I never even heard of Saint Athanasius during my formative years in Catholic education. Now he’s my favorite Catholic saint! I first learned of Athanasius when I was taking a Master’s course on the Trinity. With today being the feast day of St. Athanasius I want to share three key things about his life that make him my favorite saint of all-time!
Fighter against Heresy
Born in 296 A.D, Athanasius grew up in arguably the most chaotic time for the Catholic Church. A sinister heresy known as Arianism infested the 4th century Church. This heresy asserted that Jesus was not the Son of God, but simply the highest creation created by God to carry out His works. Arianism rejected the dogma of the Incarnation. St. Athanasius championed truth with his role in the 1st Ecumenical Council at Nicea. Here the Nicene Creed proclaimed the belief in the Trinity officially laid out in dogmatic decree. Without God working through the person of Athanasius, Christianity may have suffered greatly from Arianism. We proclaim with St. Athanasius,
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Along with fighting Arianism doctrinally, Athanasius as bishop of Alexandria shepherded his diocese toward truth. He talked the talk and walked the walk. Often at odds with the secular leaders of his day, Athanasius was exiled five times by various emperors including Constantine’s son Emperor Constantius II. Athanasius even lived with monks during one of his banishments— for six years!
The exile of Athanasius didn’t stop his supporters. His is holy witness galvanized the faithful to push for his continual return despite his many exiles. I have great respect for anyone who witnesses to truth despite such threats.
Athanasius―Promoter of Holiness
The last reason that St. Athanasius is my favorite saint is his promotion of sanctity. Besides championing orthodoxy at the Council of Nicaea, Athanasius is maybe most well-known for his support of asceticism. Athanasius wrote Life of St. Antony—which become a best-seller in his time—and helped spread the acetic movement throughout the Church. I was drawn to the witness of St. Antony’s life of holiness when I read his biography by St. Athanasius. I am grateful for this gift!
I hope to make up for my early years without knowledge of St. Athanasius—nicknamed the “Pillar of Orthodoxy”—by spreading his story in as many ways possible. I will be sure to wrote more about him in the future. If you have time today, please think about reading the divine office today for his feast day and thanking God for Athanasius’ gift of courage in standing up for truth and for having such a cool name to say as well. May God continue to grant us courage in promoting the truth of the Gospel!
Selected Quotes from St. Athanasius—the Hammer of Orthodoxy