Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Athanasius of Alexandria who is a Doctor of the Church, as well as a great theologian who united the Eastern and Western Churches. A great deal of his work and mission was responding to the Arian heresy running rampant in his day. In fact, the Arian heresy has proved to be one of the most virulent heresies and can be seen in various forms even in our own day.
He was born around 300 AD in Alexandria, Egypt. After receiving a quality education, he became a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria. He worked closely with the Bishop and attended the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325 AD. This Council focused primarily on the divinity of Christ in response to the Arian heresy which had been advanced through the Alexandrian priest Arius.
Arianism greatly threatens an authentic understanding of Jesus Christ. It teaches that “the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained forever inaccessible to us” (Pope Benedict XVI, Doctors of the Church, 14). It was at Nicaea where the Creed incorporated Greek term homoousios, which means “of the same substance” as the Father. It was the first and only term to be added with no theological or biblical link, and it pointed to the Church’s willingness to integrate philosophy and theology together into the Faith.
Shortly after the Council in 328 AD, the Bishop of Alexandria died and St. Athanasius was elevated to Bishop. Even though the Church had firmly and unequivocally affirmed the divinity of Christ, the Arian heresy raged on creating painful and destructive divisions within the Church. St. Athanasius fought hard against the heresy and created powerful enemies in the process. He spent 17 years in exile. He continued to spread the Faith in the West, as well as monasticism which he had learned from the hermit, St. Anthony, during his time in exile. After many years of suffering for the authentic and true Faith, St. Athanasius returned to Alexandria to finish out his days. He died on May 2, 373.