Athanasius, the famous Alexandrian bishop and theologian, died on this date in AD 373. Best known for his resistance to Arianism in the years following the Council of Nicaea (325), Athanasius was one of the key theological voices shaping Christian orthodoxy, particularly its understanding of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. Athanasius is also famous for being the first to provide a definitive list of New Testament books in his Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter. For these reasons, and many others, Adrian Fortescue is probably correct to say that Athanasius was “the first and, without question, the greatest of the Greek Fathers.”
To commemorate the day, here’s an excerpt from his On the Incarnation:
For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, howbeit he was not far from us before. For no part of Creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere, remaining present with His own Father. But He comes in condescension to shew loving-kindness upon us, and to visit us. And seeing the race of rational creatures in the way to perish, and death reigning over them by corruption; seeing, too, that the threat against transgression gave a firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and that it was monstrous that before the law was fulfilled it should fall through: seeing, once more, the unseemliness of what was come to pass: that the things whereof He Himself was Artificer were passing away: seeing, further, the exceeding wickedness of men, and how by little and little they had increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves: and seeing, lastly, how all men were under penalty of death: He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery—lest the creature should perish, and His Father’s handiwork in men be spent for nought—He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours. (On the Incarnation 8.1-2).
For other good resources on Athanasius, check out these links:
- Who are the “must reads” in theology?
- An Introduction to the ‘Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit’ by Athanasius of Alexandria
- Is an Arian Still a Christian? The Response of Athanasius
- Online Resources for Studying Athanasius