Course:Carey HIST501/Project 2/Athanasius of Alexandria

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Year of birth and death

Athanasius was born in 296 and died in 373.

Short biographical sketch of the church father

St. Athanasius, mosaic at St. Mark's Basilica, Venice

a. Upbringing

Athanasius was born to a Christian family and grew up in the city of Alexandria[1].

b. Education

He received his philosophical and theological training at Alexandria[2].

c. Journey of Faith

It is unclear as to when Athanasius came to faith, however having been born to a Christian family and exhibiting signs at a young age even with child's play, it can be assumed that Athanasius came to faith at a young age.

d. Influential persons

Reportedly Patriarch Alexander observed young Athanasius played the role of bishop baptizing his friends as the youngsters played church. Athanasius’s precision in the performance of the sacrament impressed Alexander so much that after discussing with Athanasius’s family, the Patriarch began to look after the spiritual upbringing of Athanasius, first as a reader[1]. Alexander may have influenced Athanasius with the importance of sound doctrine. He called a synod at Alexandria in about 320, to condemn Arius’s teaching and excommunicated him[3].
Hosius (256 - 358), bishop of Cordova (modern Spain) was a staunch supporter of Athanasius. He was probably the one that introduced the expression homoousion, "one substance", that was adopted into the Nicene Creed[3]. When asked by Constantius II if he would remain stubborn in support of Athanasius, Hosius responded with a letter, preserved by Athanasius (H. Ar. 42-45[text in Leclercq 1906, 113-16]), objecting to the empire’s interference in church matters (353). Consequently, Hosius was exiled in 355 A.D. to Sirmum, Pannonia (modern Serbia)[4].

e. Vocational path

Rose to the office of deacon and secretary to Alexander, bishop of Alexandria. He succeeded Alexander as bishop of Alexandria upon his death in 328. He held office for 45 years despite five exiles when he fell out favor with Roman emperors and jealous churchmen[5].His argument against Arius at the Council of Nicea (325 ) at the age of 29 and in favor of what would become later be defined as orthodoxy, was fundamental to his consecration as bishop[6].

Major contributions of the church father

St. Antony of Egypt

a. Contributions to doctrinal development

His annual Festal Letters to his flock announced the date of Easter[7]. In the Easter letter written in 367, Athanasius listed the first complete list of books, that became the canon[3].He insisted upon using homoousios (ὁμοούσιος) because they believed that the Word (Christ) was of the “same” nature as the Father[3].He presided over the Council of Alexandria in 362 A.D. which reconciled many semi-Arians to orthodoxy[8]. The creed he had fought for at Nicea and ever afterward was the creed of the church. “God in three persons, blessed Trinity”[3].

b. Contributions to pastoral work

Under Athanasius, (bp. 328-373) and subsequent bishops of Alexandria, more bishoprics were created in Egypt and Libya, eventually approaching one hundred by the end of the fourth century[4].He spent his first years of his episcopate devoted to visiting his extensive patriarchate, which included all of Egypt and Libya. During this time, he established important contacts with the Coptic monks of Upper Egypt and their leader St. Pachomius[7]. He made Frumentius the first bishop of Askum, establishing a link between Egyptian Coptic and Ethiopian churches[3]. He popularized Anthony the Great, also known as “The Father of All Monks” by writing his biography and bringing the concept of monasticism to medieval Europe, Palestine and Asia Minor[9].[6].

c. Contributions to Christian ethics

Athanasius’s life-long persistence in upholding orthodoxy despite imperial opposition that led to 5 exiles for an estimated 17 years[5]may be a golden example of how Christians should live, not bending to the state or that intervenes into the church on matters of doctrine.

d. Major works written

His important works include The Life of St. Antony, Four Orations Against the Arians Contra Gentes, Oratio de Incarnatione, the latter two referred to by St. Jerome as Adversum Gentes Duo Libri and most of them completed during his exiles[10][2]. They mostly were to defend orthodoxy, but also against pagan and Jewish opposition as well. During one of his banishments, he wrote his famous defiance, Athanasius against the World[3].
His most lasting contributions seems to be his Life of St. Antony. The monk is his personal friend, making this book most historically reliable[5].It is filled with Antony’s encounters with Satan and how he won over the evil one[3].

Impact of Athanasius of Alexandria

Revelation of God the Holy Trinity. Detail from a 5th-century mosaic in San Vitale, Ravenna, of the Hospitality of Abraham; the three angelic visitors were seen to be a glimpse of the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Athanasius was an intellect, theologian, teacher and church leader whose contributions have both contemporary and lasting impact. His articulation of Jesus as an equal to God formed the basis of doctrine of trinity which is everlasting. His promotion and support of monastic life through the biography of his friend, spread the monastic movement throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. His visits to various churches and establishment of bishoprics in the Middle East and Africa connected the Egyptian Coptic and Ethiopian churches. His example of courage amidst opposition, allowing God to use him to produce many lasting letters and books during his exiles, leadership skills in connecting churches would continue to benefit those who study how God uses his life.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Saint Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria". Orthodox Church in America.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hardy, E.R. (2021, April 28). "St. Athanasius". Encyclopedia Britannica. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Shelley, Bruce (2021). Church History in Plain Language, Fifth Edition: Vol. Fifth edition. revised by Marshall Shelley. Zondervan Academic. pp. 79, 109, 131, 133, 136, 148, 54.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Tabbernee, W (2014). Early Christianity in Contexts : An Exploration Across Cultures and Continents. Baker Academic. pp. 201, 442.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Athanasius Five-time exile for fighting "orthodoxy"". Christianity Today. Retrieved October 25, 2021. line feed character in |title= at position 11 (help)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Feldmeth, N. P. (2008). Pocket Dictionary of Church History. IVP Academic.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "St. Athanasius Egyptian theologian". Brittanica. Retrieved October 25, 2021. line feed character in |title= at position 15 (help)
  8. Cohn-Sherbok, Lavinia (1998). Who’s Who in Christianity. Routledge.
  9. "Monastic Orders of the Middle Ages". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 25, 2021.
  10. Clifford, C (1907). "St. Athanasius. In The Catholic Encyclopedia". New Advent. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 26, 2021.