et l’Unité dans la Trinité, et la Trinité dans l’Unité.

Qui donc veut être sauvé, qu’il croie cela de la Trinité.

Mais il est nécessaire au salut éternel de croire fidèlement aussi en l’incarnation de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ.

C’est donc la foi droite que de croire et de confesser que notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, Fils de Dieu, est Dieu et homme.

Il est Dieu, de la substance du Père, engendré avant les siècles, et il est homme, de la substance de sa mère, né dans le temps ;

Dieu parfait, homme parfait composé d’une âme raisonnable et de chair humaine,

égal au Père selon la divinité, inférieur au Père selon l’humanité.

Bien qu’il soit Dieu et homme, il n’y a pas cependant deux Christ, mais un Christ ;

un, non parce que la divinité a été transformée en la chair, mais parce que l’humanité a été assumée en Dieu ;

un absolument, non par un mélange de substance, mais par l’unité de la personne.

Car, de même que l’âme raisonnable et le corps font un homme, de même Dieu et l’homme font un Christ.

Il a souffert pour notre salut, il est descendu aux enfers, le troisième jour il est ressuscité des morts,

il est monté aux cieux, il siège à la droite du Père, d’où il viendra juger les vivants et les morts.

A sa venue, tous les hommes ressusciteront avec leurs corps et rendront compte de leurs propres actes :

ceux qui ont bien agi iront dans la vie éternelle, ceux qui ont mal agi, au feu éternel.

Telle est la foi catholique : si quelqu’un n’y croit pas fidèlement et fermement, il ne pourra être sauvé.


Saint Athanase

Évêque et docteur de l'Église

Saint Athanase, né vers 295, connut dans son enfance les dernières persécutions. Il était sans doute déjà diacre de l’évêque Alexandre d’Alexandrie lorsqu’il écrivit le « Contra gentes et de incanatione Verbi » qui est à la fois une apologie contre les païens et un exposé des motifs de l’Incarnation. Diacre, il accompagna au concile de Nicée (325) son évêque auquel il succèda en juin 328.

Energique, intelligent et instruit, il visita entièrement tout son diocèse fort agité par les hérétiques ariens et mélitiens. Après avoir deux fois refusé à l’empereur Constantin de recevoir Arius, il dut se disculper des accusations des mélétiens à Nicomédie (332) et à Césarée de Palestine (333). Refusant une troisième fois de réconcilier Arius, Athanase fut cité à comparaître devant le concile de Tyr (335) d’où, n’ayant trouvé que des ennemis, il s’enfuit à Constantinople pour plaider sa cause devant l’Empereur qui le condamna à l’exil.

Pendant qu’Athanase, déposé par le concile de Tyr, était en exil à Trêves, les troubles étaient si forts à Alexandrie qu’on n’osa pas lui nommer un successeur. Après la mort de Constantin I° (22 mai 337), Constantin II le rendit à son diocèse (17 juin 337) où il arriva le 23 novembre 337. Les ariens élirent Grégoire de Cappadoce qui, avec l’appui du préfet d’Egypte, s’empara des églises d’Alexandrie qu’Athanase dut quitter (mars 339). Réfugié à Rome, il fut réhabilité par un concile réuni sous la pape Jules I° mais il dut attendre la mort de son compétiteur et l’amnistie de l’empereur Constance pour rentrer dans son diocèse (21 octobre 346). Constance reprit les hostilités contre Athanase qui fut de nouveau chassé d’Alexandrie (356) et dut se réfugier dans la campagne égyptienne jusqu’à la mort de l’Empereur dont le successeur, Julien, rappela immédiatement les exilés (361). Rentré le 21 février 362, Athanase fut encore condamné à l’exil le 23 octobre 362 mais Julien ayant été tué dans la guerre contre les Perses (26 juin 363), son successeur, Jovien, vrai catholique, le rappela. Jovien mourut accidentellement (février 364) et son successeur, Valens, arien, chassa de nouveau Athanase d’Alexandrie le 5 octobre 365 où il l’autorisera à revenir le 1° février 366. Athanase mourut dans la nuit du 2 au 3 mai 373.

Contre les Païens, (32 – 33)

Comment, puisque le corps est naturellement mortel, l'homme raisonne-t-il sur l'immortalité, et désire-t-il souvent la mort pour la vertu ? Ou encore, comment, puisque le corps est éphémère, l'homme se représente-t-il les réalités éternelles au point de mépriser les choses présentes, et de tourner son désir vers les autres ? Le corps ne saurait de lui-même raisonner ainsi sur lui-même, ni sur ce qui est extérieur à lui : il est mortel et éphémère ; il faut donc nécessairement qu'il y ait autre chose qui raisonne sur ce qui est opposé au corps et contraire à sa nature. Qu'est cela encore une fois, sinon l'âme raisonnable et immortelle ? Et elle n'est pas extérieure au corps, mais lui est intérieure — comme le musicien qui avec sa lyre fait entendre les meilleurs sons. Comment encore, l'œil étant naturellement fait pour voir et l'oreille pour entendre, se détournent-ils de ceci et préfèrent-ils cela ? Qu'est-ce qui détourne l'œil de voir ? ou qui empêche l'oreille d'entendre, alors qu'elle est faite naturellement pour entendre ? Et le goût, naturellement fait pour goûter, qu'est-ce qui souvent l'arrête dans son élan naturel ? La main, naturellement faite pour agir, qui l'empêche de toucher tel objet ? L'odorat, fait pour sentir les odeurs, qui le détourne de les percevoir ? Qui agit ainsi à l'encontre des propriétés naturelles des corps ? Comment le corps se laisse-t-il détourner de sa nature, et conduire par les avis d'un autre, et diriger par un signe de lui ? Tout cela montre que seule l'âme raisonnable mène le corps. Le corps n'est point fait pour se mouvoir lui-même, mais il se laisse conduire et mener par un autre, comme le cheval ne s'attelle pas lui-même, mais se laisse diriger par celui qui l'a maîtrisé. Aussi y a-t-il des lois chez les hommes, pour leur faire faire le bien et éviter le mal ; mais les êtres sans raison ne peuvent ni raisonner ni discerner le mal, puisqu'il sont étrangers à la rationalité et à la réflexion raisonnable. Ainsi les hommes possèdent une âme raisonnable ; je pense l'avoir montré par ce qui vient d'être dit.

Que l'âme soit aussi immortelle, la doctrine de l'Eglise ne peut l'ignorer, pour trouver là un argument capable de réfuter l'idolâtrie. On parviendra de plus près à cette notion, si l'on part de la connaissance du corps et de sa différence d'avec l'âme. Si notre raisonnement a montré qu'elle est autre que le corps, et si le corps est naturellement mortel, il s'ensuit nécessairement que l'âme est immortelle, puisqu'elle est différente du corps. De plus, si, comme nous l'avons montré, c'est l'âme qui meut le corps, sans être elle-même mue par d'autres, il s'ensuit que l'âme se meut elle-même, et qu'après que le corps a été mis en terre, elle se meut encore par elle-même. Car ce n'est pas l'âme qui meurt, mais c'est quand elle se sépare de lui que meurt le corps. Si donc elle était mue par le corps, il s'ensuivrait que, le moteur s'éloignant, elle mourrait ; mais si c'est l'âme qui meut le corps, à plus forte raison elle se meut elle-même. Et si elle se meut elle-même, nécessairement elle vit après la mort du corps. Car le mouvement de l'âme n'est pas autre chose que sa vie, de même aussi que nous disions que le corps vit quand il est en mouvement, et que c'est la mort pour lui quand il cesse de se mouvoir. On verra cela encore plus clairement à partir de l'activité de l'âme dans le corps. Quand l'âme est venue dans le corps et lui est enchaînée, elle n'est pas resserrée et mesurée par la petitesse du corps, mais bien souvent, alors que celui-ci est couché dans son lit, immobile, et comme endormi dans la mort, l'âme, selon sa propre vertu, est éveillée, et s'élève au-dessus de la nature du corps; comme si elle s'en allait loin de lui, bien que restant dans le corps, elle se représente et contemple des êtres supra-terrestres ; souvent même elle rencontre ceux qui sont au-dessus des corps terrestres, les saints et les anges, et s'en va vers eux, se confiant dans la pureté de l'esprit. Comment donc, à plus forte raison, détachée du corps quand le voudra Dieu qui l'avait liée à lui, n'aura-t-elle pas une connaissance plus claire de l'immortalité ? Si, quand elle était liée au corps, elle vivait une vie étrangère au corps, à plus forte raison, après la mort du corps, elle vivra et ne cessera de vivre, parce que Dieu l'a ainsi créée par son Verbe, notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ. C'est pourquoi elle pense et réfléchit aux choses immortelles et éternelles, puisqu'elle aussi est immortelle. De même que, le corps étant mortel, ses sens contemplent des choses mortelles, ainsi l'âme qui contemple des réalités immortelles et raisonne sur elles, doit-elle nécessairement être immortelle et vivre éternellement. Les pensées et considérations sur l'immortalité ne la quittent jamais, mais demeurent en elle comme un foyer qui assure l'immortalité. C'est pourquoi elle a la pensée de la contemplation de Dieu, et devient à elle-même sa propre voie ; ce n'est pas du dehors, mais d'elle-même qu'elle reçoit la connaissance et la compréhension du Verbe de Dieu.

Saint Athanase

SOURCE : http://missel.free.fr/Sanctoral/05/02.php

Athanase d’Alexandrie a été le « roc » qui s’est dressé contre Arius et les non nicéens. Son double traité Contra Gentes et De Incarnatione, de même que son ouvrage dogmatique fondamental, Contre les ariens, défendent une vision traditionnelle de l’Incarnation insistant sur la pleine divinité et la réelle humanité du Christ. Son argumentation est tirée de la Bible et de la tradition de l’Église. Athanase est l’évêque le plus dynamique de l’Égypte chrétienne au IVe siècle


44. Certains parlent même du « siècle d’Athanase ». Grégoire de Nazianze le nomme « le champion et le défenseur de la foi de Nicée » et « le pilier de l’Église »

46. Accédant au siège épiscopal d’Alexandrie après la mort d’Alexandre en 328, il n’a qu’un seul but : défendre la foi proclamée à Nicée. Ses convictions et sa lutte pour la vérité le mènent au milieu des plus grands combats pour la foi, où il se montre tolérant et modéré.

1. Jusqu’à l’épiscopat

Athanase d’Alexandrie naît vers 298-29947, dans une famille probablement chrétienne au sein de laquelle il reçoit une bonne éducation religieuse. Grégoire de Nazianze écrit qu’il avait une excellente connaissance de la Bible, et le compare aux grands personnages qui ont marqué l’histoire biblique : Noé, Abraham, Moïse, Aaron, David, Salomon, etc48. Ses ouvrages, en raison des citations scripturaires qu’ils renferment, sont un témoignage éclairant de sa familiarité avec les livres saints. Au temps des dernières persécutions, il était trop jeune pour garder un souvenir de scènes sanglantes, mais il en avait entendu parler et il ressentait une grande admiration pour ses prédécesseurs, voyant jusqu’où ils étaient allés par amour du Christ, le Logos de Dieu fait chair pour nous.

Son enfance reste plutôt inconnue. Rufin d’Aquilée50 raconte toutefois la fameuse histoire de la rencontre entre Alexandre d’Alexandrie et Athanase. L’évêque donnait un festin en l’honneur de la fête de saint Pierre Apôtre, quand il aperçut par la fenêtre quelques garçons en train de jouer sur la plage. Le « chef de la bande », Athanase, alors âgé de 15-16 ans, reproduisait sur ses camarades de jeu le rite du baptême chrétien. Alexandre envoya un de ses prêtres pour faire venir ce jeune homme auprès de l’évêque. Dans le dialogue, il constata la piété de l’adolescent et déclara valides les baptêmes qu’il avait effectués. À la suite de cet épisode, Alexandre le prit avec lui et s’occupa de sa formation théologique et spirituelle. Dans l’ouvrage de jeunesse d’Athanase, Contre les Païens et Sur l’Incarnation du Logos, transparaît l’influence théologique d’Alexandre et des grands noms de l’École d’Alexandrie, Clément et Origène. Cependant, sa manière de penser la foi chrétienne a quelque chose d’original grâce à l’empreinte pastorale qui domine son oeuvre et sa réflexion théologique.

En 318, au moment où éclate l'arianisme, Athanase est ordonné diacre par Alexandre. Celui-ci en fait son secrétaire. Cependant, Athanase porte en lui un grand désir de perfection et d’idéal de vie chrétienne. Il entre en contact avec les moines de la Thébaïde et noue des relations profondes avec le « patriarche des solitaires », Antoine le Grand : « Je fus son disciple, et, comme Élisée, je versais l’eau sur les mains de cet autre Élie »

51. Pendant plusieurs de ses exils, Athanase trouve un bon accueil chez les moines du désert pour lesquels il écrit la Vie d’Antoine, une sorte de règle monastique pour tous ceux qui veulent suivre le Christ selon le modèle de vie du grand Antoine.

En qualité de secrétaire de son évêque, Athanase participe au concile de Nicée de 325. Comme simple diacre, il est peu probable qu’il ait pris la parole en public, mais il a dû jouer un important rôle dans les coulisses du concile. Dans l’affaire de Mélèce de Lycopolis, Athanase prend le parti d’Alexandre, c’est-à-dire qu’il soutient son choix de remplacer, à sa mort, un évêque nommé par Alexandre par un évêque mélétien après élection et approbation par Alexandre. Seul Mélèce reste privé du droit d’exercer ses fonctions épiscopales. À Nicée, Athanase trouve le vrai sens de sa vie : devenir le champion et le défenseur de la foi signée par les pères conciliaires. De plus, il a probablement eu l’occasion de rencontrer à Nicée les principaux partisans de la doctrine d’Arius et les principaux théologiens anti-ariens, Eustathe d’Antioche et Marcel d’Ancyre

52. Après cette « victoire apparente de l’orthodoxie » sur l’arianisme, la vie d’Athanase va connaître des moments de « gloire » entremêlés de temps d’exil et d’excommunication.

2. Un épiscopat mouvementé

Dans ses Lettres festales, Athanase dit qu’au moment de son élection pour la plus haute charge ecclésiastique en Égypte, en l’année 328, il n’avait pas l’âge requis, c’est-à dire 30 ans. Cela provoqua des ennuis avec les mélétiens

53. Autant le peuple était dans la joie et la satisfaction pour le nouvel évêque, autant ses adversaires, ariens et mélétiens, cherchaient à lui opposer d’autres candidats. Épiphane

54 rapporte que les mélétiens avaient choisi un certain Théonas, mais qu’il est mort au bout de trois mois.

Après sa consécration, Athanase commence ses visites pastorales — Thébaïde, Pentapole, Ammoniaca —, dans le but de grouper tous les évêques « nicéens » et de les encourager dans la défense de la foi contre toute doctrine erronée. Comme évêque, il noue davantage de relations avec les moines du désert. Il trouve un grand plaisir à fréquenter ce lieu où il s’y rend souvent. Selon la tradition, il aurait conféré le sacerdoce

55 à Pacôme lors de l'une de ses visites. En qualité d’évêque, Athanase entre en contact avec ses fidèles par des visites, mais surtout par ses Lettres festales

56. Dans les deux premières lettres, il donne un message de paix et de joie ; dans la troisième, il se plaint de ceux qui enseignent une autre doctrine et troublent la paix de l’Église.

L’empereur Constantin remarque très vite le jeune évêque qui se distingue par sa foi, son ascèse, sa piété et son zèle pour l’Église d’Alexandrie. Il lui donne le nom d’« homme de Dieu ». Arius, resté silencieux après Nicée, écrit en 327 une lettre à Constantin où il exprime sa profession de foi. Le mot « hypostase » était soigneusement évité. À la suite de cette lettre, l’empereur oblige Athanase à recevoir Arius et ses partisans dans la communion de l’Église. Le refus de l’évêque entraîne, en 335, la convocation d’un synode à Tyr, où il est caractérisé comme un homme violent, irascible, non obéissant aux ordres impériaux. Athanase quitte le synode pour aller trouver l’empereur et s’expliquer, mais le synode profite de sa fuite pour le condamner.

L’empereur convoque un nouveau synode à Constantinople. Celui-ci approuve la condamnation. Athanase est exilé à Trèves en Gaule où il est accueilli par l’évêque Maximin. Il passe deux ans dans cette ville d’où, par l’intermédiaire des Lettres festales, il entretient le contact avec son Église d’Alexandrie afin d’encourager ses fidèles à se garder de la doctrine arienne. Seule la mort de Constantin, en 337, lui permet de revenir dans son diocèse à la demande de Constance II.

En novembre 337, Athanase rentre dans son diocèse pour la plus grande joie des prêtres et des fidèles. Les Ariens avaient ordonné évêque Pistus, fidèle compagnon d’Arius. Mais Athanase fit appel au pape Jules afin d’éclaircir une fois pour toutes la question arienne. Il gagne l’estime du pape et devint le défenseur acharné de la divinité du Sauveur

58. Entre temps, Pistus est remplacé par Grégoire de Cappadoce qui s’impose par la force comme évêque d’Alexandrie. Il chasse Athanase de son palais épiscopal.

Après quelque temps passé aux environs de la ville, Athanase se dirige vers Rome où il arrive en 339. Avec Ossius de Cordoue, il va à Sardique où se tient un synode : Orientaux et Occidentaux y sont invités. Le synode débat de questions dogmatiques. Les participants envisagent une nouvelle formule de foi pour remplacer celle de Nicée.

Toutefois, Athanase exerce une grande influence sur l’assemblée qui se range de son côté pour maintenir la formule de foi nicéenne. Cependant, Grégoire de Cappadoce est toujours l’évêque d’Alexandrie soutenu par l’empereur. D’où l’indignation d’Athanase qui ne cesse de proclamer le droit de l’Église à se gouverner elle-même :

Où y a-t-il un canon stipulant qu’un évêque doit être nommé par la cour ? Où se trouve le canon qui permet aux soldats d’envahir les églises ? Quelle tradition accorde à des comtes et à des eunuques ignorants une autorité dans les questions ecclésiastiques et le droit de faire connaître par des édits les décisions de ceux qui portent le nom d’évêques ?… Montrez-moi encore une Église qui jouisse encore du privilège d’adorer le Christ en toute liberté ? […] Tandis que l’empereur est le protecteur de l’hérésie et désire pervertir la vérité, tout comme Achab voulut changer la vigne de Nabot en jardin potager, complaît à toutes les requêtes des hérétiques, car leurs suggestions rejoignent ses propres désirs.

À la mort de Grégoire en 345, Constance II rappelle Athanase sur son siège60. Prenant la route d’Alexandrie, l’évêque passe par Rome et le pape Jules lui confie une lettre pour le clergé d’Égypte. Le 21 octobre 346, Athanase rentre à Alexandrie et se fait acclamer par des foules venues à sa rencontre. Reprenant ses fonctions d’évêque, il commence ses visites pastorales, rencontre et réconforte les moines de la Thébaïde. De grands écrits théologiques et dogmatiques datent de cette période : la Lettre sur les décrets du concile de Nicée, L’Épître sur la pensée de Denis, l'Apologie contre les Ariens, le traité Sur la virginité. Très vite, sa renommée dépasse les frontières d’Égypte

61. Après la mort du pape Jules, Athanase envoie une lettre à son successeur, Libère, pour le mettre au courant des questions théologiques en Orient

62. Cependant, sur l’insistance de l’empereur, favorable à l’arianisme, le pape convoque un concile à Milan en 355, où tous les évêques, à l’exception de trois, Lucifer de Cagliari, Eusèbe de Verceil et Denis de Milan, condamnent Athanase qui s’étonnait de toutes ces années de paix. Suite à cette condamnation, l'évêque quitte sa ville sans but précis et devient un « fuyard ».

Quand les fidèles apprennent la nouvelle du départ d’Athanase, ils font de leur mieux pour convaincre le pouvoir impérial de faire revenir leur évêque. Tous ces efforts sont vains : Athanase est considéré comme un ennemi public. Les églises sont donc remises aux mains des Ariens

63. Voyant toute son oeuvre détruite et la doctrine nicéenne menacée, le grand docteur se retire au désert auprès des moines, ses fidèles amis. Il profite de cette occasion pour visiter les monastères de son diocèse et s’entretenir avec ces solitaires sur la foi chrétienne reçue des Apôtres et transmise par l’Église. Du désert, il continue à écrire des oeuvres dogmatiques : les Lettres à Sérapion de Thmuis (sur la divinité de l’Esprit-Saint), La lettre à Sérapion (encouragements pour garder la foi de l’Église), l'Apologie à Constance, l'Apologie pour la fuite, l'Histoire des Ariens adressée aux moines, Synodes de Rimini et de Séleucie

64. En 361, Julien succède à Constance, Grégoire de Cappadoce est emprisonné, et le retour d’Athanase est possible. Il rentre à Alexandrie en février 362 après six ans d’absence. Pour sa plus grande joie, il constate, une fois de plus, la fidélité de ses ouailles à son enseignement et à la foi de Nicée. Dans son panégyrique Grégoire de Nazianze décrit ce troisième retour d’Athanase :

Ensuite l’Athlète revient de son vigoureux voyage, car c’est ainsi que j’appelle un exil subi à cause de la Trinité et en même temps qu’elle. Ainsi il est accueilli par les citadins en liesse et à peu près par tous les Égyptiens rassemblés de toutes parts, accourus même des coins les plus reculés, les uns pour se rassasier ne fût-ce que d’entendre ou de voir Athanase, les autres, comme l’Écriture le raconte aussi, on le sait, au sujet des Apôtres, uniquement pour être sanctifiés par son ombre (cf. Ac 5, 15) et même par l’imagerie qui représente de nouveau son portrait. De sorte que, de mémoire d’homme, parmi les nombreuses manifestations et réceptions organisées bien souvent déjà dans tous les temps en l’honneur non seulement de beaucoup d’autorités publiques ou religieuses mais encore en l’honneur de beaucoup de particulier très distingués, pas une seule n’attira une foule plus nombreuse et plus brillante.

Reprenant ses fonctions, Athanase travaille au rétablissement du symbole nicéen là où la doctrine arienne avait gagné du terrain. Au printemps de 362, il réunit un concile à Alexandrie dans le dessein d’accorder le pardon aux prêtres et aux évêques qui ont adhéré à la théologie arienne par crainte ou séduction impériale. La formule de Nicée est réaffirmée, bien que l’influence de Mélèce laisse des traces difficiles à effacer. Le concile traite aussi d'une question dogmatique nouvelle posée par Apollinaire de Laodicée : l’existence d’une âme rationnelle dans le Christ. Les décisions du concile triomphent sur tout l’Orient et elles sont aussi acceptées par Rome. L’empereur Julien, jaloux du succès d’Athanase, réagit avec violence contre lui :

Je n’apprendrais rien de ce que tu fais qui me fût plus agréable que l’expulsion, hors de tous les points de l’Égypte, de cet Athanase, de ce misérable qui a osé, sous mon règne, baptiser des femmes grecques de distinction .

L’évêque d’Alexandrie quitte ainsi la ville pour la quatrième fois, mais il prononce ces paroles prophétiques : « ne vous inquiétez pas, mes enfants, c’est un petit nuage, et il passe vite ». Athanase reprend la route du désert de Thébaïde où les moines saluent son arrivée par des acclamations. En été 363, Julien meurt pendant la guerre contre les Perses, et Jovien, un nicéen convaincu, rappelle l’évêque sur son siège à Alexandrie après 14 mois de désert. Malheureusement, Jovien meurt subitement dans un accident survenu sur la route de Constantinople. Son successeur, Valentinien, donne à son frère Valens le gouvernement de l’Empire d’Orient. Celui-ci, un arien convaincu, ordonne l’exil des nicéens. Ainsi, Athanase reprend la route de l’exil pour la cinquième fois. Cet exil ne va durer que quatre mois. Dès février 366, les autorités impériales le remettent solennellement en possession du siège d’Alexandrie. Athanase entreprend alors des initiatives de réconciliation avec ceux qui ont obéi à la doctrine arienne par crainte, peur ou ignorance. Il fait connaître au pape Libère ses démarches et le met au courant de l’état de la doctrine en Orient :

La faute commise par l’ignorance est effacée par le repentir. On ne doit pas refuser le pardon à ceux qui, à Rimini, ont agi par ignorance. Mais on doit condamner les auteurs de l’hérésie, ceux qui, par leurs sophismes, ont égaré les esprits simples et jeté un voile sur la vérité.

3. Une fin de vie tranquille

Après tant de luttes, de souffrances et d’exclusions, Athanase voit ses efforts enfin couronnés. Le peuple est dans la joie et jouit d’avoir un si digne évêque, dans la lignée de Denis et d’Alexandre d’Alexandrie. Pendant la dernière période de sa vie, Athanase se consacre à l’administration de son diocèse. Malgré la vieillesse, il reste toujours jeune d’âme, prêt à lutter jusqu’au bout afin de défendre l’héritage de la foi chrétienne. Ses derniers livres sont sereins. Ce sont des ouvrages ascétiques, biographiques, exégétiques. La Vie d’Antoine, ouvrage écrit à la demande des moines, connaît un grand succès en Orient auprès des gens qui, par amour du Christ, le Logos de Dieu Incarné, veulent tout quitter pour le suivre, selon l’exemple du grand Antoine.

Avec l’aide de l’empereur, Athanase entreprend un énorme travail de construction d’églises. Ainsi, avec l’autorisation du préfet d’Alexandrie, il commence la reconstruction du Caesarion. En 369, Athanase fait construire dans un quartier d’Alexandrie, Mendinion, une église qui porte son nom. Il l’inaugure le 7 août 370. Il intervient également en faveur de l’unité des chrétiens, surtout dans l’Église d’Antioche où apparaît la querelle théologique sur la divinité de l’Esprit-Saint. C’est aux évêques d’Antioche qu’Athanase donne des explications concernant la formule de foi signée à Nicée dans le Tomus ad Antiochenos. Après 75 ans de vie, dont 45 comme patriarche d’Égypte, sans n’avoir jamais manqué à son devoir, d’abord de chrétien puis d’évêque, Athanase rend son âme à Dieu dans la nuit du 2 au 3 mai 373. Avant de mourir, il désigne Pierre « un ancien du presbytérium qui, après l’avoir suivi partout, administra l’épiscopat » pour lui succéder sur le siège d’Alexandrie.

Athanase d’Alexandrie reste pour ses contemporains un homme de contradiction. Dur avec ses adversaires, charitable et vrai pasteur pour ses fidèles, il laisse le souvenir d’un grand évêque convaincu et zélé, ayant le grand souci de transmettre le plus fidèlement possible la foi selon l’Écriture, l’enseignement des Apôtres et la Tradition de l’Église. Il est un symbole, une doctrine, une force suprême de l’amour du Christ, celui qui incarne la foi de Nicée et la défense de la divinité du Logos. Sans jamais se lasser, seul parfois contre tous, il espère toujours la victoire de Dieu. Prudent et souple, il sait à la fois attaquer l’adversaire, lui résister et le fuir. Pour lui, « le propre de la religion chrétienne n’est pas d’imposer mais de persuader ». Athanase est l’homme qui ne se laisse pas convaincre par les subtilités, et pour montrer la fausseté de ses adversaires, il expose ses convictions le plus clairement possible, même si parfois il doit utiliser des néologismes qu’il explique par la suite. Athanase le Grand reste avant tout un chrétien, un évêque, un homme de Dieu dévoué totalement au service de la plus grande cause : la vérité sur le Christ, le Logos de Dieu fait homme, pour notre salut73. Toute la vie d’Athanase d’Alexandrie est un lien cohérent entre foi et conviction, ascèse et mission au nom de l’unité et de la paix dans l’Église, l’épouse immaculée du Christ.

SOURCE : http://www.coptipedia.com/patriarches-a-eveques/saint-athanase-le-grand-dalexandrie-legal-des-apotres.html

L'Incarnation restaure notre connaissance de Dieu

Dieu avait créé les hommes pour que les hommes puissent le connaître, mais les hommes se sont détournés de lui :

« Et pourquoi donc Dieu aurait-il fait les hommes, s'il n'avait voulu être connu d'eux ? Aussi, il les crée selon son image et ressemblance. [...]

Mais les hommes méprisèrent le don qui leur était fait ; ils se détournèrent de Dieu et souillèrent à ce point leur âme qu'ils n'oublièrent pas seulement l'idée de Dieu, mais se forgèrent toutes sortes d'autres dieux à sa place. » (1)

En s'incarnant, le Seigneur fixe sur soi les sens de tous les hommes afin que partout où les hommes étaient attirés, il les ramène et leur enseigne son véritable Père :

« Puis donc que les hommes s'étaient détournés de la contemplation de Dieu et, enfoncés comme dans un abîme, gardaient les yeux fixés en bas, cherchant Dieu dans la création et dans les objets des sens, d'hommes mortels et de démons se faisant des dieux, pour cette raison le Verbe de Dieu, ami des bommes et commun sauveur de tous, prend pour lui un corps, et vint en homme parmi les hommes, et fixe sur soi les sens de tous les hommes. Ainsi ceux qui se représentaient Dieu dans des êtres corporels connaîtraient la vérité à partir des oeuvres que le Seigneur accomplirait dans le corps, et par lui considéreraient le Père. » (2)

Saint Athanase donne quelques exemples ; les hommes en voyant le Christ, se détournent du culte de la nature, des démons ou des morts.

« En hommes ne pensant que choses humaines, partout où ils appliqueraient leurs sens, ils se verraient attirés et ils apprendraient la vérité en tous lieux.

Car ils étaient ou bien saisis d'un transport sacré pour la création, mais ils la voyaient confesser le Christ Seigneur ; ou bien leur pensée était prévenue en faveur des hommes, au point de les prendre pour des dieux, mais s'ils les comparaient avec les oeuvres du Sauveur, ils voyaient que parmi les hommes seul le Sauveur est Fils de Dieu, aucune oeuvre chez ceux-là valent celles que réalisait le Verbe de Dieu.

Même pour les démons ils étaient prévenus, mais en les voyant chassés par le Seigneur, ils découvraient que lui est le Verbe de Dieu, et que les démons ne sont pas des dieux.

Et si leur esprit se trouvait alors possédé par la pensée des morts, de sorte qu'ils rendaient un culte aux héros et à ceux que les poètes appellent des dieux, voyant la résurrection du Sauveur ils confessaient que c'étaient des mensonges, et que le seul vrai Seigneur était le Verbe du Père, qui dominait aussi la mort.

Voilà pourquoi il est né, est apparu comme un homme, est mort, est ressuscité, émoussant et obscurcissant par ses propres oeuvres tout ce que les hommes avaient fait, afin que partout où les hommes étaient attirés, il les ramène et leur enseigne son véritable Père, comme lui-même le dit : « Je suis venu sauver et trouver ce qui était perdu. »

Le Sauveur, durant tout le temps de son Incarnation, est pour nous une lumière qui nous renouvelle :

« 16,1. Car une fois l'esprit des hommes tombé dans le sensible, le Verbe s'abaissa jusqu'à paraître dans un corps, afin de centrer les hommes sur lui-même en tant qu'homme et de détourner vers lui leurs sens ; désormais ils le verraient comme un homme ; par ses oeuvres il les persuaderait qu'il n'est pas un homme seulement, mais Dieu, Verbe et Sagesse du Dieu véritable.

2. C'est ce que veut indiquer Paul :

"Enracinés et fondés dans l'amour, pour que vous receviez la faveur de comprendre, avec tous les saints, ce qu'est la largeur et la longueur, la hauteur et la profondeur, et de connaître l'amour du Christ qui surpasse toute connaissance, pour que vous entriez par votre plénitude dans toute la Plénitude de Dieu." [Eph 3, 17-19] »

[...]

4. C'est pourquoi il n'a pas dès sa venue offert son sacrifice pour tous, en livrant le corps à la mort et en le ressuscitant, quitte à se rendre invisible de ce fait même.

Il s'est au contraire montré visible par ce corps, en y demeurant, accomplissant des oeuvres et présentant des signes, qui le font connaître non plus comme un homme, mais comme Dieu Verbe.

5. Des deux côtés, le Sauveur par son incarnation a témoigné de sa philanthropie :

d'une part, il faisait disparaître la mort de chez nous et nous renouvelait (4) ;

d'autre part, étant sans apparence et invisible, il apparaissait à travers ses oeuvres et se faisait connaître comme le Verbe du Père, le chef et le roi de l'univers. » (5)


(1) ATHANASE D'ALEXANDRIE, De Incarnatione 11, 2-3 ; traduction ans Sources chrétiennes n° 199, par Charles KANNENGIESSER, Cerf 1973, p. 305.

(2) ATHANASE D'ALEXANDRIE, De Incarnatione 15,2

(3) ATHANASE D'ALEXANDRIE, De Incarnatione 15, 3-7

(4) Sur ce point, il faudrait lire d'autres textes de saint Athanase, par exemple, De Incarnatione, 10.

(5) ATHANASE D'ALEXANDRIE, De Incarnatione 16, 1-5.

F. Breynaert

SOURCE : http://www.mariedenazareth.com/16483.0.html?&L=0
St. Athanasius

Bishop of Alexandria; Confessor and Doctor of the Church; born c. 296; died 2 May, 373. Athanasius was the greatest champion of Catholic belief on the subject of the Incarnation that the Church has ever known and in his lifetime earned the characteristic title of "Father of Orthodoxy", by which he has been distinguished every since. While the chronology of his career still remains for the most part a hopelessly involved problem, the fullest material for an account of the main achievements of his life will be found in his collected writings and in the contemporary records of his time. He was born, it would seem, in Alexandria, most probably between the years 296 and 298. An earlier date, 293, is sometimes assigned as the more certain year of his birth; and it is supported apparently by the authority of the "Coptic Fragment" (published by Dr. O. von Lemm among theMémoires de l'académie impériale des sciences de S. Péterbourg, 1888) and corroborated by the undoubted maturity of judgement revealed in the two treatises "Contra Gentes" and "De Incarnatione", which were admittedly written about the year 318 before Arianism as a movement had begun to make itself felt. It must be remembered, however, that in two distinct passages of his writings (Hist. Ar., lxiv, and De Syn., xviii)Athanasius shrinks from speaking as a witness at first hand of the persecution which had broken out underMaximian in 303; for in referring to the events of this period he makes no direct appeal to his own personal recollections, but falls back, rather, on tradition. Such reserve would scarcely be intelligible, if, on the hypothesis of the earlier date, the Saint had been then a boy fully ten years old. Besides, there must have been some semblance of a foundation in fact for the charge brought against him by his accusers in after-life (Index to the Festal Letters) that at the times of his consecration to the episcopate in 328 he had not yet attained the canonical age of thirty years. These considerations, therefore, even if they are found to be not entirely convincing, would seem to make it likely that he was born not earlier than 296 nor later than 298.


It is impossible to speak more than conjecturally of his family. Of the claim that it was both prominent andwell-to-do, we can only observe that the tradition to the effect is not contradicted by such scanty details as can be gleaned from the saint's writings. Those writings undoubtedly betray evidences of the sort of educationthat was given, for the most part, only to children and youths of a better class. It began with grammar, went on to rhetoric, and received its final touches under some one of the more fashionable lecturers in thephilosophic schools. It is possible, of course, that he owed his remarkable training in letters to his saintlypredecessor's favour, if not to his personal care. But Athanasius was one of those rare personalities that derive incomparably more from their own native gifts of intellect and character than from the fortuitousness of descent or environment. His career almost personifies a crisis in the history of Christianity; and he may be said rather to have shaped the events in which he took part than to have been shaped by them. Yet it would be misleading to urge that he was in no notable sense a debtor to the time and place of his birth. TheAlexandria of his boyhood was an epitome, intellectually, morally, and politically, of that ethnically many-coloured Graeco-Roman world, over which the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries was beginning at last, with undismayed consciousness, after nearly three hundred years of unwearying propagandism, to realize its supremacy. It was, moreover, the most important centre of trade in the whole empire; and its primacy as an emporium of ideas was more commanding than that of Rome or Constantinople, Antioch or Marseilles. Already, in obedience to an instinct of which one can scarcely determine the full significance without studying the subsequent development of Catholicism, its famous "Catechetical School", while sacrificing no jot or tittle or that passion for orthodoxy which it had imbibed from Pantænus, Clement, and Origen, had begun to take on an almost secular character in the comprehensiveness of its interests, and had counted pagans of influence among its serious auditors (Eusebius, Church History VI.19).

To have been born and brought up in such an atmosphere of philosophizing Christianity was, in spite of the dangers it involved, the timeliest and most liberal of educations; and there is, as we have intimated, abundant evidence in the saint's writings to testify to the ready response which all the better influences of the place must have found in the heart and mind of the growing boy. Athanasius seems to have been brought early in life under the immediate supervision of the ecclesiastical authorities of his native city. Whether his long intimacy with Bishop Alexander began in childhood, we have no means of judging; but a story which pretends to describe the circumstances of his first introduction to that prelate has been preserved for us byRufinus (Hist. Eccl., I, xiv). The bishop, so the tale runs, had invited a number of brother prelates to meet him at breakfast after a great religious function on the anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Peter, a recent predecessor in the See of Alexandria. While Alexander was waiting for his guests to arrive, he stood by awindow, watching a group of boys at play on the seashore below the house. He had not observed them long before he discovered that they were imitating, evidently with no thought of irreverence, the elaborate ritual ofChristian baptism. (Cf. Bunsen's "Christianity and Mankind", London, 1854, VI, 465; Denzinger, "Ritus Orientalium" in verb.; Butler's "Ancient Coptic Churches", II, 268 et sqq.; "Bapteme chez les Coptes", "Dict. Theol. Cath.", Col. 244, 245). He therefore sent for the children and had them brought into his presence. In the investigation that followed it was discovered that one of the boys, who was no other than the futurePrimate of Alexandria, had acted the part of the bishop, and in that character had actually baptized several of his companions in the course of their play. Alexander, who seems to have been unaccountably puzzled over the answers he received to his inquiries, determined to recognize the make-believe baptisms as genuine; and decided that Athanasius and his playfellows should go into training in order to fit themselves for a clericalcareer. The Bollandists deal gravely with this story; and writers as difficult to satisfy as Archdeacon Farrar and the late Dean Stanley are ready to accept it as bearing on its face "every indication of truth" (Farrar, "Lives of the Fathers", I, 337; Stanley, "East. Ch." 264). But whether in its present form, or in the modified version to be found in Socrates (I, xv), who omits all reference to the baptism and says that the game was "an imitation of the priesthood and the order of consecrated persons", the tale raises a number of chronological difficulties and suggests even graver questions.

Perhaps a not impossible explanation of its origin may be found in the theory that it was one of the many floating myths set in movement by popular imagination to account for the marked bias towards an ecclesiastical career which seems to have characterized the early boyhood of the future champion of the Faith.Sozomen speaks of his "fitness for the priesthood", and calls attention to the significant circumstance that he was "from his tenderest years practically self-taught". "Not long after this," adds the same authority, theBishop Alexander "invited Athanasius to be his commensal and secretary. He had been well educated, and was versed in grammar and rhetoric, and had already, while still a young man, and before reaching the episcopate, given proof to those who dwelt with him of his wisdom and acumen" (Soz., II, xvii). That "wisdom andacumen" manifested themselves in a various environment. While still a levite under Alexander's care, he seems to have been brought for a while into close relations with some of the solitaries of the Egyptian desert, and in particular with the great St. Anthony, whose life he is said to have written. The evidence both of the intimacy and for the authorship of the life in question has been challenged, chiefly by non-Catholic writers, on the ground that the famous "Vita" shows signs of interpolation. Whatever we may think of the arguments on the subject, it is impossible to deny that the monastic idea appealed powerfully to the young cleric'stemperament, and that he himself in after years was not only at home when duty or accident threw him among the solitaries, but was so monastically self-disciplined in his habits as to be spoken of as an "ascetic" (Apol. c. Arian., vi). In fourth-century usage the word would have a definiteness of connotation not easily determinable today. (See ASCETICISM).

It is not surprising that one who was called to fill so large a place in the history of his time should have impressed the very form and feature of his personality, so to say, upon the imagination of his contemporaries.St. Gregory Nazianzen is not the only writer who has described him for us (Orat. xxi, 8). A contemptuous phrase of the Emperor Julian's (Epist., li) serves unintentionally to corroborate the picture drawn by kindlierobservers. He was slightly below the middle height, spare in build, but well-knit, and intensely energetic. He had a finely shaped head, set off with a thin growth of auburn hair, a small but sensitively mobile mouth, an aquiline nose, and eyes of intense but kindly brilliancy. He had a ready wit, was quick in intuition, easy and affable in manner, pleasant in conversation, keen, and, perhaps, somewhat too unsparing in debate. (Besides the references already cited, see the detailed description given in the January Menaion quotes in theBollandist life. Julian the Apostate, in the letter alluded to above sneers at the diminutiveness of his person mede aner, all anthropiokos euteles, he writes.) In addition to these qualities, he was conspicuous for two others to which even his enemies bore unwilling testimony. He was endowed with a sense of humour that could be as mordant — we had almost said as sardonic — as it seems to have been spontaneous and unfailing; and his courage was of the sort that never falters, even in the most disheartening hour of defeat. There is one other note in this highly gifted and many-sided personality to which everything else in his natureliterally ministered, and which must be kept steadily in view, if we would possess the key to his character and writing and understand the extraordinary significance of his career in the history of the Christian Church. He was by instinct neither a liberal nor a conservative in theology. Indeed the terms have a singular inappropriateness as applied to a temperament like his. From first to last he cared greatly for one thing and one thing only; the integrity of his Catholic creed. The religion it engendered in him was obviously — considering the traits by which we have tried to depict him — of a passionate and consuming sort. It began and ended in devotion to the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He was scarcely out of his teens, and certainly not in more than deacon's orders, when he published two treatises, in which his mind seemed to strike the keynote of all its riper after-utterances on the subject of the Catholic Faith. The "Contra Gentes" and the "Oratio de Incarnatione" — to give them the Latin appellations by which they are more commonly cited — were written some time between the years 318 and 323. St. Jerome (De Viris Illust.) refers to them under a common title, as "Adversum Gentes Duo Libri", thus leaving his readers to gather the impression which an analysis of the contents of both books certainly seems to justify, that the two treatises are in reality one.

As a plea for the Christian position, addressed chiefly to both Gentiles and Jews, the young deacon's apology, while undoubtedly reminiscential in methods and ideas of Origen and the earlier Alexandrians, is, nevertheless, strongly individual and almost pietistic in tone. Though it deals with the Incarnation, it is silenton most of those ulterior problems in defence of which Athanasius was soon to be summoned by the force of events and the fervour of his own faith to devote the best energies of his life. The work contains no explicit discussion of the nature of the Word's Sonship, for instance; no attempt to draw out the character of Our Lord's relation to the Father; nothing, in short, of those Christological questions upon which he was to speak with such splendid and courageous clearness in time of shifting formularies and undetermined views. Yet those ideas must have been in the air (Soz., I, xv) for, some time between the years 318 and 320, Arius, a native of Libya (Epiphanius, Haer., lxix) and priest of the Alexandrian Church, who had already fallen undercensure for his part in the Meletian troubles which broke out during the episcopate of St. Peter, and whose teachings had succeeded in making dangerous headway, even among "the consecrated virgins" of St. Mark's see (Epiphanius, Haer., lxix; Socrates, Church History I.6), accused Bishop Alexander of Sabellianism. Arius, who seems to have presumed on the charitable tolerance of the primate, was at length deposed (Apol. c. Ar., vi) in a synod consisting of more than one hundred bishops of Egypt and Libya (Depositio Ar., 3). The condemned heresiarch withdrew first to Palestine and afterwards to Bithynia, where, under the protection ofEusebius of Nicomedia and his other "Collucianists", he was able to increase his already remarkable influence, while his friends were endeavouring to prepare a way for his forcible reinstatement as priest of theAlexandrian Church. Athanasius, though only in deacon's order, must have taken no subordinate part in these events. He was the trusted secretary and advisor of Alexander, and his name appears in the list of those who signed the encyclical letter subsequently issued by the primate and his colleagues to offset the growing prestige of the new teaching, and the momentum it was beginning to acquire from the ostentatious patronageextended to the deposed Arius by the Eusebian faction. Indeed, it is to this party and to the leverage it was able to exercise at the emperor's court that the subsequent importance of Arianism as a political, rather than a religious, movement seems primarily to be due.

The heresy, of course, had its supposedly philosophic basis, which has been ascribed by authors, ancient and modern, to the most opposite sources. St. Epiphanius characterizes it as a king of revived Aristoteleanism(Haer., lxvii and lxxvi); and the same view is practically held by Socrates (Church History II.35), Theodoret(Haer. Fab., IV, iii), and St. Basil (Against Eunomius I.9). On the other hand, a theologian as broadly read asPetavius (De Trin., I, viii, 2) has no hesitation in deriving it from Platonism; Newman in turn (Arians of the Fourth Cent., 4 ed., 109) sees in it the influence of Jewish prejudices rationalized by the aid of Aristoteleanideas; while Robertson (Sel. Writ. and Let. of Ath. Proleg., 27) observes that the "common theology", which was invariably opposed to it, "borrowed its philosophical principles and method from the Platonists." These apparently conflicting statements could, no doubt, be easily adjusted; but the truth is that the prestige ofArianism never lay in its ideas. From whatever school it may have been logically derived, the sect, as a sect, was cradled and nurtured in intrigue. Save in some few instances, which can be accounted for on quite other grounds, its prophets relied more upon curial influence than upon piety, or Scriptural knowledge, or dialectics. That must be borne constantly in mind, if we would not move distractedly through the bewildering maze of events that make up the life of Athanasius for the next half-century to come. It is his peculiar merit that he not only saw the drift of things from the very beginning, but was confident of the issue down to the last (Apol. c. Ar., c.). His insight and courage proved almost as efficient a bulwark to the Christian Church in the world as did his singularly lucid grasp of traditional Catholic belief. His opportunity came in the year 325, when theEmperor Constantine, in the hope of putting an end to the scandalous debates that were disturbing the peace of the Church, met the prelates of the entire Catholic world in council at Nicaea.

The great council convoked at this juncture was something more than a pivotal event in the history ofChristianity. Its sudden, and, in one sense, almost unpremeditated adoption of a quasi-philosophic and non-Scriptural term — homoousion — to express the character of orthodox belief in the Person of the historicChrist, by defining Him to be identical in substance, or co-essential, with the Father, together with its confident appeal to the emperor to lend the sanction of his authority to the decrees and pronouncements by which it hoped to safeguard this more explicit profession of the ancient Faith, had consequences of the gravest import, not only to the world of ideas, but to the world of politics as well. By the official promulgationto the term homoöusion, theological speculation received a fresh but subtle impetus which made itself felt long after Athanasius and his supporters had passed away; while the appeal to the secular arm inaugurated a policy which endured practically without change of scope down to the publication of the Vatican decrees in our own time. In one sense, and that a very deep and vital one, both the definition and the policy were inevitable. It was inevitable in the order of religious ideas that any break in logical continuity should be met by inquiry and protest. It was just as inevitable that the protest, to be effective, should receive some countenance from a power which up to that moment had affected to regulate all the graver circumstances of life (cf. Harnack, Hist. Dog., III, 146, note; Buchanan's tr.). As Newman has remarked: "The Church could not meet together in one, without entering into a sort of negotiation with the power that be; who jealousy it is the duty ofChristians, both as individuals and as a body, if possible, to dispel" (Arians of the Fourth Cent., 4 ed., 241).Athanasius, though not yet in priest's orders, accompanied Alexander to the council in the character of secretary and theological adviser. He was not, of course, the originator of the famous homoösion. The term had been proposed in a non-obvious and illegitimate sense by Paul of Samosata to the Father at Antioch, and had been rejected by them as savouring of materialistic conceptions of the Godhead (cf. Athan., "De Syn., " xliii; Newman, "Arians of the Fourth Cent., " 4 ed., 184-196; Petav. "De Trin., " IV, v, sect. 3; Robertson, "Sel.Writ. and Let. Athan. Proleg.", 30 sqq.).

It may even be questioned whether, if left to his own logical instincts, Athanasius would have suggested anorthodox revival of the term at all ("De Decretis", 19; "Orat. c. Ar.", ii, 32; "Ad Monachos", 2). His writings, composed during the forty-six critical years of his episcopate, show a very sparing use of the word; and though, as Newman (Arians of the Fourth Cent., 4 ed., 236) reminds us, "the authentic account of the proceedings" that took place is not extant, there is nevertheless abundant evidence in support of the common view that it had been unexpectedly forced upon the notice of the bishops, Arian and orthodox, in the greatsynod by Constantine's proposal to account the creed submitted by Eusebius of Caesarea, with the addition of the homoösion, as a safeguard against possible vagueness. The suggestion had in all probability come fromHosius (cf. "Epist. Eusebii.", in the appendix to the "De Decretis", sect. 4; Socrates, Church History I.8 andIII.7; Theodoret, Church History I; Athanasius; "Arians of the Fourth Cent.", 6, n. 42; outos ten en Nikaia pistin exetheto, says the saint, quoting his opponents); but Athanasius, in common with the leaders of theorthodox party, loyally accepted the term as expressive of the traditional sense in which the Church had always held Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. The conspicuous abilities displayed in the Nicaean debates and the character for courage and sincerity he won on all sides made the youthful cleric henceforth a marked man(St. Greg. Naz., Orat., 21). His life could not be lived in a corner. Five months after the close of the council thePrimate of Alexandria died; and Athanasius, quite as much in recognition of his talent, it would appear, as in deference to the deathbed wishes of the deceased prelate, was chosen to succeed him. His election, in spite of his extreme youth and the opposition of a remnant of the Arian and Meletian factions in the AlexandrianChurch, was welcomed by all classes among the laity ("Apol. c. Arian", vi; Sozomen, Church History II.17, 21, 22).

The opening years of the saint's rule were occupied with the wonted episcopal routine of a fourth-centuryEgyptian bishop. Episcopal visitations, synods, pastoral correspondence, preaching and the yearly round ofchurch functions consumed the bulk of his time. The only noteworthy events of which antiquity furnishes at least probable data are connected with the successful efforts which he made to provide a hierarchy for the newly planted church in Ethiopia (Abyssinia) in the person of St. Frumentius (Rufinus I, ix; Soc. I, xix; Soz., II, xxiv), and the friendship which appears to have begun about this time between himself and the monks of St. Pachomius. But the seeds of disaster which the saint's piety had unflinchingly planted at Nicaea were beginning to bear a disquieting crop at last. Already events were happening at Constantinople which were soon to make him the most important figure of his time. Eusebius of Nicomedia, who had fallen into disgrace and been banished by the Emperor Constantine for his part in the earlier Arian controversies, had been recalled from exile. After an adroit campaign of intrigue, carried on chiefly through the instrumentality of theladies of the imperial household, this smooth-mannered prelate so far prevailed over Constantine as to induce him to order the recall of Arius likewise from exile. He himself sent a characteristic letter to the youthfulPrimate of Alexandria, in which he bespoke his favour for the condemned heresiarch, who was described as a man whose opinions had been misrepresented. These events must have happened some time about the close of the year 330. Finally the emperor himself was persuaded to write to Athanasius, urging that all those who were ready to submit to the definitions of Nicaea should be re-admitted to ecclesiastical communion. ThisAthanasius stoutly refused to do, alleging that there could be no fellowship between the Church and the one who denied the Divinity of Christ.

The Bishop of Nicomedia thereupon brought various ecclesiastical and political charges against Athanasius, which, though unmistakably refuted at their first hearing, were afterwards refurbished and made to do service at nearly every stage of his subsequent trials. Four of these were very definite, to wit: that he had not reached the canonical age at the time of his consecration; that he had imposed a linen tax upon the provinces; that his officers had, with his connivance and authority, profaned the Sacred Mysteries in the case of an alleged priest names Ischyras; and lastly that he had put one Arenius to death and afterwards dismembered the body for purposes of magic. The nature of the charges and the method of supporting them were vividly characteristic of the age. The curious student will find them set forth in picturesque detail in the second part of the Saint's "Apologia", or "Defense against the Arians", written long after the events themselves, about the year 350, when the retractation of Ursacius and Valens made their publication triumphantly opportune. The whole unhappy story at this distance of time reads in parts more like a specimen of late Greek romance than the account of an inquisition gravely conducted by a synod of Christian prelateswith the idea of getting at the truth of a series of odious accusations brought against one of their number. Summoned by the emperor's order after protracted delays extended over a period of thirty months (Soz., II, xxv), Athanasius finally consented to meet the charges brought against him by appearing before a synod ofprelates at Tyre in the year 335. Fifty of his suffragans went with him to vindicate his good name; but the complexion of the ruling party in the synod made it evident that justice to the accused was the last thing that was thought of. It can hardly be wondered at, that Athanasius should have refused to be tried by such a court. He, therefore, suddenly withdrew from Tyre, escaping in a boat with some faithful friends who accompanied him to Byzantium, where he had made up his mind to present himself to the emperor.

The circumstances in which the saint and the great catechumen met were dramatic enough. Constantine was returning from a hunt, when Athanasius unexpectedly stepped into the middle of the road and demanded a hearing. The astonished emperor could hardly believe his eyes, and it needed the assurance of one of the attendants to convince him that the petitioner was not an impostor, but none other than the great Bishop ofAlexandria himself. "Give me", said the prelate, "a just tribunal, or allow me to meet my accusers face to face in your presence." His request was granted. An order was peremptorily sent to the bishops, who had triedAthanasius and, of course, condemned him in his absence, to repair at once to the imperial city. The command reached them while they were on their way to the great feast of the dedication of Constantine's new church atJerusalem. It naturally caused some consternation; but the more influential members of the Eusebian faction never lacked either courage or resourcefulness. The saint was taken at his word; and the old charges were renewed in the hearing of the emperor himself. Athanasius was condemned to go into exile at Treves, where he was received with the utmost kindness by the saintly Bishop Maximinus and the emperor's eldest son,Constantine. He began his journey probably in the month of February, 336, and arrived on the banks of the Moselle in the late autumn of the same year. His exile lasted nearly two years and a half. Public opinion in his own diocese remained loyal to him during all that time. It was not the least eloquent testimony to theessential worth of his character that he could inspire such faith. Constantine's treatment of Athanasius at this crisis in his fortunes has always been difficult to understand. Affecting, on the one hand, a show of indignation, as if he really believed in the political charge brought against the saint, he, on the other hand, refused to appoint a successor to the Alexandrian See, a thing which he might in consistency have beenobliged to do had he taken seriously the condemnation proceedings carried through by the Eusebians at Tyre.

Meanwhile events of the greatest importance had taken place. Arius had died amid startlingly dramatic circumstances at Constantinople in 336; and the death of Constantine himself had followed, on the 22nd of May the year after. Some three weeks later the younger Constantine invited the exiled primate to return to hissee; and by the end of November of the same year Athanasius was once more established in his episcopalcity. His return was the occasion of great rejoicing. The people, as he himself tells us, ran in crowds to see his face; the churches were given over to a kind of jubilee; thanksgivings were offered up everywhere; and clergyand laity accounted the day the happiest in their lives. But already trouble was brewing in a quarter from which the saint might reasonably have expected it. The Eusebian faction, who from this time forth loom large as the disturbers of his peace, managed to win over to their side the weak-minded Emperor Constantius to whom the East had been assigned in the division of the empire that followed on the death of Constantine. The old charges were refurbished with a graver ecclesiastical accusation added by way of rider. Athanasius had ignored the decision of a duly authorized synod. He had returned to his see without the summons ofecclesiastical authority (Apol. c. Ar., loc. cit.). In the year 340, after the failure of the Eusebian malcontents to secure the appointment of an Arian candidate of dubious reputation names Pistus, the notorious Gregory of Cappadocia was forcibly intruded into the Alexandrian See, and Athanasius was obliged to go into hiding. Within a very few weeks he set out for Rome to lay his case before the Church at large. He had made hisappeal to Pope Julius, who took up his cause with a whole-heartedness that never wavered down to the day of that holy pontiff's death. The pope summoned a synod of bishops to meet in Rome. After a careful and detailed examination of the entire case, the primate's innocence was proclaimed to the Christian world.

Meanwhile the Eusebian party had met at Antioch and passed a series of decrees framed for the sole purpose of preventing the saint's return to his see. Three years were passed at Rome, during which time the idea of the cenobitical life, as Athanasius had seen it practised in the deserts of Egypt, was preached to the clerics of the West (St. Jerome, Epistle cxxvii, 5). Two years after the Roman synod had published its decision,Athanasius was summoned to Milan by the Emperor Constans, who laid before him the plan which Constantiushad formed for a great reunion of both the Eastern and Western Churches. Now began a time of extraordinary activity for the Saint. Early in the year 343 we find the undaunted exile in Gaul, whither he had gone to consult the saintly Hosius, the great champion of orthodoxy in the West. The two together set out for theCouncil of Sardica which had been summoned in deference to the Roman pontiff's wishes. At this great gathering of prelates the case of Athanasius was taken up once more; and once more was his innocence reaffirmed. Two conciliar letters were prepared, one to the clergy and faithful of Alexandria, and the other to the bishops of Egypt and Libya, in which the will of the Council was made known. Meanwhile the Eusebianparty had gone to Philippopolis, where they issued an anathema against Athanasius and his supporters. Thepersecution against the orthodox party broke out with renewed vigour, and Constantius was induced to prepare drastic measures against Athanasius and the priests who were devoted to him. Orders were given that if the Saint attempted to re-enter his see, he should be put to death. Athanasius, accordingly, withdrew fromSardica to Naissus in Mysia, where he celebrated the Easter festival of the year 344. After that he set out forAquileia in obedience to a friendly summons from Constans, to whom Italy had fallen in the division of the empire that followed on the death of Constantine. Meanwhile an unexpected event had taken place which made the return of Athanasius to his see less difficult than it had seemed for many months. Gregory of Cappadocia had died (probably of violence) in June, 345. The embassy which had been sent by the bishops ofSardica to the Emperor Constantius, and which had at first met with the most insulting treatment, now received a favourable hearing. Constantius was induced to reconsider his decision, owing to a threatening letter from his brother Constans and the uncertain condition of affairs of the Persian border, and he accordingly made up his mind to yield. But three separate letters were needed to overcome the naturalhesitation of Athanasius. He passed rapidly from Aquileia to Treves, from Treves to Rome, and from Rome by the northern route to Adrianople and Antioch, where he met Constantius. He was accorded a gracious interview by the vacillating Emperor, and sent back to his see in triumph, where he began his memorable ten years' reign, which lasted down to the third exile, that of 356. These were full years in the life of the Bishop; but the intrigues of the Eusebian, or Court, party were soon renewed. Pope Julius had died in the month of April, 352, and Liberius had succeeded him as Sovereign Pontiff. For two years Liberius had been favourable to the causeof Athanasius; but driven at last into exile, he was induced to sign an ambiguous formula, from which the great Nicene test, the homoöusion, had been studiously omitted. In 355 a council was held at Milan, where in spite of the vigorous opposition of a handful of loyal prelates among the Western bishops, a fourth condemnation of Athanasius was announced to the world. With his friends scattered, the saintly Hosius in exile, the Pope Liberius denounced as acquiescing in Arian formularies, Athanasius could hardly hope to escape. On the night of 8 February, 356, while engaged in services in the Church of St. Thomas, a band of armed men burst in to secure his arrest (Apol. de Fuga, 24). It was the beginning of his third exile.

Through the influence of the Eusebian faction at Constantinople, an Arian bishop, George of Cappadocia, was now appointed to rule the see of Alexandria. Athanasius, after remaining some days in the neighbourhood of the city, finally withdrew into the deserts of upper Egypt, where he remained for a period of six years, living the life of the monks and devoting himself in his enforced leisure to the composition of that group of writings of which we have the rest in the "Apology to Constantius", the "Apology for his Flight", the "Letter to theMonks", and the "History of the Arians". Legend has naturally been busy with this period of the Saint's career; and we may find in the "Life of Pachomius" a collection of tales brimful of incidents, and enlivened by the recital of "deathless 'scapes in the breach." But by the close of the year 360 a change was apparent in the complexion of the anti-Nicene party. The Arians no longer presented an unbroken front to their orthodoxopponents. The Emperor Constantius, who had been the cause of so much trouble, died 4 November, 361, and was succeeded by Julian. The proclamation of the new prince's accession was the signal for a pagan outbreak against the still dominant Arian faction in Alexandria. George, the usurping Bishop, was flung into prison andmurdered amid circumstances of great cruelty, 24 December (Hist. Aceph., VI). An obscure presbyter of the name of Pistus was immediately chosen by the Arians to succeed him, when fresh news arrived that filled theorthodox party with hope. An edict had been put forth by Julian (Hist. Aceph., VIII) permitting the exiledbishops of the "Galileans" to return to their "towns and provinces". Athanasius received a summons from his own flock, and he accordingly re-entered his episcopal capital 22 February, 362. With characteristic energy he set to work to re-establish the somewhat shattered fortunes of the orthodox party and to purge thetheological atmosphere of uncertainty. To clear up the misunderstandings that had arisen in the course of the previous years, an attempt was made to determine still further the significance of the Nicene formularies. In the meanwhile, Julian, who seems to have become suddenly jealous of the influence that Athanasius was exercising at Alexandria, addressed an order to Ecdicius, the Prefect of Egypt, peremptorily commanding the expulsion of the restored primate, on the ground that he had never been included in the imperial act of clemency. The edict was communicated to the bishop by Pythicodorus Trico, who, though described in the "Chronicon Athanasianum" (xxxv) as a "philosopher", seems to have behaved with brutal insolence. On 23 October the people gathered about the proscribed bishop to protest against the emperor's decree; but thesaint urged them to submit, consoling them with the promise that his absence would be of short duration. Theprophecy was curiously fulfilled. Julian terminated his brief career 26 June, 363; and Athanasius returned in secret to Alexandria, where he soon received a document from the new emperor, Jovian, reinstating him once more in his episcopal functions. His first act was to convene a council which reaffirmed the terms of the Nicene Creed. Early in September he set out for Antioch, bearing a synodal letter, in which the pronouncements of this council had been embodied. At Antioch he had an interview with the new emperor, who received him graciously and even asked him to prepare an exposition of the orthodox faith. But in the following FebruaryJovian died; and in October, 364, Athanasius was once more an exile.

With the turn of circumstances that handed over to Valens the control of the East this article has nothing to do; but the accession of the emperor gave a fresh lease of life to the Arian party. He issued a decreebanishing the bishops who has been deposed by Constantius, but who had been permitted by Jovian to return to their sees. The news created the greatest consternation in the city of Alexandria itself, and the prefect, in order to prevent a serious outbreak, gave public assurance that the very special case of Athanasius would be laid before the emperor. But the saint seems to have divined what was preparing in secret against him. He quietly withdrew from Alexandria, 5 October, and took up his abode in a country house outside the city. It was during this period that he is said to have spent four months in hiding in his father's tomb (Sozomen, Church History VI.12; Socrates, Church History IV.12). Valens, who seems to have sincerely dreaded the possible consequences of a popular outbreak, gave order within a very few weeks for the return of Athanasius to hissee. And now began that last period of comparative repose which unexpectedly terminated his strenuous and extraordinary career. He spent his remaining days, characteristically enough, in re-emphasizing the view of theIncarnation which had been defined at Nicaea and which has been substantially the faith of the Christian Church from its earliest pronouncement in Scripture down to its last utterance through the lips of Pius X in our own times. "Let what was confessed by the Fathers of Nicaea prevail", he wrote to a philosopher friend and correspondent in the closing years of his life (Epist. lxxi, ad Max.). That that confession did at last prevail in the various Trinitarian formularies that followed upon that of Nicaea was due, humanly speaking, more to his laborious witness than to that of any other champion in the long teachers' roll of Catholicism. By one of those inexplicable ironies that meet us everywhere in human history, this man, who had endured exile so often, and risked life itself in defence of what he believed to be the first and most essential truth of the Catholic creed, died not by violence or in hiding, but peacefully in his own bed, surrounded by his clergy and mourned by thefaithful of the see he had served so well. His feast in the Roman Calendar is kept on the anniversary of his death.


[Note on his depiction in art: No accepted emblem has been assigned to him in the history of western art; and his career, in spite of its picturesque diversity and extraordinary wealth of detail, seems to have furnished little, if any, material for distinctive illustration. Mrs. Jameson tells us that according to the Greek formula, "he ought to be represented old, bald-headed, and with a long white beard" (Sacred and Legendary Art, I, 339).]

Sources

All the essential materials for the Saint's biography are to be found in his writings, especially in those written after the year 350, when the Apologia contra Arianos was composed. Supplementary information will be found in ST. EPIPHANIUS, Hoer., loc. cit.; in ST. GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS, Orat., xxi; also RUFINUS, SOCRATES, SOZMEN, and THEODORET. The Historia Acephala, or Maffeian Fragment (discovered by Maffei in 1738, and inserted by GALLANDI in Bibliotheca Patrum, 1769), and the Chronicon Athanasianum, or Index to the Festal Letters, give us data for the chronological problem. All the foregoing sources are included in MIGNE, P.G. and P.L. The great PAPEBROCH'S Life is in the Acta SS., May, I. The most important authorities in English are: NEWMAN, Arians of the Fourth Century, and Saint Athanasius; BRIGHT, Dictionary of Christian Biography; ROBERTSON, Life, in the Prolegomena to the Select Writings and Letters of Saint Athanasius (re-edited in Library of the Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, New York, 1903); GWATKIN, Studies of Arianism (2d ed., Cambridge, 1900); MOHLER, Athanasius der Grosse; HERGENROTHER and HEFELE.


St. Athanasius

St. Athanasius, the great champion of the Faith was born at Alexandria, about the year 296, of Christian parents. Educated under the eye of Alexander, later Bishop of his native city, he made great progress in learning and virtue. In 313, Alexander succeeded Achillas in the Patriarchal See, and two years later St. Athanasius went to the desert to spend some time in retreat with St. Anthony.

In 319, he became a deacon, and even in this capacity he was called upon to take an active part against the rising heresy of Arius, an ambitious priest of the Alexandrian Church who denied the Divinity of Christ. This was to be the life struggle of St. Athanasius.

In 325, he assisted his Bishop at the Council of Nicaea, where his influence began to be felt. Five months later Alexander died. On his death bed he recommended St. Athanasius as his successor. In consequence of this, Athanasius was unanimously elected Patriarch in 326.

His refusal to tolerate the Arian heresy was the cause of many trials and persecutions for St. Athanasius. He spent seventeen of the forty-six years of his episcopate in exile. After a life of virtue and suffering, this intrepid champion of the Catholic Faith, the greatest man of his time, died in peace on May 2, 373. St. Athanasius was a Bishop and Doctor of the Church.


SAINT ATHANASIUS, BISHOP

FEAST DAY: MAY 2ND

ATHANASIUS was born in Egypt towards the end of the third century, and was from his youth pious, learned, and deeply versed in the sacred writings, as befitted one whom God had chosen to be the champion and defender of His Church against the Arian heresy. Though only a deacon, he was chosen by his bishop to go with him to the Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325, and attracted the attention of all by the learning and ability with which he defended the Faith. A few months later, he became Patriarch of Alexandria, and for forty-six years he bore, often well-nigh alone, the whole brunt of the Arian assault. On the refusal of the Saint to restore Arius to Catholic communion, the emperor ordered the Patriarch of Constantinople to do so. The wretched heresiarch took an oath that he had always believed as the Church believes; and the patriarch, after vainly using every effort to move the emperor, had recourse to fasting and prayer, that God would avert from the Church the frightful sacrilege. The day came for the solemn entrance of Arius into the great church of Sancta Sophia. The heresiarch and his party set out glad and in triumph. But before he reached the church, death smote him swiftly and awfully, and the dreaded sacrilege was averted. St. Athanasius stood unmoved against four Roman emperors; was banished five times; was the butt of every insult, calumny, and wrong the Arians could devise, and lived in constant peril of death. Though firm as adamant in defence of the Faith, he was meek and humble, pleasant and winning in converse, beloved by his flock, unwearied in labors, in prayer, in mortifications, and in zeal for souls. In the year 373 his stormy life closed in peace, rather that his people would have it so than that his enemies were weary of persecuting him. He left to the Church the whole and ancient Faith, defended and explained in writings rich in thought and learning, clear, keen, and stately in expression. He is honored as one of the greatest of the Doctors of the Church.

REFLECTON.—The Catholic Faith, says St. Augustine, is more precious far than all the riches and treasures of earth; more glorious and greater than all its honors, all its possessions. This it is which saves sinners, gives light to the blind, restores penitents, perfects the just, and is the crown of martyrs.

SOURCE : http://jesus-passion.com/saint_athanasius_bishop.htm

Athanasius of Alexandria B Doctor (RM) Born in Alexandria, Egypt, in c. 295-297; died May 2, 373; Doctor of the Church (one of the four great Greek Doctors); in the East he is venerated as one of the three Holy Hierarchs.

"All of us are naturally frightened of dying and the dissolution of our bodies, but remember this most startling fact: that those who accept the faith of the cross despise even what is normally terrifying, and for the sake of Christ cease to fear even death. When He became man, the Savior's love put away death from us and renewed us again; for Christ became man that we might become God." --Athanasius
"He became what we are that He might make us what He is." 

--Athanasius

Saint Athanasius Athanasius was a deacon when he led the battle for orthodoxy against Arianism at the Council of Nicaea, which resulted in his being exiled five times. Nothing is known of his family, except that they were Christians and that he had a brother named Peter. So the story really begins on the sands of Alexandria with a group of children who attracted the attention of their bishop, Saint Alexander. From his house overlooking the shore, Alexander watched them at their play and, curious to know what game it was, sent for them. They told him they were playing at 'baptisms,' one of them acting the part of the bishop, another being dipped, in imitation of a church ceremony. Impressed by their innocence and seriousness, he added to their simple game the Confirmation, and years afterwards the boy who had played the part of the bishop became his archdeacon. He was Athanasius, who himself later became bishop of Alexandria.

The saint received an excellent education at the catechetical school of Alexandria that encompassed Greek literature and philosophy, rhetoric, law, and Christian doctrine. His intimacy with Biblical texts is extraordinary. In his own writings, he tells us that he learned theology from teachers who had been confessors during the Maximian persecution. From early youth, he formed a close relationship with the hermits of the desert, which was to prove providential during his exiles because they protected him during several of them.

Athanasius lived at a time when the Church, having survived the fires of persecution and all the ruthless fury of the pagan world, was torn and imperilled by internal heresy and division. The arch- heretic was priest of Baukalis named Arius, who disputed the truth of our Lord's divinity, and who commanded a popular following. He claimed that Christ was not eternal, that He was created in time by the Eternal Father and, therefore, could not be described as co- equal with the Father.

Alexander demanded a written statement from Arius about his teaching to be discussed first with the Alexandrian clergy and then at a synod of Egyptian bishops. With only two dissidents, the bishops denounced Arius and the eleven priests and deacons who followed his teaching. Arius then spread his heresy in Caesarea, where he enlisted the support of Eusebius of Nicomedia and other Syrian prelates.
In Egypt he had won over the Meletians, a disaffected body, and many of the so-called intellectuals. Meanwhile, his doctrines were embodied in hymns set to popular tunes that were carried into the marketplaces and by sailors to all parts of the Mediterranean. So widespread became the influence of this pallid and persuasive priest that the famous Council of Nicaea was called in 325, presided over by Emperor Constantine.

At the time, Athanasius, who had just composed the treatise De Incarnatione expounding on the redemptive work of Christ in restoring fallen man to the image of God in which he was created, was an under-sized, 25-year-old deacon serving as secretary to Bishop Alexander. He accompanied the bishop to the council, probably not thinking that he would play any important role in its outcome. But upon him rested the fate of Christendom; for he more than any other perceived the gravity of the points at issue, and by his clear and powerful arguments disconcerted the heretics.

Thus, the battle of faith was won, and the letter sent out by the council confirming the excommunication of Arius, concluded with the words: "Pray for us all, that what we have thought good to determine may remain inviolate, through God Almighty, and through our Lord Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, to whom be glory for evermore." The Creed, formulated there and confirmed by the Council of Constantinople in 381, is still used in the liturgy of the Catholic Church.

But, as the Venerable John Henry Newman declared, in the period after the Council of Nicaea, the laity were the firm champions of Catholic orthodoxy, while the bishops floundered on many sides. This, of course, is an exaggeration, but not entirely without merit. In the reaction that followed, the discontented faction gained the ear of the emperor, brought false charges against Athanasius, and continually sought his ruin.

Upon the death of Patriarch Alexander, Athanasius became bishop, though he was only about 30 (in 328). Almost immediately Athanasius began a visitation of his entire diocese. As bishop of Alexandria Athanasius also took responsibility for the welfare of the desert monks and fathers. He became their spiritual head for 40 years. He aided the ascetic movement in Egypt, counted Saints Pachomius and Serapion among his friends, and was the first to introduce the knowledge of monasticism in the West. About this time he was also appointed bishop of Ethiopia, where the Christian faith had recently found a footing.

The Arians were well-represented at the imperial court of Constantinople. So the battles began with many of the powerful, including the two Eusebii (of Caesarea and of Nicomedia). Eusebius of Nicomedia, an Arian bishop who returned from exile in 330, tried to force Athanasius to admit Arius to communion, even going so far as to enlist Emperor Constantine to pressure the saint. Athanasius replied to the emperor's letter that the Catholic Church could hold no communion with heretics who attacked Christ's divinity. Eusebius then tried to justify Arius in a letter to Athanasius.

Eusebius next moved to enlist the dissident Meletians. They tried to impeach Athanasius on trumped up charges. The Meletians claimed that the bishop had exacted a tribute of linen for use in his church, sent gold to someone named Philomenus who was suspected of treason, and authorized one of his deputies to destroy a chalice that was being used for the Eucharist by a Meletian priest named Iskhyras. Athanasius was cleared by the emperor of all these accusations. Next he was charged with the murder of a Meletian bishop, Arsenius. Everyone knew that the bishop was in hiding, and he ignored the summons to court.

Athanasius was compelled to appear before a council convened at Tyre in 335. The panel was packed with enemies and Arians, who made further charges and brought up old ones such as the broken chalice. Athanasius is credited with a keen sense of humor, which helped him in confronting his adversaries. After his accusers produced a hand that they said Athanasius had cut off the murdered Arsenius, Athanasius is said to have produced the living Arsenius in court. First pointing out his face, he then drew out from the bishop's cloak first one, then the other hand, and said, "Let no one now ask for a third, for God has only given a man two hands."

Realizing that his condemnation was a foregone conclusion, Athanasius abruptly left the assembly and travelled to Constantinople. Upon his arrival he accosted the emperor in the street in the attitude of a suppliant, and obtained an interview. So completely did he vindicate himself that Constantine, in reply to a letter from the Council of Tyre announcing that Athanasius had been condemned and deposed, wrote to the signatories a severe reply summoning them to Constantinople for a retrial of the case. But before the first letter could reach its destination, a second one was dispatched that confirmed the sentences of Tyre and banished Athanasius to Trier (Germany).

Thus, they succeeded in keeping Athanasius from his see, but, when he was recalled and reinstated by Constantine's successor in 338, he was welcomed back by the citizens in the crowded streets with tumults of applause. The great Athanasius had returned!

The Arian controversy, however, continued to darken and distract the life of the Church, Eusebius of Nicomedia continued his attack with fresh charges against the saintly bishop. This time Athanasius was accused of sedition, promoting violence, and withholding his tithe of corn from the widows and orphans to which it belonged. One by one, old and loyal companions deserted him or were driven from office. During a council at Antioch, he was condemned for the second time and exiled. An Arian bishop was intruded into the see.

The assembly wrote to Pope Saint Julius seeking his confirmation of the condemnation. At the same time the orthodox bishops of Egypt drew up an encyclical in defense of the patriarch, which they sent to the Holy See and to other Catholic bishops in the West. In reply the pope announced that a synod should be called to settle the question. Athanasius took refuge among the monks of the desert, and became an ascetic, renowned for his sanctity, beloved by his followers.

In the meantime, when a Cappadocian named Gregory was installed as patriarch, supplanting Athanasius, riots broke out in Alexandria. Athanasius, seeking to allow peace to prevail, left for Rome to await the hearing of his case. This was his most fruitful period during which he composed his most important works. While in Rome, Athanasius established close contact with the Western bishops who supported him in his struggles.

The synod was duly summoned, but as the Eusebians who had demanded it failed to appear, it was held without them. The saint, of course, was completely vindicated; a declaration later endorsed by the Council of Sardica (Sofia). Nevertheless, Athanasius was unable to return to his see until the death of its incumbent. Then he was allowed to return only because Constantius, on the verge of war with Persia, believed it politic to propitiate his brother Constans by reinstating Athanasius. Thus, for the second time Athanasius was recalled and welcomed home by a cheering multitude.

For the next few years he was left in peace because the secular powers were engaged in war and other disturbances. The murder of Constans, however, eliminated the most powerful support for orthodoxy, leaving Constantius free to crush the man he had come to regard as a personal enemy. Constantius packed councils at Arles in 353 and Milan in 355 with Arians and semi-Arians in order to obtain the condemnation of the saint from self-serving prelates. Constantius also exiled Pope Liberius to Thrace, where he forced him to agree to censures against the bishop of Alexandria.

For a time, Athanasius maintained the support of his clergy and people. But one night, when he was celebrating a vigil in church, soldiers forced open the doors, killed some of the congregation, and wounded others. Athanasius escaped and disappeared into the desert, where his faithful monks hid him for six years. Again, his exile proved to be fruitful for his theological writings.

The death of Constantius in 361 was followed by the murder of Arius, who had usurped the see of Alexandria. The new emperor Julian the Apostate recalled all the exiled bishops; thus, Athanasius returned to his see for a few months until Julian realized that it would be difficult to reinstate paganism while the champion of Catholicism ruled in Egypt. Julian therefore banished Athanasius as a "disturber of the peace and an enemy of the gods." So, the saint retired again to the desert. He was at Antinopolis when he was informed by two hermits of the death of Julian, who had at that moment died in Persia from an arrow wound.

At once he returned to Alexandria, and some months later he proceeded to Antioch at the invitation of Emperor Jovian, who had revoked his sentence of banishment. Jovian's reign, however, was short. In May 365, Emperor Valens banished all the orthodox bishops, including Athanasius, who had been reinstated by the successors of Constantius. Four months later Valens relented-- possibly because he feared an uprising of the Egyptians who had become devoted to their much persecuted bishop.

Five times altogether he was exiled (335-338 to Trier, Germany; 341-346 to Rome, Italy; 356-362 to the desert; 362-363 and a second time for four months in 363 again to the desert), but out of his exile came the Athanasian Creed, said to have been composed in a cave. He did not really write the creed (it was probably written by Saint Eusebius of Vercelli), but it was based upon his writings. The supreme achievement of the 'mean little fellow,' as Julian the Apostate called him, was that in a critical hour, by his courage and tenacity, God used him to save the faith of Christendom.

Even in exile Athanasius managed to tend his flock. It was primarily for them that he wrote the most illuminating theological treatises on Catholic dogma. He authored Against the Heathen (c. 318), Contra Arianos (c. 358 ?), Apologia to Constantius, History of the Arians (primary historical source), Defense of Flight, many letters, The Life of Antony (c. 357), and other pieces. In Against the Arians, Athanasius drew on the work of Saints Justin and Irenaeus, who interpreted Scripture in an orthodox tradition, to insist that the Nicene term homoousios, although not Scriptural itself, was necessary to formulate correctly the truth of Christ's Scriptural revelation. His Life of Saint Antony showed his friend as singularly devoted to combatting the powers of evil. It became a widely diffused classic. From the time of Saint Bede, it inspired other monastic hagiographers. An 8th-century monk wrote, "If you find a book by Athanasius and have no paper on which to copy it, write it on your shirts."

All his thinking was soteriologically determined, hence 'the Word could never have divinized us if He were merely divine by participation and were not himself the essential Godhead.' Athanasius defended the oneness of God, yet the separateness of the three Divine Persons. He also went forward to add the Holy Spirit to the Godhead to counter Tropici. His theology of the Holy Spirit is found in his letters to Serapion. In his enlightening treatises on Catholic dogma, Athanasius showed that asceticism and virginity were effective ways to restore the divine image in man. Several of his works were addressed to monks, to whom he also gave repeated practical help.

When he returned to Alexandria after his final exile, Athanasius spent the last seven years of his life helping to build the Nicene party. Upon his death, his body was taken first to Constantinople and then to Venice. Although Athansius was an intense man, he was also known for his not-so-gentle humor, which he also used as a weapon in his arsenal to support the Catholic faith.

Athanasius has been called "the Father of Orthodoxy," "the Pillar of the Church," and "Champion of Christ's Divinity." Cardinal Newman described Athanasius as "a principal instrument after the apostles by which the sacred truths of the Church have been conveyed and secured to the world." When Saint Antony, whose biography was written by Athanasius, died, he bequeathed "a garment and a sheep skin to the bishop Athanasius." It is said that Athanasius treasured this garment. (Athanasius is another saint for whom much information is easily available.) (Attwater, Attwater2, Barr, Benedictines, Bentley, Davies, Delaney, Farmer, Gill, Walsh, White).


In art, Saint Athanasius is portrayed as a Greek bishop wearing a pallium between two columns. He holds an open book and has a heretic under his feet (Roeder) He might also be represented in a group of Greek fathers, distinguished by name (Tabor) or in a boat on the Nile (White). 

St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, Doctor of the Church

From his works, and the fathers and historians of that age. See his life by Hermant, who first cleared up the intricate history of Arianism. See also Tillemont, Ceillier, Orsi, the Benedictin editors of this father, and Combefis, Bibl. Concionat. p. 500 ad 530.

A.D. 373.

ST. GREGORY Nazianzen begins with these words his panegyric of this glorious saint, and champion of the faith: 1 “When I praise Athanasius, virtue itself is my theme: for I name every virtue as often as I mention him who was possessed of all virtues. He was the true pillar of the church. His life and conduct were the rule of bishops, and his doctrine the rule of the orthodox faith.” St. Athanasius was a native of Alexandria, and seems to have been born about the year 296. His parents who were Christians, and remarkable for their virtue, were solicitous to procure him the best education. After he had learned grammar and the first elements of the sciences, St. Alexander, before he was raised to the episcopal chair of that city, was much delighted with the virtuous deportment of the youth, and with the pregnancy of his wit; and took upon himself the direction of his studies, brought him up under his own eye, always made him eat with him, and employed him as his secretary. Athanasius copied diligently the virtues of his master, imbibed his maxims of piety and holy zeal, was directed by him in the plan and method of his studies, and received from him the greatest assistance in the pursuit of them. By writing under so great a master, he acquired the most elegant, easy, and methodical manner of composition. Profane sciences he only learned as far as they were necessary, or might be rendered subservient to those that are more sublime and important: but from their aid he contracted an elegant, clear, methodical, and masterly style; and was qualified to enter the lists in defence of our holy faith with the greatest advantage. However, the sacred studies of religion and virtue he made the serious employment of his whole life: and how much he excelled in them, the sequel of his history and perusal of his works show. From his easy and ready manner of quoting the holy scriptures, one would imagine he knew them by heart; at least by the assiduous meditation and study of those divine oracles he had filled his heart with the spirit of the most perfect piety, and his mind with the true science of the profound mysteries which our divine religion contains. But in his study of the sacred writings, the tradition of the church was his guide, which he diligently sought in the comments of the ancient doctors, as he testifies. 2 In another place he declares that he had learned it from holy inspired masters, and martyrs for the divinity of Christ. 3 That he might neglect no branch of ecclesiastical learning, he applied himself diligently to the study of the canons of the church, in which no one was more perfectly versed: nor was he a stranger to the civil law, as appears from his works; on which account Sulpicius Severus styles him a lawyer.

Achillas who had succeeded St. Peter in the patriarchal see of Alexandria, dying in 313, St. Alexander was promoted to that dignity. 4 The desire of grounding himself in the most perfect practice of virtue drew St. Athanasius into the deserts to the great St. Antony, about the year 315; with whom he made a considerable stay, serving him in quality of a disciple, and regarding it as an honour to pour water on his hands when he washed them. 5 When he had by his retreat prepared himself for the ministry of the altar, he returned to the city, and, having passed through the inferior degrees of ecclesiastical orders, was ordained deacon about the year 319. St. Alexander was so much taken with his prudence, virtue, and learning, that he desired to have him always with him, and governed his flock by his advice. He stood much in need of such a second, in defending his church against the calumnies and intrigues of the schismatics and heretics. The holy patriarch St. Peter had, at the intercession of the martyrs and confessors, dispensed with the rigour of the canons in behalf of certain persons, who through frailty had fallen into idolatry during the persecution, and upon their repentance had received them again to communion. Meletius, bishop of Lycos in Thebais, unjustly took offence at this lenity, and on that pretence formed a schism over all Egypt against St. Peter and his successors. Arius, a Lybian by birth, and a deacon, who for seditious practices was expelled the church by his bishop St. Peter, fell in with Meletius. St. Peter was so well acquainted with his turbulent spirit, that no entreaties could move him, even when he was going to martyrdom, to receive him into the communion of the church. However, his successor, Achillas, upon his submission and repentance, not only admitted him into his communion, but also ordained him priest, and intrusted him with the church of Baucalis, one of the parishes of the city. Achillas was succeeded by St. Alexander, whose promotion Arius resented as an injury done to himself, being in his own opinion the more worthy: and some time after impudently and blasphemously asserted that Christ was not God, but a mere creature, though formed before all other created beings, (but not from eternity,) and of a nature superior in perfection to all other creatures. St. Alexander long endeavoured by mildness to reclaim the heresiarch, but was compelled by his obstinacy to cut him off from the communion of the church, in a synod of all the bishops under his jurisdiction, held at Alexandria. Arius fled first into Palestine, and thence to Nicomedia, where he had already gained by letters the confidence of Eusebius, the crafty bishop of that city. In 319, St. Alexander sent an account of his proceedings against Arius in a circular letter directed to all the bishops of the church, signed by St. Athanasius and many others. In 325, he took the holy deacon with him to the council of Nice, who there distinguished himself by the extraordinary zeal and learning with which he encountered not only Arius, but also Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis, and Maris, the principal protectors of that heresiarch; and he had a great share in the disputations and decisions of that venerable assembly, as Theodoret, Sozomen, and St. Gregory Nazianzen testify.

Five months after this great council, St. Alexander, lying on his death-bed, by a heavenly inspiration recommended to his clergy and people the choice of Athanasius for his successor, thrice repeating his name: and when he was found to be absent he cried out: “Athanasius, you think to escape, but you are mistaken.” 6 Sozomen says he had absconded for fear of being chosen. In consequence of this recommendation, the bishops of all Egypt assembled at Alexandria, and finding the people and clergy unanimous in their choice of Athanasius for patriarch, they confirmed the election about the middle of the year 326; for St. Cyril testifies 7 that he held that chair forty-six years. He seems then to have been about thirty years of age. He ordained Frumentius bishop of the Æthiopians, and made the visitation of the churches under his jurisdiction throughout all Egypt. The Meletians continued, after the death of their author, to hold private assemblies, ordain new bishops by their own authority, every where to divide the people, and to fill Egypt with factions and schisms. In vain did St. Athanasius employ all the power which his authority put into his hands to bring them back to the unity of the church. The severity of their morals gained them a reputation among the people, and their opposition to the Catholics moved the Arians to court their friendship. Though these schismatics were in the beginning orthodox in faith, and the first and most violent opposers of Arius, yet they soon after joined his partisans in calumniating and impugning St. Athanasius; for which purpose they entered into a solemn league of iniquity together. For St. Athanasius observes, 8 that as Herod and Pontius Pilate forgot their enmity to agree in persecuting Christ, so the Meletians and Arians dissembled their private animosities to enter into a mutual confederacy and cabal against the truth: which is the spirit of all sectaries, who, though divided in every other thing, unite in persecuting the truth and opposing the church.

Arius being recalled from banishment, into which he had been sent by the emperor, St. Athanasius refused him entrance into the church; whereupon he retired to his friends in Palestine and the neighbouring eastern provinces, at whose entreaty Constantine urged St. Athanasius to admit him to his communion. The intrepid patriarch answered the emperor, that the Catholic church could hold no communion with heresy that so impudently attacked the divinity of Jesus Christ. 9 Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis, after three years’ banishment, seeing Arius already released from his exile, wrote a letter to the emperor, which is extant in Socrates and Sozomen, artfully declaring that they all agreed in faith, that they received the word consubstantial, having now fully examined its meaning, and that they entirely gave themselves up to peace; but could not anathematize Arius, whom, by a long converse with him, and both by word and writing, they had found not to be guilty of what had been laid to his charge, and who had already met with a favourable reception from his imperial majesty. Hereupon the sentence of their banishment was reversed, and they were both permitted to return to their respective sees. This Eusebius had before ambitiously procured his translation from the see of Berytus to that of Nicomedia, which being at that time the residence of the eastern emperors, gave him a fair opportunity of ingratiating himself with the great ministers of state, and thereby of rendering himself considerable for power and interest at court. He neither wanted parts nor learning, was of a subtle and daring temper, a deep dissembler, and the most artful of men; and on these accounts a proper instrument of the devil to be the contriver of the calumnies and persecutions against our saint and the Catholic church. He was no sooner come back to Nicomedia, than he began to set his engines at work. He first wrote a civil letter to St. Athanasius, wherein he endeavoured to justify Arius. But neither his own flattering words, nor the emperor’s threats, which he procured, prevailing, he wrote to the Meletians, that the time was now come to put their designs in execution and impeach Athanasius. It was some time before they could agree what they should lay to his charge. At length they sent three of their schismatical bishops, Isio, Eudæmon, and Callinicus, to Nicomedia, who undertook to accuse him to the emperor of having exacted linen for the use of his church, and imposed it as a tribute upon the people; also of sending a purse of gold to one Philumenus, who was plotting to usurp the empire. Athanasius being summoned to appear before Constantine, his cause was heard in his palace of Psammathia, situated in the suburbs of Nicomedia. The emperor, having examined the accusations against him, was convinced of his innocence, acquitted him of what had been alleged against him, and sent him back with a letter to the faithful of Alexandria, wherein he calls him a man of God, and a most venerable person.

Eusebius, though baffled for the present, did not despair of compassing his ends; and, in the mean time, contrived the banishment of St. Eustathius, the most zealous and holy patriarch of Antioch. And soon after, new allegations were laid against Athanasius, charging him with the murder of Arsenius, a Meletian bishop, and with other crimes. Constantine appeared shocked at the accusation of the murder, and sent an order to St. Athanasius to clear himself in a council, which was to be held at Cæsarea, in Palestine, whereof Eusebius, one of the Arian party, was bishop. The saint, disliking it, no doubt, on this account, and justly apprehensive he should not have liberty allowed him for his defence, did not appear. This his enemies represented to Constantine as the effect of pride and stubbornness; who, being exasperated by these suggestions, began to entertain an ill opinion of him, and appointed another council to assemble at Tyre, where he commanded Athanasius, at his peril, to appear. The council met there in August, 335, consisting of sixty bishops, chiefly Arians. St. Athanasius, after some delay, came thither, attended with a considerable number of bishops of his own province, and, among these, the illustrious confessors, Paphnutius and Potamon. All the chiefs of the Arian sect were present; the two Eusebiuses, Flacillus, the intruded bishop of Antioch, Theognis of Nice, Maris of Chalcedon, Narcissus of Neronias, Theodorus of Heraclea, Patrophilus of Scythopolis, Ursacius of Syngidon, Valens of Mursa, and George of Laodicea. The just exception which St. Athanasius made against such judges who had declared themselves his enemies, was tyrannically overruled, and, on his entering the council, they, instead of allowing him to take his place among them, obliged him to stand as a criminal at the bar before his judges. St. Potamon could not forbear tears upon the occasion; and, addressing himself to Eusebius of Cæsarea, who had been a prisoner with him for the faith in the late persecution, cried out: “What, Eusebius, are you sitting on the bench, and doth Athanasius stand arraigned? Who can bear this with patience? Tell me; were not you in prison with me during the persecution? As for my part, I lost an eye in it, but I see you are whole and sound. How came you to escape so well?” By which words he insinuated a suspicion of public fame, that Eusebius had been guilty of some unlawful compliance. The rest of the Egyptian bishops persisted in refusing to allow those to be judges of their patriarch, who were his professed enemies; but their remonstrances were not regarded.

The first article of accusation against the saint was, that Macarius, his deputy, had been guilty of sacrilege, in breaking the chalice of one Ischyras, a supposed priest, whilst he was officiating at the altar. This, which had been already proved to be mere calumny, and was further confuted by deputies sent from Tyre into Egypt to examine into the state of the affair, whereby it appeared that the whole charge was groundless and malicious, and that Ischyras, who at length was reconciled to St. Athanasius, had been set on by certain bishops of the Meletian faction. He was next accused of having ravished a virgin consecrated to God: and a woman was accordingly prevailed with to own and attest the fact in open council. Whereupon Timothy, one of the saint’s clergy, turning to her, “Woman,” said he, “did I ever lodge at your house; did I ever, as you pretend, offer violence to you?”—“Yes,” said she, “you are the very person I accuse;” adding, at large, the circumstances of time and place. The imposture thus plainly discovering itself, put the contrivers of it so much out of countenance, that they drove her immediately out of the assembly. St. Athanasius indeed insisted on her staying, and being obliged to declare who it was that had suborned her; but this was overruled by his enemies, alleging that they had more importunate crimes to charge him with, and such as it was impossible to elude by any artifices whatsoever. They proceeded next to the affair of Arsenius, an old Meletian bishop, whom they accused St. Athanasius of having murdered. To support this charge, they produced in court a dried hand, supposed to be the hand of Arsenius, which, as they alleged, the patriarch had ordered to be cut off, to be employed in magical operations. The truth was: Arsenius, styled by his party bishop of Hypsele, had fallen into some irregularity, and had absconded. St. Athanasius had first procured certificates from many persons that he was still living; and prevailed with him afterwards, through the interest of friends, to come privately to Tyre, to serve St. Athanasius on this occasion. The saint therefore asked if any of the bishops present knew Arsenius: several answering, they did; he then made him appear before the whole assembly with both his hands. Thus was the wicked purpose of his adversaries defeated, no less to the pleasure and satisfaction of the innocent, than to the shame and confusion of the guilty. Arsenius soon after made his peace with St. Athanasius, and with the Catholic church; as did also John, the most famous of the Meletian bishops. The Arians called the saint a magician, and one that imposed upon their senses by the black art; and would have torn him to pieces had not the imperial governor interposed and rescued him out of their hands, who for further security sent him on board a ship that sailed the same night. Having thus escaped their fury, he went soon after for Constantinople. All these particulars are related by St. Athanasius, in his apology: also by Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret. Though the saint had been convicted of no crime, the Arian bishops pronounced against him a sentence of deposition, forbidding him to reside at Alexandria, lest his presence should excite new disorders there, repeating in their sentence the calumnies which had been so fully refuted.

Constantine, who had refused to see or give audience to our saint on his arrival at Constantinople, whom he looked upon as justly condemned by a council, sent an order to the bishops of Tyre to adjourn to Jerusalem, for the dedication of the church of the holy sepulchre, which he had caused to be built there. Arius came thither at this time to the council, with a letter from the emperor, and a profession of faith which he had presented to him, and which is extant in Socrates. In it the subtle heretic professes his belief in Christ, “as begotten before all worlds: God the Word, by whom all things were made,” &c. But neither the word consubstantial, nor any thing equivalent to it, was there. The heresiarch had assured the emperor that he received the council of Nice, who was thus imposed upon by his hypocrisy; but he ordered the bishops to examine his profession of faith. The Eusebians readily embraced the opportunity which they had long waited for, declared Arius orthodox, and admitted him to the communion. St. Athanasius, in the mean time, having requested of the emperor, who had refused him audience, that his pretended judges might be obliged to confront him, that he might be allowed the liberty to exhibit his complaints against them, Constantine sent them an order to come to Constantinople to give an account of their transactions at Tyre. But only six, and these the most artful of the number, obeyed the summons, namely, Eusebius, Theognis, Maris, Patrophilus, Ursacius, and Valens. These agreed to attack St. Athanasius with a fresh accusation, as they did, charging him with having threatened to hinder the yearly transportation of corn from Alexandria to Constantinople. This accusation, though protested against by the saint as absolutely false and to the last degree improbable, was nevertheless believed by Constantine, who expressed his resentment at it, and banished him, in consequence, to Triers, then the chief city of the Belgic Gaul.

The holy man arrived there in the beginning of the year 336, and was received with the greatest respect by St. Maximinus, bishop of the place, and by Constantine the younger, who commanded there for his father. St. Antony and the people of Alexandria wrote to the emperor in favour of their pastor: but he answered that he could not despise the judgment of a council. 10 The saint had the satisfaction to be informed that his church at Alexandria constantly refused to admit Arius. The year after, on Whitsunday, the 12th of May, Constantine departed this life, being sixty-three years and almost three months old, whilst he yet wore the Neophyte’s white garment after his baptism. His historian testifies with what ardour the people offered up their prayers to God for his soul. 11 He was buried in the porch of the church of the twelve apostles, which he had founded in Constantinople for the burying place of the emperors and patriarchs, though he had built that of St. Irene for the great church or the cathedral. He would be buried in that holy place, according to Eusebius, “that he might deserve to enjoy the benefit of the mystical sacrifice, and the communion of devout prayers.” 12 Constantine’s three sons divided the empire, as their father’s will directed. Constantine, the eldest, had Britain, Spain, Gaul, and all that lies on this side the Alps: Constantius, the second son, Thrace, Asia, Egypt, and the East: Constans, the youngest, had Italy, Africa, Greece, and Illyricum. Constantine, the younger, restored St. Athanasius to his see, sending with him a letter filled with high commendations of the holy prelate, and expressions of great respect for his sanctity, and of indignation against his adversaries. The saint passed through Syria, and was received by his flock with a joy and pomp equal to the triumph of an emperor.

The city of Alexandria was situate within the jurisdiction of Constantius, whom the Arians had gained over to their party without much difficulty. These heretics accused St. Athanasius afresh to the three emperors for raising tumults and seditions upon his return, for committing violences and murder, and selling, for his own private use, the corn which Constantine had destined for the support of widows and ecclesiastics in those countries where corn did not grow; but the attestations of the bishops who had received it in Lybia justified him, and covered his accusers with confusion. Constantine and Constans sent away their deputies with disgrace: but Constantius being met at Antioch by Eusebius of Nicomedia, and others of his party, was easily persuaded into the belief of this last head of the accusation, and prevailed upon to grant them leave to choose a new bishop of Alexandria. They lost no time, but, assembling at Antioch, named one Pistus to that see, an Egyptian priest of their sect, who, together with the bishop that ordained him, had been condemned by St. Alexander and by the council of Nice: but Pope Julius rejected his communion, and all other Catholic churches pronounced anathemas against him; nor was he ever able to get possession of the patriarchal chair. St. Athanasius called a council of about a hundred bishops, at Alexandria, to defend the Catholic faith: after which he repaired to Rome to Pope Julius, to whom this council sent letters and deputies.—Here the pope acquitted him in a council of fifty bishops, held in 341, and confirmed him in his see: but he was obliged to continue at Rome three years, during which the Arians carried on every thing by violence in the east. The same year a council met at Antioch to the dedication of the great church, called the Golden Church, and framed twenty-five canons of discipline. After the departure of the orthodox prelates, the Arians framed a canon levelled against St. Athanasius, that if a bishop, who had been deposed in a council, whether justly or unjustly, should return to his church, without the authority of a greater council than that which had deposed him, he should never hope to be re-established, nor have his cause admitted to a hearing. They then named Gregory, a Cappadocian, and placed him by force of arms in the see of Alexandria, in 341. The Emperor Constans, in 345, invited St. Athanasius to Milan; and, by earnest letters, obliged his brother Constantius to join with him in assembling a general council of the East and West at Sardica, in Illyricum. It met in May, 347, and consisted of three hundred bishops of the West, and seventy-six of the East, according to Socrates and Sozomen; but, according to St. Athanasius, only of one hundred and seventy, besides the Eusebians; which agrees nearly with Theodoret, who reckons them in all two hundred and fifty. They were collected out of thirty-five provinces, besides the Orientals. This is reputed a general council, and is proved such by Natalis Alexander, though commonly looked upon only as an appendix to that of Nice. St. Athanasius, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Asclepas of Gaza, were acquitted. They and some others out of the eastern empire were present. But the Arian Orientals made a body apart, being fourscore in number, who having formed several assemblies in certain places by the way, on their arrival at Sardica, refused, as they had agreed before they came, to join the other prelates; alleging the presence of Athanasius, and other such frivolous pretences; and at length, upon an intimation of the threats of the synod, if they did not appear, and if the Eusebians did not justify themselves of the matters laid to their charge, they all fled by night, and held a pretended council at Philippopolis, as St. Hilary, in his fragments, and Socrates testify. Dr. Cave alleges, that they dated their acts at Sardica: but this they did only to usurp the venerable name of that synod: for at the same time they quote the synodal epistle of the prelates who remained at Sardica, before the date of which epistle all historians testify that they had left that city. The true council excommunicated the chiefs of the Eusebians, with Gregory the Cappadocian, forbidding all Catholic bishops to hold communication with them. 13 This council sent two deputies to Constantius to press the execution of its decrees. The Emperor Constans wrote to him also, both before and after the council, to acquaint him, that, unless he restored Athanasius to his see, and punished his calumniators, he would do it by force of arms. Gregory the Cappadocian, who had, with the Arian governors, exercised a most bloody persecution against the Catholics, and among others had caused to be beaten to death the holy confessor St. Potamon, dying four months after the council of Sardica, facilitated our saint’s return to Alexandria, and deprived the emperor of all pretexts for hindering or delaying it. Constantius had also upon his hands an unsuccessful war against the Persians, and dreaded the threats of a civil war from his brother. Therefore he wrote thrice to the holy prelate, entreating him to hasten his return to Alexandria. St. Athanasius, at the request of Constans, went first to him, then residing in Gaul, and probably at Milan, and thence to Rome, to take leave of Pope Julius and his church. He took Antioch on his way home, where he found Constantius, who treated him with great courtesy, and only desired that he would allow the Arians one church in Alexandria. The saint answered, that he hoped, that, in that case, the same favour might be granted to the Catholics at Antioch, who adhered to Eustathius: but this not being relished by the Arians, Constantius insisted no longer on that point, but recommended Athanasius in very strong terms to his governors in Egypt. In the mean time, the zealous and pious Emperor Constans was treacherously slain by Magnentius, in Gaul, in January, 350. Nevertheless, Constantius restored Athanasius, who immediately assembled a council at Alexandria, and confirmed the decrees of that of Sardica. St. Maximus did the same in a numerous synod at Jerusalem. Many Arian bishops on this occasion retracted their calumnies against the holy man, and also their heresy, among whom were Ursacius and Valens: but they soon returned to the vomit.

Magnentius usurped the empire in Italy, Gaul, and Africa, and Vetrannio in Pannonia. Constantius marched into the West against them. He made himself master of Vetrannio’s person by a stratagem, and his army defeated Magnentius, near Mursa, in Pannonia, in 351, and that tyrant fell soon after, by his own sword. Whilst Constantius resided at Sirmium, in 351, a council was held in that city, consisting chiefly of oriental bishops, most of them Arians. Photinus, bishop of that see, who renewed the heresy of Sabellius, and affirmed Christ to be no more than a mere man, having been already condemned by two councils at Milan, was here excommunicated, deposed, and banished by the emperor. The profession of faith drawn up in this synod, is commonly esteemed orthodox, and called the first confession of Sirmium. The Arians had never ceased to prepossess the credulous emperor against Athanasius, whose active zeal was their terror; and that prince was no sooner at liberty, by seeing the whole empire in his own hands, than he began again to persecute him. He procured him to be condemned by certain Arian bishops, at Arles in 353, and again at Milan, in 355, where he declared himself his accuser, and banished the Catholic bishops who refused to subscribe his condemnation, as SS. Eusebius of Vercelli, Dionysius of Milan, Paulinus of Triers, &c. He sent a chamberlain to obtain of Pope Liberius the confirmation of this unjust sentence: but he rejected the proposal with indignation, though enforced with presents and threats. Liberius not only refused the presents which were brought him, but, when the messenger sought means to deposit them, as an offering in St. Peter’s church, unknown to the pope, he threw them out of doors. Constantius hereupon sent for him under a strict guard to Milan, where, in a conference, recorded by Theodoret, he boldly told Constantius that Athanasius had been acquitted at Sardica, and his enemies proved calumniators and impostors, and that it was unjust to condemn a person who could not be legally convicted of any crime: the emperor was reduced to silence on every article; but being the more out of patience, ordered him, unless he complied within three days, to go into banishment to Berœa, in Thrace. He sent him indeed five hundred pieces of gold to bear his charges, but Liberius refused them, saying, he might bestow them on his flatterers: as he did also a like present from the empress, bidding the messenger learn to believe in Christ, and not to persecute the church of God. After the three days were expired, he departed into exile, in 356. Constantius, going to Rome to celebrate the twentieth year of his reign, in 357, the ladies joined in a petition to him that he would restore Liberius, who had been then two years in banishment. He assented, upon condition that he should comply with the bishops then at court. About this time Liberius began to sink under the hardships of his exile, and his resolution was shaken by the continual solicitations of Demophilus, the Arian bishop of Berœa, and of Fortunatian, the temporizing bishop of Aquileia. He was so far softened by listening to flatteries and suggestions, to which he ought to have stopped his ears with horror, that he yielded to the snare laid for him, to the great scandal of the church. He subscribed the condemnation of St. Athanasius, and a confession or creed, which had been framed by the Arians at Sirmium, though their heresy was not expressed in it; and he wrote to the Arian bishops of the East, that he had received the true Catholic faith which many bishops had approved at Sirmium. 14 The fall of so great a prelate, and so illustrious a confessor, is a terrifying example of human weakness, which no one can call to mind without trembling for himself. St. Peter fell by a presumptuous confidence in his own strength and resolution; that we may learn that every one stands only by humility. Liberius, however, speedily imitated the repentance of the prince of the apostles. And he no sooner had recovered his see, than he again loudly declared himself the patron of justice and truth: and, when the council of Rimini was betrayed into a prevarication, which was construed in favour of Arianism, Liberius vigorously opposed the danger, and by his strenuous active zeal, averted the desolation with which it threatened many churches, as Theodoret testifies. 15

Constantius, not content to have banished the bishops who favoured Athanasius, also threatened and punished all the officers and magistrates who refused to join in communion with the Arians. Whilst his presence in the West filled it with confusion and acts of tyranny, St. Athanasius was at Alexandria, offering up to God most fervent prayers for the defence of the faith. Constantius next turned all his rage against him and against the city of Alexandria, sending orders to Syrianus, the duke, that is, general of the troops of Egypt, to persecute the archbishop and his clergy. He likewise dispatched two notaries to see his orders executed. They endeavoured to oblige the saint to leave the city. He answered, that he had returned to his see, and had resided there till that time by the emperor’s express order; and therefore could not leave it, without a command of equal authority, (which they owned was not in their power to produce,) or unless Syrianus, the duke, or Maximus, the prefect or governor, would give him such an order in writing, which neither of them would do. Syrianus, convinced of the justice of his plea, promised to give neither him nor the public assemblies of his people any further disturbance, without express injunction from the emperor to that effect. Twenty-three days after this solemn promise, confirmed by oath, the faithful were assembled at the church of St. Theonas, where they passed the night in prayer, on account of a festival to be celebrated the next day. Syrianus, conducted by the Arians, surrounded the church at midnight, with above five hundred soldiers, who having forced open the doors, committed the greatest disorders. The patriarch, however, kept his chair; and, being determined not to desert his flock in their distress, ordered a deacon to sing the 136th psalm, and the people to repeat alternately: For his mercy endureth for ever. After this, he directed them to depart and make the best of their way to their own houses, protesting that he would be the last that would leave that place. Accordingly, when the greater part of the people were gone out, and the rest were following, the clergy and monks that were left forced the patriarch out along with them; whom (though almost stifled to death) they conveyed safely through the guards and secured him out of their reach. Numbers on this occasion were trampled to death by the soldiers, or slain by their darts. This relation is given by the saint in his apology for his flight, and in his History of the Arians, addressed to the monks. The next step of the Arians was to fix a trusty man of their party in this important see: and the person they pitched upon was one George, who had been victualler to the army, one of the most brutish and cruel of men: who was accordingly placed in the patriarchal chair. His roughness and savage temper made him seem the fittest instrument to oppress the Catholics, and he renewed all the scenes of bloodshed and violence of which Gregory had set the example, as Theodoret relates. Our holy bishop hereupon retired into the deserts of Egypt: but was not permitted to enjoy long the conversation of the devout inhabitants of those parts, who, according to the expression of St. Gregory Nazianzen, lived only to God. His enemies having set a price upon his head, the wildernesses were ransacked by soldiers in quest of him, and the monks persecuted, who were determined rather to suffer death than to discover where he lay concealed. The saint, apprehensive of their suffering on his account, left them, and retired to a more remote and solitary place, where he had scarcely air to breathe in, and saw none but the person that supplied him with necessaries and brought him his letters, though not without great danger and difficulty. 16

Constantius died on the 3rd of November, in 361; a prince whose memory will be eternally infamous for his heresy, and persecution of the church, his dissimulation, levity, and inconstancy, his weakness of mind, and the treacherous murder of all his uncles. The year following, George, the Arian usurper of the see of Alexandria, was massacred by the Pagans for his cruelty. Thus was Athanasius delivered from all his chief enemies. Julian the Apostate, on coming to the empire, granted all the bishops who had been banished by Constantius the liberty to return to their respective churches; not out of any good will he bore them, but with a view, as his own historian writes, to increase their divisions by this license, and lessen his fears for their uniting against him: also to reflect an odium on the memory and proceedings of his predecessor. Most of the orthodox bishops took their advantage of this permission; and the usurper of the see of Alexandria being massacred by the Pagans in July, 362, our saint returned to his flock in August, after an absence of above six years. His entrance was a kind of triumph of the Catholic faith over its enemies; and the citizens hereupon drove the Arians out of all the churches.

In 359, the council of Rimini had the weakness so far to yield to the artifices of the Arians as to omit in the creed the word consubstantial. The prelates were afterwards surprised to see the triumph of the Arians on that account, and were struck with remorse for their unwary condescension. Their fall was owing, not to any error in faith, but to a want of courage and insight into the artifices of the Arians. Nevertheless, Lucifer of Cagliari, 17 and some other bishops, pretended, by a Pharisaical pride, that the lapsed, notwithstanding their repentance, could no longer be admitted by the church to communion in the rank of bishops or priests. St. Athanasius, on the contrary, being filled with the spirit of tenderness which our divine Redeemer exercised and recommended to be shown towards sincere penitents, condemned this excessive severity: and in 362, assembled a council at Alexandria; at which assisted St. Eusebius of Vercelli, in his return from his banishment in Thebais, St. Asterius of Petra, &c. This synod condemned those who denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost, and decreed that the authors of the Arian heresy should be deposed, and upon their repentance received only into the lay-communion; but that those prelates who had fallen into it only by compulsion, and for a short time, should, upon their repentance, retain their sees. This decision was adopted in Macedonia, Achaia, Spain, Gaul, &c., and approved at Rome. 18 For we learn from St. Hilary, that Liberius, who died in 366, had established this discipline in Italy, and we have his letter to the Catholic bishops of that country, in which he approves what had been regulated in this regard in Achaia and Egypt, and exhorts them to exert their zeal against the authors of their fault, in proportion to the grief they felt for having committed it. 19

Theodoret says, that the priests of the idols complained to Julian, that if Athanasius was suffered to remain in Alexandria, there would not remain one adorer of the gods in that city. Julian, having received this advice, answered their complaint, telling them, that though he had allowed the Galileans (his name of derision for Christians) to return to their own country, he had not given them leave to enter on the possession of their churches; and that Athanasius in particular, who had been banished by the orders of several emperors, ought not to have done this: he therefore ordered him immediately to leave the city on the receipt of his letter, under the penalty of a severer punishment. He even dispatched a messenger to kill him. The saint comforted his flock, and having recommended them to the ablest of his friends, with an assurance that this storm would soon blow over, embarked in a boat on the river for Thebais. He who had orders to kill him, hearing that he had fled, sailed after him with great expedition. The saint, having timely notice sent him of it, was advised by those who accompanied him to turn aside into the deserts that bordered on the Nile. But St. Athanasius ordered them to tack about, and fall down the river towards Alexandria; “to show,” said he, “that our protector is more powerful than our persecutor.” Meeting the pursuivant, he asked them whether they had seen Athanasius as they came down the river, and was answered that he was not far off, and that if they made haste, they would quickly come up with him. Upon this the assassin continued the pursuit, while St. Athanasius got safe and unsuspected to Alexandria, where he lay hid for some time. But upon a fresh order coming from Julian for his death, he withdrew into the deserts of Thebais, going from place to place to avoid falling into the hands of his enemy. St. Theodorus, of Tabenna, being come to visit him, while at Antinoë, with St. Pammon, put an end to his apprehensions on this score, by assuring him, on a revelation God had favoured him with, that Julian had just then expired in Persia, where he was killed on the 27th of June, in 363. The holy hermit acquainted him also that the reign of his Christian successor would be very short. This was Jovian, who being chosen emperor, refused to accept that dignity till the army had declared for the Christian religion. He was no sooner placed upon the throne but he wrote to St. Athanasius, cancelling the sentence of his banishment, and praying him to resume the government of his church, adding high commendations of his virtue and unshaken constancy. St. Athanasius waited not for the emperor’s orders to quit his retreat, but on being apprized, as before related, of the death of his persecutor, appeared on a sudden, and resumed his usual functions in the midst of his people, who were joyfully surprised at the sight of him. The emperor, well knowing that he was the chief person that had stood up in defence of the Christian faith, besought him, by a second letter, to send him a full account in writing of its doctrines, and some rules for his conduct and behaviour in what regarded the affairs of the Church. St. Athanasius called a synod of learned bishops, and returned an answer in their name; recommending that he should hold inviolable the doctrine explained in the council of Nice, this being the faith of the apostles, which had been preached in all ages, and was generally professed throughout the whole Christian world, “some few excepted,” says he, “who embrace the opinions of Arius.” The Arians attempted in vain to alter his favourable dispositions towards the saint by renewing their old calumnies. Not satisfied with his instructions by letters, he desired to see him; and the holy bishop was received by him at Antioch, with all possible tokens of affection and esteem; but after giving him holy advice he hastened back to Alexandria. The good emperor Jovian reigned only eight months, dying on the 17th of February, in 364. Valentinian, his successor, chose to reside in the West, and making his brother Valens partner in the empire, assigned to him the East. Valens was inclined to Arianism, and openly declared in favour of it, in 367, when he received baptism from the hands of Eudoxius, bishop of the Arians, at Constantinople. The same year he published an edict for the banishment of all those bishops who had been deprived of their sees by Constantius. Theodoret says this was the fifth time that St. Athanasius had been driven from his church. He had been employed in visiting the churches, monasteries, and deserts of Egypt. Upon the news of this new tempest, the people of Alexandria rose in tumults, demanding of the governor of the province that they might be allowed to enjoy their bishop, and he promised to write to the emperor. St. Athanasius seeing the sedition appeased, stole privately out of the town, and hid himself in the country in the vault in which his father was interred, where he lay four months, according to Sozomen. The very night after he withdrew, the governor and the general of the troops took possession of the church in which he usually performed his functions; but were not able to find him. As soon as his departure was known, the city was filled with lamentations, the people vehemently calling on the governor for the return of their pastor. The fear of a sedition moved Valens at length to grant them that satisfaction, and to write to Alexandria that he might abide there in peace in the free possession of the churches. In 369, the holy patriarch convened at Alexandria a council of ninety bishops, in whose name he wrote to the bishops of Africa to beware of any surprise from those who were for preferring the decrees of the council of Rimini to those of Nice

The continued scenes of perfidy, dissimulation, and malice which the history of Arianism exhibits to our view, amaze and fill us with horror. Such superlative impiety and hypocrisy would have seemed incredible, had not the facts been attested by St. Athanasius himself, and by all the historians of that age. They were likewise of so public a nature, having been performed before the eyes of the whole world, or proved by ocular demonstration in the Arians’ own synods, that St. Athanasius could never have inserted them in his apology, addressed to these very persons and to the whole world, could any circumstances have been disproved, or even called in question. By such base arts and crimes did the Arian blasphemy spread itself, like a spark of fire set to a train of gunpowder; and, being supported by the whole power of a crafty and proud emperor, seemed to threaten destruction to the church of Christ, had it not been built on foundations which, according to the promises of Him who laid them, all the power of hell shall never be able to shake. During more than three hundred years it had stood the most violent assaults of the most cruel and powerful persecutors, who had bent the whole power of the empire to extirpate, if it had been possible, the Christian name. But the more it was depressed the more it grew and flourished, and the blood of martyrs was a seed which pushed forth and multiplied with such a wonderful increase, as to extend its shoots into every part of the then known world, and to fill every province and every rank of men in the Roman empire. By the conversion of the emperors themselves, it appeared triumphant over all the efforts of hell. But the implacable enemy of man’s salvation did not desist in his attacks.—His restless envy and malice grew more outrageous by his defeats; and shifting his ground, he stirred up his instruments within the bowels of the church itself, and excited against it a storm, in which hell seemed to vomit out all its poison, and unite all the efforts of its malice. But these vain struggles again terminated in the most glorious triumph of the church.—In those perilous times, God raised up many holy pastors, whom he animated with his spirit, and strengthened in the defence of his truth. Among these St. Athanasius was the most illustrious champion. By his undaunted courage, and unparalleled greatness of soul, under the most violent persecutions, he merited a crown equal to that of the most glorious martyrs: by his erudition, eloquence, and writings he holds an illustrious place among the principal doctors of the church; and by the example of his virtue, by which he rivalled the most renowned anchorets of the deserts, and the most holy confessors, he stemmed the torrent of scandal and iniquity, which threatened to bear down all before it.

St. Gregory Nazianzen gives the following portrait of his virtues in private life: “He was most humble and lowly in mind, as his virtue was most sublime and inimitable. He was most courteous to all, and every one had easy access to him; he was meek, gentle, compassionate, amiable in his discourse, but much more so in his life; of an angelical disposition; mild in his reproofs, and instructive in his commendations; in both which he observed such even measures, that his reproof spoke the kindness of a father, and his commendation the authority of a master; and neither was his indulgence over tender, nor his severity harsh. His life supplied the place of sermons, and his sermons prevented correction. In him all ranks might find enough to admire, and enough to imitate; one might commend his unwearied austerity in fasting and prayer; another his perseverance in watchings and the divine praises; a third his admirable care of the poor; a fourth his courage in checking the injustice of the rich, or his condescension to the humble.”—Thus St. Gregory Nazianzen, 20 who says he was a loadstone to dissenters, drawing them to his opinion, unless hardened in malice; and always at least raising in them a secret reverence and veneration for his person; but that he was an adamant to his persecutors; no more capable of impressions against justice, than a rock of marble is of yielding to any slight touch. After innumerable combats, and as many great victories, this glorious saint, having governed the church of Alexandria forty-six years, was called to a life exempt from labour and suffering, on the 2nd of May, on a Thursday, according to the Oriental Chronicle of the Copthes, in the year 373, as is clear from the same author, St. Proterius, and St. Jerom; not in 371, as Socrates mistakes. 21 St. Gregory Nazianzen thus describes his death: “He ended his life in a holy old age, and went to keep company with his fathers, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, who had fought valiantly for the truth, as he had done: and to comprise his epitaph in few words, he departed this life with far greater honour and glory than what he had received in his more than triumphant entries into Alexandria, when he returned from his banishments: so much was his death lamented by all good men; and the immortal glory of his name remained imprinted in their hearts.” He desires the saint “to look down upon him from heaven, to favour and assist him in the government of his flock, and to preserve it in the true faith: and if, for the sins of the world, heretics were to prevail against it, to deliver him from these evils, and to bring him, by his intercession, to enjoy God in his company.”

The humility, modesty, and charity of this great saint; his invincible meekness towards his enemies, who were the most implacable and basest of men, and the heroic fortitude, patience, and zeal, by which he triumphed over the persecutions of almost the whole world confederated against him, and of four emperors, Constantine, Constantius, Julian, and Valens, three of whom employed wiles, stratagems, and hypocrisy, and sometimes open force to destroy him: these, I say, and all other eminent virtues, have rendered his name venerable in the church to the latest ages, which he ceases not to instruct and edify by his writings. 22

These and other virtues, St. Athanasius learned and practised in the most heroic degree, by studying them devoutly and assiduously in the sacred life, and in the divine heart of Jesus.—And in the simplicity of faith he adored the incomprehensible greatness of the Divinity, his infinite wisdom, justice, and sanctity, with the boundless treasures of his love and mercy, in the mystery of his adorable incarnation. If we have a holy ambition to improve ourselves in this saving knowledge, in this most sublime and truly divine science, which will not only enlighten our understanding, but also reform all the affections of our hearts, and be in us a source of unspeakable peace, joy, love, light, and happiness, we must study in the same school. We must become zealous lovers and adorers of our most amiable Redeemer: we must meditate daily on his admirable life, penetrating into the unfathomed abyss of his love, and his perfect sentiments of humility, meekness, and every virtue in all his actions, and join our homages with those which he paid in his divine heart, and still continues to offer to his Father: we must sacrifice to him our affections in transports of joy and fervour, adoring, praising, loving, and thanking him, and must continually beg his mercy and grace, that we may be replenished with his spirit of humility and every virtue; and, above all, that his love may take absolute possession of our hearts, and of all our faculties and powers. “The Son of God,” says St. Athanasius, “took upon himself our poverty and miseries, that he might impart to us a share of his riches. His sufferings will render us one day impassible, and his death immortal. His tears will be our joy, his burial our resurrection, and his baptism is our sanctification, according to what he says in his gospel: For them I sanctify myself, that they also may be made holy in fruits.”

Note 1. Or. 21. [back]

Note 2. Orat. contra gentes, p. 1. [back]

Note 3. L. de Incarn. p. 66. [back]

Note 4. The hearsay story of St. Athanasius baptizing certain children at play, is inconsistent with the evident chronology of his history; as is shown by Hermant, Tillemont, &c. It is only grounded on the authority of Rufinus, who, on other accounts, is acknowledged to be a careless writer. [back]

Note 5. Athan. Vit. Anton, p. 794. [back]

Note 6. Sozomen, b. 2, c. 17. Theodoret, b. 2, c. 26. [back]

Note 7. Ep. 1. [back]

Note 8. Or. 1, contr. Arian. [back]

Note 9. Apol. contra Arian. p. 178, and Socr. l. 2, c. 22. [back]

Note 10. St. Jerom says, (in Chron. ad an. 338,) that Constantine inclined to the Arian doctrine. But St. Athanasius and all others, except Lucifer of Cagliari, expressly affirm that he always adhered to the faith of the council of Nice, against which, while he lived, none durst openly appear. When he was deceived by Arius and Eusebius, they always persuaded him that they maintained its decisions. If he sometimes persecuted St. Athanasius, it was never for his doctrine or faith; and the Arians forged against him calumnies of another nature when they endeavoured to exasperate this prince against him. This emperor was baptized in his last sickness by Eusebius of Nicomedia; but that crafty Arian did not openly discover his heresy to him, enjoyed at that time the communion of the Catholic Church, and was the diocesan of the castle of Aguyron, where he received the sacraments from his hands. He had shown great zeal for the extinction of that heresy in the council of Nice. His devotion and sincere piety, his extraordinary zeal for the Christian religion, and for the peace of the church, his respect for priests, &c., the many wholesome laws which he made in favour of religion, and the great sentiments of piety in which he received baptism and the other sacraments, oblige us to excuse some symptoms of vanity in his youth, and with the church to speak of his name with gratitude and respect. His heroic virtues atoned for faults and errors which true repentance blotted out. That he was imposed upon by the artifices of wicked Arian hypocrites, so far as to harbour suspicions against St. Athanasius, was an extreme misfortune, which proved favourable to the abettors of heresy, fatal to many, and the ruin of his son Constantius, and of his own sister, Constantia. In excuse for Constantine’s unjust treatment of St. Athanasius, we ought to reflect how often princes are obliged to see with the eyes of others, and how difficult it frequently is to them, when surrounded with flatterers, to come to the knowledge of the truth. But God opened the eyes of this emperor before his death, with regard to the innocence of his holy servant: he accordingly gave orders in his last illness that he should be recalled from his banishment, in which he had then lived one year and some months; but as this could not be put in execution before the middle of the year 338, the continuance of his exile was one year and four months. [back]

Note 11. Innumerabilis populus unà cum sacerdotibus Dei, non sine gemitu ac lacrymis, pro imperatoris anima preces offerebant Deo, gratissimum pio principi officium exhibentes. In hoc etiam Deus prolixam erga famulum suum benevolentiam declaravit; quippe quod maxime ambierat, locum juxta Apostolorum memoriam ei concesserit, ut animæ illius tabernaculum Apostolici nominis atque honoris consortio frueretur, divinisque cæremoniis, ex mystico sacrificio et sanctarum precum communione potiri mereretur. Eus. l. 4, Vit. Const. c. 11, ed. Vales. [back]

Note 12. De vitâ Constant. l. 4, c. 71. [back]

Note 13. This council of Sardica decrees that the appeal of a bishop deposed in his own province, to the bishop of Rome, be always allowed, and that the pope may either refuse to re-examine the cause, if he thinks that superfluous, or depute bishops of a neighbouring province, or send persons from Rome to determine it. (Can. 3, 4, 7.) This was no new law; but a confirmation of that which had been established from the beginning; and, as a proof of it, we see that St. Athanasius had, before this, appealed to Pope Julius, and been acquitted by him at Rome; nor had the Eusebians themselves found fault with the procedure. [back]

Note 14. Liberius fell by a prevarication and notorious scandal; but not by heresy. There were three confessions of faith or creeds, compiled by the Arians, at Sirmium. The first, framed in the council of Sirmium, in 351, against Photinus, was orthodox in its terms; though the word consubstantial was omitted in it. This was drawn up by the oriental bishops, who alone composed that council; the West, except Pannonia, being then subject to Magnentius. The second confession was made at Sirmium, in 357, when Constantius arrived there from Rome; only Valens, Ursacius, and Germinius, are named as concerned in it: and Osius of Cordova, and Potamius of Lisbon, as subscribing to it: for Osius, after most zealously maintaining the faith, was vanquished by tortures, and unhappily fell, but died penitent, in Spain, within a year after, as St. Athanasius assures us. This second creed openly expressed the Arian impiety, and forbade any mention to be made either of unity or of likeness of substance in Christ with the Father: for the Catholics called Christ of the same substance as the Father: the Semi-Arians of like substance; the Anomæans, or rank Arians, entirely unlike in substance: the last mentioned were also called Eunomians, from one of the chief of that sect. In 359, a third confession was published by the Arians at Sirmium, in which Christ is said to be alike in substance in all things. This third contains clearly the Semi-Arian heresy; and was made two years after the fall of Liberius. Nor could he have subscribed the second, of which the very authors of it were immediately ashamed, so that it was no more mentioned; and it was framed by very few, and those all western bishops. Whereas St. Hilary testifies, (Fragm. 6, p. 1357,) that Liberius signed the confession which had been made by twenty-two bishops, of which number Demophilus was one, which agrees to the first. Hence Liberius, writing to the oriental bishops, says, he had signed their confession of faith, or that made by them; and that it was presented to him by Demophilus. He moreover calls it Catholic. All which circumstances concur in the first. Sozomen assures us, (l. 4, c. 15,) that, when he arrived at Rome, he anathematized all who did not confess the Son like to the Father in all things; which was expressly condemning the second creed. How then could he have subscribed to it so short a time before? [back]

Note 15. Theodoret, Hist. l. 2, c. 17. [back]

Note 16. This seems to have given occasion to the fable of Rufinus, that the taint lived several years hidden in the bottom of a well: a circumstance which would not have been omitted either by the saint himself, or by St. Gregory of Nazianzen. [back]

The trophies which Lucifer gained by his zeal, were blasted by the scandal of an unhappy schism to which he gave birth. After the death of Constantius, Lucifer repaired to Antioch with St. Eusebius of Vercelli. St. Eustathius, the bishop of Antioch, whom the Arians had banished, being then dead, the election of St. Meletius was canonical; yet some Catholics rejected it, because the Arians had joined in choosing him. The Catholics had continued to adhere to their bishop, St. Eustathius, during his banishment: after his death, those who schismatically separated themselves from the communion of Meletius were called Eustathians; and Lucifer arriving at Antioch, put himself at their head, ordained Paulinus their bishop, and separated himself from the communion of St. Eusebius, because he disapproved the ordination of Paulinus. Thus Lucifer laid the foundation of the fatal schism at Antioch. Another schism of which he was the author, was still more notoriously unjust, and carried by him to greater lengths. St. Athanasius, in his famous council at Alexandria, in 362, allowed that the bishops, who at Rimini had been drawn into the snare of the Arians, and into an omission favourable to their heresy, and all others who had been engaged in a like fault, should upon their repentance, be suffered to retain their sees. This indulgence so far displeased Lucifer, that he refused to communicate with those penitent bishops, and with those who received them, that is, with the pope and the whole Catholic Church. Many were engaged with him in this schism, at Antioch, at Rome, in several other parts of Italy, in Egypt, and Palestine, but chiefly in Sardinia and Spain. The author survived nine years after his return to Cagliari, and seems to have continued obstinate to his death, which happened in 371, according to St. Jerom in his chronicle. The ancients only reproach him with the crime of his schism, so that we are to understand of his followers, what Theodoret says, that after his return into Sardinia, he added to schism certain maxims contrary to those of the Catholic Church. See Theodoret, Hist. Eccl. l. 3, c. 2. St. Jerom, Dial. adv. Luciferian. St. Ambrose de obitu Satyri, p. 316. Socrates, l. 3, c. 9. Sozomen, l. 5, c. 13: and amongst the moderns, Tillemont, t. 7. p. 514. Ceillier, t. 5, p. 384. [back]

Note 18. Conc. t. 7, p. 73 and 680. [back]

Note 19. S. Hil. fragm. 12, p. 1357; Constant, ep. decret. 13, p. 448. [back]

Note 20. Or. 21, p. 378. [back]

Note 21. The Greeks honour St. Athanasius on the 2nd of May, because his relics were on that day deposited in the church of St. Sophia at Constantinople, when they were translated thither from Alexandria, as their Ephemerides, in their Synaxarium, expressly mention. They also commemorate him on the 18th of January, which Jos. Assemani (in Kalend. Univ. t. 6, p. 299,) proves, against Papebroke, to have been the day of his death, as the Menæa expressly assure us. The Greeks join with him, on the 18th of January, St. Cyril, because he was bishop of the same city; though he died in June, on the 9th of which month he is again commemorated in the Menæa, but on the 27th in the Menology of the emperor Basil. See Jos. Assemani, ad 2 Maij t. p. 301, 302, 303, against the different opinions both of Bollandus and Papebroke. [back]

Note 22. Photius observes, (Cod. 140,) that the diction and style of St. Athanasius is clear, majestic, full of deep sense, strength, and solid reasoning, without any thing redundant or superfluous. He seems to hold the next place in eloquence after St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and St. Chrysostom. Erasmus even admires his style above that of all the other fathers, saying, it hath nothing rugged or difficult, like that of Tertullian, nothing laboured or embarrassed, like that of St. Hilary, nothing studied, like that of St. Gregory Nazianzen; no windings and turnings, like that of St. Austin, or of St. Chrysostom: for it is every where beautiful, elegant, easy, florid, and admirably adapted to whatever subject he treats: though in some of his works it wants the finishings which more leisure would have given it. Cosmas, an ancient monk, used to say, “When you find any thing of the works of St. Athanasius, if you have no paper, write it on your clothes.” (Prat. Spir. c. 40.)

The first of his works is, his Discourse against the Pagans. In it he displays a most extensive human learning, shows the origin, progress, and folly of idolatry: and raises men to the knowledge of the true God, first from the sentiment of their own soul, and secondly, from visible things. The discourse On the Incarnation, is a continuation of the same work, and proves, first, that the world must have had its beginning by creation; and secondly, that only the Son of God, by his incarnation, could have delivered man from the death which he had incurred by sin. The saint composed these two pieces before the origin of Arianism, about the year 318, when he was not above twenty-two years of age. The Exposition of Faith is an explanation of the mysteries of the Trinity and Incarnation, against the Arians. The treatise on those words: All things have been given, me by my Father; the Letter to the Orthodox Bishops, against the illegal intrusion of Gregory into his see, in 341; his Apology against the Arians, consisting chiefly of authentic memoirs for his own justification against their slanders, composed after his second exile, in 351; his treatise, On the Decrees of Nice, against the Eusebians; his Apology for the Doctrine of St. Dionysius of Alexandria, whom the Arians quoted in favour of their error; and his circular letter to the bishops of Egypt and Lybia, when George was coming to Alexandria, to intrude himself into his see, were compiled against the Arians. His great work against those heretics are, his Four Orations against the Arians. He composed them whilst concealed among the anchorets. Photius admires the beauty, strength, and just reasoning of this excellent performance, which entirely beats down that heresy; and says, that from this fountain St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Basil the Great drew that torrent of eloquence with which they gloriously defended the Catholic faith. Dialectic is employed here with admirable art, but the oracles of holy scripture are, as it were, the sinews of the work. Dracontius, a holy abbot, was chosen bishop of Hermopolis: but fled and hid himself, refusing to submit to that yoke. The letter of St. Athanasius to him is a tender persuasive to accept that charge. His letter to Serapion, bishop of Thmuis, on the death of Arius, shows his modesty in the moderation with which he speaks of that tragical misfortune. We have four other letters of our saint to the same Serapion, to prove the divinity of the Holy Ghost, written in 360, or thereabouts. The Letter to the Solitaries, in 358, is a confutation of the Arians, with some account of the persecution under George. His Apology to the emperor Constantius, written in the desert, among the wild beasts, in 356, seems the most eloquent and finished piece of all his works. His Apology for his flight, in 357, is in merit little inferior to it. He shows that it is lawful, and sometimes even a precept, to fly under persecutions. His treatise On Synods, in 359, gives some account of what had passed in those of Seleucia and Rimini. His tome, or Letter, to the Church of Antioch, was written by him from his council at Alexandria, in 362, to exhort all to union, and to receive the Arians who were converted, only requiring from them a profession of the Nicene faith, and of the divinity of the Holy Ghost. The life of St. Antony was written in 365. His letter to the emperor Jovian, two letters to St. Orsisius, abbot of Tabenna, and several other epistles, are extant. His book, On the Incarnation and against the Arians, proves also the divinity of the Holy Ghost; and was written after the year 360. His two books against Apollinaris, appeared about the year 372. His imperfect commentary On the Psalms shows his extraordinary abilities for that kind of writing. The fragments On St. Matthew are judged genuine by Montfaucon, (in Collect. Patr.) but appear doubtful to Tournely and some others. The book, On the Incarnation of the Word of God: that, For the Consubstantiality of the Three Persons: that, On Virginity, an excellent work: the Synopsis of the Scriptures, also very well penned, and judged genuine by Tillemont, &c., are usually ranked among his doubtful works. The history of a crucifix bleeding, when pierced by the Jews of Berytua, is a mean performance; Baronius attributes it to one Athanasius of Syria. The Creed which bears the name of St. Athanasius, can only deserve that title, because it explains the mystery of the Trinity, which he expounded and maintained with such zeal. It was compiled in Latin in the fifth century. Dr. Waterland hath made a learned collection of what several judicious critics have written on this subject, in his dissertation concerning this Creed. [back]
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume V: May. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.

Textes de Saint Athanase et sur Saint Athanase : http://www.patristique.org/+-Athanase-d-Alexandrie,55-+