Skip to content

St. Athanasius


Short Cuts

Author and Publisher - Catholic Online

Image of St. Athanasius

Facts

Feastday: May 2
Patron of Theologians, faithful Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians
Birth: 296 or 298
Death: May 2, 373

St. Athanasius, also known as Athanasius the Great and Athanasius the Confessor, was a bishop and doctor of the church. He is called the "Father of Orthodoxy," the "Pillar of the Church" and "Champion of Christ's Divinity." Athanasius became one of the most dedicated opponents of the heresy of Arianism. Much of his life was a testimony to the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Born in either 296 or 298 in Alexandria, Egypt to a prominent Christian family, Athanasius received a wonderful education in Christian doctrine, Greek literature, philosophy, rhetoric and jurisprudence.

He was well studied in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospel accounts and the Christian texts which would later be recognized by the Church as the canon of the New Testament. He credited the confessors during the Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Maximian as his teachers of theology.

Bishop Alexander of Alexandria became a strong influence in Athanasius' life after Alexander witnessed him playing at administering Baptism as a young boy, with other children. Alexander called the boys over and after questioning them, he determined the baptisms were valid and decided to train them for priesthood.

As he grew up, Athanasius befriended many monks and hermits of the desert, including St. Antony. He later wrote the biography of Antony.

Athanasius became Alexander's secretary in 318 after being ordained a deacon. Around this time, Athanasius wrote his first work, a theological treatise on the Incarnation which is still quoted extensively in Christian theological studies and spiritual literature.

Around 323, Arius, an ambitious priest of the Alexandrian Church, denied the Divinity of Christ, and began spreading word that Jesus Christ was not truly divine, but merely created in time by the Eternal Father.

Alexander demanded Arius produce a written statement on the false doctrine. It was condemned as heresy after two dissenting Bishops came forward. Arius and 11 other priests and deacons were deposed, or removed from their office, for teaching false doctrine.

Arius left for Caesarea, but continued to teach his false doctrine and enlisted support from the Bishop of Nicomedia, Eusebius and other Syrian prelates.

Athanasius, as Alexander's secretary, was present during the great Church debate. He may have even composed the letter that announced Arius' condemnation. Athanasius stood alongside Alexander during the famous Council of Nicaea to determine the matters of dogma.

It was during this meeting, summoned by Emperor Constantine, that Arius' sentencing was officially confirmed and the Nicene Creed was adopted as the Creed of the Church and a worthy symbol of the orthodox Christian faith.

The early Christian Church, still undivided, rejoiced at the defense of the true nature of Jesus Christ. To this day, Athanasius is considered the great defender of the Faith in both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Just five months later, Alexander died and Athanasius succeeded him after being unanimously elected. He was consecrated as the new Bishop of Alexandria in 328 and continued the fight against Arianism.

In 330, Eusebius approached Emperor Constantine and convinced him to command Athanasius to allow Arians back into communion. Athanasius refused, noting the Catholic Church could not hold communion with heretics who attacked the divinity of Christ.

However, Eusebius did not give up on his cause. He wrote to Athanasius trying to justify Arius and he wrote to the Egyptian Meletians in efforts to have Athanasius impeached.

The Meletians charged Athanasius with the crimes of exacting a tribute of linen for use in his church, sending gold to Philomenus, treason against the emperor and authorizing one of his deputies to destroy a chalice being used at the altar by a Meletian priest.

He was tried and proved his innocence on all accusations.

The Arians didn't stop there though; they came forward with another charge, claiming he murdered a Meletian bishop. Athanasius was ordered to attend a council at Caesarea, but knowing the bishop was alive and in hiding, Athanasius ignored the summons.

In 335, Emperor Constantine commanded Athanasius to go to the Council of Tyre, Lebanon. The council was full of Athanasius' opponents and was led by an Arian. Athanasius realized his condemnation was already pre-decided.

Athanasius was exiled for the first time to Trier, Germany. While there, he kept in touch with his flock by letter.

Athanasius' exile lasted for two and a half years. He returned to Alexandria in 338 to find both Emperor Constantine and Arius had died. Constantine's empire was divided between his three sons, Constantine II, Constantius and Constans.

After he returned to Alexandria, his enemies continued to try to bring him to exile. They accused him of raising sedition, of promoting bloodshed, and detaining his own use of corn.

Eusebius was able to obtain a second sentence of deposition against Athanasius and get the election of an Arian bishop for Alexandria approved.

After this, a letter was written to Pope St. Julius asking for his intervention and a condemnation of Athanasius. The case for Athanasius was set forth, and the pope accepted the suggestion offered by Eusebius for a synod to discuss the situation.

Meanwhile, a Cappadocian named Gregory was installed in Alexandria, and Athanasius went to Rome to await his hearing.

Athanasius was completely vindicated by the synod, but was unable to return home to Alexandria until the death of the Cappadocian Gregory in 345.

Athanasius returned to Alexandria to scenes of people rejoicing after he had been absent for eight years.

However, in 353 Athanasius would face more condemnations by the Arians in the councils at Arles, France and again in 355 in Milan, Italy.

Persecution continued against Athanasius and escalated to physical attacks against him. While he was celebrating a vigil Liturgy in a church in Egypt, soldiers forced their way in and killed some of the congregation. Athanasius managed to escape and hid in the desert, where a group of monks kept him safe for six years.

During his years as a hermit, he wrote his Apology to Constantius, the Apology for His Flight, the Letter to the Monks, and the History of the Arians.

Athanasius returned to Alexandria after the death of Constantius in 361 and the new emperor, Julian, revoked all sentences of exile enacted by his predecessor.

This lasted only a few months though. Emperor Julian's plan for paganizing the Christian world couldn't get very far so long as Athanasius, the champion for Catholic faith, was around. Therefore, Julian exiled Athanasius and he once again sought refuge in the desert.

He stayed there until 363 when Julian died and the next emperor, Emperor Jovian reinstalled him. Jovian's reign was a short one, and Athanasius was again banished just eight months later.

Jovian's successor, Valens issued an order banning all Orthodox bishops who were exiled by Constantius.

Four months later, Valens revoked his own order and Athanasius was restored permanently.

Over the course of his life, Athanasius was banished five times and spent 17 years of his life in exile for the defense of the doctrine of Christ's divinity.

However, the last years of his life were peaceful and he died on May 2, 373 in Alexandria.

His body was transferred, first to Constantinople, then to Venice.

St. Athanasius is often shown as a bishop arguing with a pagan, a bishop holding an open book or a bishop standing over a defeated heretic. He is a patron saint of theologians, and faithful Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians and hailed to this day as a great Defender of the Faith.

His feast day is celebrated on May 2.


St. Athanasius Comments


More Saints






Browse Saints by Category


Popular Saints

Rank

Saint

55.

Image of St. James the Greater

St. James the Greater

Nothing is known of St. James the Greater's early life, though it has been established that he is the son of Zebedee and Salome and brother of John the disciple. The title "the Greater" ... continue reading | shop

56.

Image of St. George

St. George

It is uncertain when Saint George was born and historians continue to debate to this day. However, his death date is estimated to be April 23 303 A.D. The first piece of evidence of ... continue reading | shop

57.

Image of St. Blaise

St. Blaise

Little is known about Saint Blaise prior to his mention in a court physician's medical journal. The physician, Aëtius Amidenus, spoke of Saint Blaise's aid in treating objects caught in the ... continue reading | shop

All Popular Saints

Saint of the Day

Image of St. Hilarion

St. Hilarion

Abbot and disciple of St. Anthony the Great, companion of St. Hesychius. He was born in Tabatha, Palestine, and was educated in Alexandria, Egypt. He stayed with St. Anthony in the desert there ... continue reading

More Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day by E-Mail

Saint of the Day newsletter icon

Learn about the lives of the saints and other saint resources, including a calendar, over 5,000 saint biographies, our most popular saints, and a list of patron saints. 7 days / week. See Sample


Required


Female Saints

Image of St. Katharine Drexel

St. Katharine Drexel

St. Katharine Drexel is the second American-born saint to be canonized by the Catholic Church. This amazing woman was an heiress to a large bequest who became a religious sister and a brilliant educator. Katherine was born in Philadelphia on November 26, 1858, the ... continue reading

More Female Saints



Saint Calendar
Saint Feast Days
Saint Fun Facts

Angels

Image of St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel isn't a saint, but rather he is an angel, and the leader of all angels and of the army of God. This is what the title "Archangel" means, that he is above all the others in rank. St. Michael has four main responsibilities or offices, as we ... continue reading


Image of St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel is an angel who serves as a messenger for God to certain people. He is one of the three archangels. Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible. First, in the Old Testament, Gabriel appears to the prophet Daniel to explain his ... continue reading



Saints Fun Facts

Saints Fun Facts for Bl. Alvarez of Corova

Bl. Alvarez of Corova

Alvarez was born in either Lisbon, Portugal, or Cordova, Spain. He entered the Dominican convent at Cordova in 1368. He became known for his preaching prowess in Spain and Italy, was confessor and adviser of Queen Catherine, John of Gaunt's daughter, and tutor of King ... continue reading

Saints Fun Facts for St. Ambrose

St. Ambrose

Saint Ambrose, also known as Aurelius Ambrosius, is one of the four original doctors of the Church. He was the Bishop of Milan and became one of the most important theological figure of the 4th century. Ambrose was born around 340 AD to a Roman Christian family. He ... continue reading



Christian Saints & Heroes

Image of The tomb of the real Saint Nicholas may have just been found.

Experts think they have found the tomb of the REAL Santa Claus

By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Archaeologists suspect they have found the tomb of the actual saint behind Santa Claus. The saint, who was thought to be in Italy until now, may still be under the floor of a church in turkey. LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) -- The saint who would be known as ... continue reading

More Christian Saints & Heroes

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Information
Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Services
Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Education
Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Catholic Online MasterClass
Learn from experts

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Catholic Media Missionaries
The New Evangelization

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Socials
Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.