Athanasius of Alexandria Roughly 296 -- 373 Research Paper

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Athanasius of Alexandria, roughly 296 -- 373 AD, is also known as St. Athansius the Great, St. Athanasius the Confessor, and St. Athanasius the Apostolic. The was the 20th Bishop of Alexandria and of his 45 years in the episcopate he spent 17 years in five different exiles ordered by four different Roman emperors. For scholars of the early church, he is known as one of the first Christian theologian/scholars, a Church Father, and one of the chief defenders of Orthodoxy against Arianism (Athanasios I the Great - Biography, 2011).

Biographical Background -- Athanasius is often most remembered by historians due to his conflict with Arius. This occurred when he was 27, at the First Council of Nicaea. In June 328, three years after Nicaea he became Archbishop of Alexander, continuing to lead the fight against Arians for the rest of his life. He was also involved in a number of struggles against the Emperors Constantine and Constantius, as well as Arian Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia. St. Gregory of Nazianzus found his fervor so engrossing he called him the "Pillar of the Church." He wrote a great deal during his long tenure, and his writings show a strong devotion to the spirituality of the masses and monasticism. Despite the favor the Arians had with Emperor Valens and exile from Alexandria in this old age, he spent his remaining years re-emphasizing the Nicenean view of the Incantation (Smsyp & K., 2005).

Arianism -- Arius, Christian presbyter from Alexandria, was deemed a heretic by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. His view was that Christ, as the Son of God, did not always exist, but was created and is thus a distinct entity, from that of God. This, of course, means that the concept of the Trinity as envisioned by the early Church fathers was incorrect. Interestingly enough, there is no formalized doctrine of the Trinity within the New Testament, although there are several references to the idea of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a way to understand the overwhelming nature of God. The formal use of the concept developed out of Matthew 28:19 (Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit), and was embellished up until the formulation of the Nicene Doctrine. The popularization of the idea, though was somewhat linguistic in that when speaking of God and the Holy Spirit, different words were used that could mean "person," "nature," "essence," or "substance," -- words that were part of a longer, and far older tradition, but not adopted by the new Church (LaDue, 2003). It appears that Arianism comes from a passage in the Gospel of John, "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I" (John 14: 28). One cannot underestimate the importance of this conflict -- for it defined the early Church in between the 4th and 6th centuries and focused on the very nature of the concept of the Trinity.

Council of Nicaea -- Convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine I, this Council was the first effort on the part of the early Church to find consensus in several issues that concerned Christendom. Its main accomplishments were the settlement of the issue of the relationship of Jesus to God (the Trinity) and the conflict with Arius, the construction of the initial part of the Nicene Creed, the calculation of the date of Easter, and the beginnings of canon law (Brandt, 1996).

Conflict with Arius -- To the modern reader, the conflict is really based on the interpretation of scripture. Arius' interpretation was new, thus in conflict with that the great majority of the bishops believed as being "ancient and Apostolic." Athanasius asked Arius to renounce his incorrect views and submit himself to the true Catholic faith. "Now, when Arius and his fellows made these assertions, and shamelessly avowed them…. Eusebius and his fellows admitted them to communion, being desirous to mingle falsehood with the truth, and impiety with piety" (Deposition, Part 3). Athanasius used the words of John to buttress his original argument, "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1). Thus, according to Athanasius, the falsehoods of Arius' beliefs are:

That God and Jesus are separate.

That Jesus does not know God "perfectly"

That the interpretation of the relationship of the Trinity needed correction

Analysis of Athanasius' views on Arius -- These views so challenged the heterodoxy of the Church, according to many of the Bishops at Nicaea that it was inconceivable that anyone would want or need to "reinterpret" scripture. However, much like the manner in which political opponents often critique the "character" of their opponent, Athanasius believed so strongly that Arius was wrong, he felt that Arius' beliefs transcended the philosophical and became personal.

Arius and his followers are thus characterized as "Lawless, enemies of Christ" and teaching of doctrines that are a forerunner to the Antichrist -- in other words, pure, unadulterated evil. Further, anyone who supports Arianism is ignorant and antichristian, as well as being a heretic. It is clear that the depictions are purposeful and what might today be seen as exaggerated. However, at the time, we must also realize that Christianity was in its infancy, and the very nature of the faith was not at all certain. In many cases, the whim of the Emperor or the Emperor's views would place Bishops either in favor or in exile. If, in Athanasius' views, there was another interpretation of the Trinity and of Scripture, then the entire basis of his own views would be called into question. This was not a matter in which one side could politely disagree with the other -- for to them, this was the basis of the way Christianity was organized. If, in fact, Christ was not "God," and if the concept of the Trinity was not correct, then the first three centuries of martyrdom, exile, and persecution might be called into question. Too, if Arianism could be explained as evil, or the potential temptation of the antichrist, that was something Christians of the time could understand.

Today, we might not put weight on the debates of the early Church as in "Did Christ own his own robes," etc. However, to the early Church followers, we must remember that there was not 2,000 years of doctrine and commentary, but instead, a fledgling religion that was fighting for legitimacy and not at all certain of its continued existence in a very challenging political environment. Because Arianism was spreading and could not be contained by the Alexandrian diocese, the topic was one for the entire Church. And so early on, any dissent on the origin of Christ, from which Christianity was based, might cause concern. Was Athanasius' view of Arius fair? Most likely not -- all indications are that Arius was a devout Christian, firm in his belief system, and believing that there was not a conflict in believing that Christ was created after God, and, "in the truest sense a son, He must have come after the Father, therefore the time obviously was when He was not, and hence He was a finite being" (The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit Study No. 69, 2000). Arius was adamant in his ability to argue scripture, and what appears likely is that Athanasius had to vilify him with propaganda and reduction into evil so that he would be universally discredited.

Part 2 - In much of the Ancient World from Sumer on, women were considered inferior to men in numerous ways: they could not mix with men, had strict roles, and other than certain exceptions (goddesses, oracles, etc.) were really more of use to bear children, care for the home, and provide familial stability. Of course, it is difficult to generalize an entire group over millennia; there were powerful and influential women, but as a general rule, Ancient societies were clearly male dominated with limited roles for women. This, of course, was not always true in literature, oral tradition, or religion/mythology (Salisbury, 2001).

We must also be wary of placing modern cultural views upon the ancient world, deciding that if a woman was not actualized in a certain manner, then she was marginalized. Indeed, each society has a unique world view, and the timespan and technological level so great between the ancients and our 21st century society that a number of misunderstandings often occur. First, in the ancient world, a pre-industrial economy, the primary activity for individuals was agriculture. This is what brought hunter-gatherer bands together, helped form a hierarchy and class structure. To have an adequate workforce for agriculture, though, there must be individuals to work the land. Since medical science was not as advanced, more children died in infancy, or failed to grow to adulthood. Life was hard, so…

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