This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May 2 -- Feast of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria

I'm always glad to promote the Sisters of Mercy.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the term Doctor of the Church is a big deal -- very exclusive, with an official list.  In the Eastern Orthodox Church, it's used a little loosely -- any old person is free to call a Big Dog Saint a Doctor.  It's kind of like Super Saint, except it is a real term, not something I just made up.  The Armenian Church is closer to the Roman Catholics with respect to the term Doctor, and the Anglicans use the term Teacher of the Faith, but doctor originally meant teacher, so they're just avoiding Latin root words, as far as I can tell.
Maybe this makes the Trinity clearer

You've probably guessed by now that Athanasius is an official Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church.  He also makes the Anglican and Armenian lists, sweeping the boards, as it were.  And the Eastern Orthodox call him the Father of Orthodoxy, which might even be better than making a list of 33.  He was a young guy, just twenty-seven, and a deacon rather than a bishop, when the Emperor Constantine summoned the Council of Nicea to settle some doctrinal disputes.  One of the burning questions was about the nature of Jesus -- god, man, or hybrid?  If you are a regular reader here, you know that people lost their heads (figuratively and literally) over this question.  Arius, a theologian and presbyter in Alexandria, built up quite a following with his idea that Jesus was created by God.  He was opposed by, among others, the brash young deacon named Athanasius, who contended that Jesus had existed eternally since he was "one in being with the Father."  If you recognize that quote, you probably know that Arius lost, his peeps were branded heretics (eventually), and the early Church suffered an ugly schism. 
Athanasius, in Copenhagen, Denmark

Alexandria was a hotbed of Arianism, and since Athanasius made archbishop at the tender age of thirty, he had a long, hard tenure.  Six times the mob was coming after him so he beat feet out of the city and slipped back later.  Five more times, under four different emperors, he was exiled, but allowed to return as people cooled off, conditions in Alexandria changed, and attitudes toward Arianism changed slightly.  He was called Athanasius Contra Mundum -- Athanasius Against the World.  It is kind of a long nickname, but it seems apt.

Oh yeah, he also made this minor contribution to the evolution of Christianity:  he set the Canon of books included in the Christian Bible.  His version was not immediately and universally embraced, but he's the guy who said these twenty-seven are officially approved, and others might be edifying, but they're not THE BIBLE.  If I wrote The Shepherd of Hermas or the Book of Baruch I might be pissed, but since no one was getting royalties I suppose I'd get over it.  In other words, I might chase him out of town in a fit of rage, but I wouldn't mind if he came back a week or two later.

No comments:

Post a Comment