Pope Benedict on Saint Athanasius, a Saint For Our Times

Wednesday, May 2, AD 2012


His epitaph is Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world.” We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world. Athanasius did the same. He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, “whole and undefiled,” when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius—into one of those “sensible” synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.

                                                        CS Lewis

Saint Athansius stood for the Trinity at a time when the Emperor, Constantius, was Arian, and much of the Church in the East had embraced some form of Arianism.  Exiled five times by Constantius and his successors, Athanasius was a pillar of iron who never bended and tirelessly proclaimed the Truth, no matter the forces arrayed against the Truth.  His relevance for our day needs no elaboration from me.  Here is Pope Benedict on Saint Athanasius:

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13 Responses to Pope Benedict on Saint Athanasius, a Saint For Our Times

  • Pope Benedict XVI is a gift from God

  • According to St Athanasius, some heathen philosophers visited St Anthony, expecting to make fun of him, because he could not read.

    “Antony said to them, ‘What do you say? which is prior, the mind or letters? And which gives rise to which, mind to letters, or letters to mind?’ When they answered that mind was prior, and invented letters, Antony replied, ‘He, then, whose mind is in health, does not need letters.'”

  • Kind of a good thing that after Constantius, Julian the Apostate focused more on paganism and not arianism.

    Missionaries always had an easier time converting pagans, opposed to those who fell into Arianism.

  • Johnny5.

    “…….opposed to those who fell in to Arianism.”

    Correct – think mormons, JW’s and Advetists.

  • Arianism was a persistant heresy, enduring for centuries. Unfortunately most of the barbarian tribes that overran the Western Empire were Arians converted by the Arian missionary Ulfilas, a converted Goth. Here is his creed:

    “I, Ulfila, bishop and confessor, have always so believed, and in this, the one true faith, I make the journey to my Lord; I believe in one God the Father, the only unbegotten and invisible, and in his only-begotten son, our Lord and God, the designer and maker of all creation, having none other like him (so that one alone among all beings is God the Father, who is also the God of our God); and in one Holy Spirit, the illuminating and sanctifying power, as Christ said after his resurrection to his apostles: “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and again “But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8); being neither God (the Father) nor our God (Christ), but the minister of Christ … subject and obedient in all things to the Son; and the Son, subject and obedient in all things to God who is his Father … (whom) he ordained in the Holy Spirit through his Christ.”

  • Athanasius is without a doubt one of my favorite theologians. Ever since I read his magnificent “On the Incarnation of the Word” I was hooked. Additionally, the Life of St. Anthony is probably one of the most inspiring biographies (and probably partial hagiography!) I have ever had the pleasure of encountering.

  • The conversion of the Visigoths and Vandals from Arianism to Catholicism was actually quite rapid.

    The Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse accepted the Nicene symbol after the battle of Vouillé in 507, at which Clovis himself killed their king, Alaric II in combat. In sending his congratulations, the Pope, St Symmachus, addresses Clovis as “the most Christian King of the Franks,” [Christianissimus Rex Francorum] a title born by his successors.

    Clovis [Louis in French], a convert from paganism, but married to a Catholic, St Clotilde and instructed by St Gaston, Bishop of Cambrai, he was baptised on Christmas Day 496 by St Rémy, Archbishop of Rheims. Their names remain very popular baptismal names in France to this day. St Gaston [Latin Vedastus] became popular in England, under the Anglicised form of St Foster, a name found amongst the first Catholic settlers in Maryland.

    At the First Council of Orléans, convened by Clovis in 511, all the Gaulish bishops, to the number of 33, subscribed the Nicene symbol. Diplomatic efforts on the part of his successors secured the deposition of the Arian bishops in Burgundy.

  • The Visigothic kingdom of Spain remained Arian until 587 when King Recccared converted to Catholicism. The Vandals remained Arian until their African kingdom was conquered by the Byzantines under Belisarius in 533. The Ostrogoths in Italy remained Arian until their conquest by the Byzantines, with the aid of the Catholic Franks, in 560. The strife between the Byzantines and the Ostrogoths cleared the way for the Arian Lombards to conquer most of Italy. They remained Arian until the latter part of the seventh century.

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  • Donald R. McClarey

    Arianism lasted just so long as it enjoyed the patronage of the civil power and it was willing to intrude Arian bishops into the sees under their control

    Arianism had been adopted by the commanders of barbarian auxiliaries, when it was fashionable att he court of Constatinople and remained the religion of the ruling class, rather like the Protestantism of the Ascendancy in Ireland. It never became the religion of the masses.

    That is why its eradication was so rapid and complete, once that support was withdrawn.

  • “Arianism lasted just so long as it enjoyed the patronage of the civil power and it was willing to intrude Arian bishops into the sees under their control”

    Actually Michael the same argument could have been made about Catholicism in the wake of the Protestant Reformation in the areas that went Protestant, and it would have been just as faulty. Arianism was defeated through a combination of conversion, the Visigoths in Spain and the Lombards in Italy, and catastropic military defeat, the Ostrogoths in Italy and the Vandals in North Africa. Like most creeds it found it hard to sustain itself when the secular government was in the hands of its adversaries. The same thing happened in regard to Catholicism after the Protestant Reformation, with a notable exception to this rule being the land of my forefathers, Ireland. If the Arian barbarian successor states had been able to hold power for far longer than they did, they might well have been able to convert the subject masses to Arianism, as was the case in the areas conquered by Islam in North Africa and most of the Near East.

  • Donald R. McClarey

    “If the Arian barbarian successor states had been able to hold power for far longer than they did, they might well have been able to convert the subject masses to Arianism…”

    Civilised men will never adopt the manners and customs of barbarians. You can see this very clearly, in the case of France; South of the line of the Loire, from Geneva in the East to the mouth of the Charante in the West, where the barbarians were too few in number to displace the Gallo-Roman population, the tradition of municipal government and the written law was never lost.

    As for Protestantism, England was the only former province of the Roman Empire that adopted it. There, the pirate kingdoms of the South and East coasts had severed Britain from the continent from the withdrawal of the legions in 410 to St Augustine’s mission in 597, thus breaking the continuity of civilised life. Protestantism was, and remained, the revolt of the outer barbarians against the Roman order.

  • “Civilised men will never adopt the manners and customs of barbarians.”

    That is quite untrue, as the history of the successor states of the Roman Empire in the West indicates, with the Roman aristocracy being lost amidst the barbarian aristocracy in a few generations. The barbarian artistocracy adopted some of the customs of the Romans, but it was mostly a one way street.

    “As for Protestantism, England was the only former province of the Roman Empire that adopted it.”

    It was a near run thing in France and Austria, only decided ultimately by military force in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Parts of Switzerland of course became Protestant. The idea that Protestantism was the revolt of outer barbarians is incorrect. Protestantism had adherents throughout Europe. They were quite strong in all parts of Europe in the first half of the sixteenth century except for Spain and Portugal. The ultimate dividing lines between Catholic and Protestant, with the notable exception of Ireland, was determined by which creed the ruling house of an area followed, with military force ultimately determing whether Protestantism or Catholicism became the order of the day. Cuius regio, eius religio, “Whose realm, his religion” at the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 merely recognized the reality on the ground in the Holy Roman Empire between Protestants and Catholic rulers. This was what happened throughout Europe in the wake of the Reformation.

Athanasius Contra Mundum

Monday, February 1, AD 2010

Athanasius Contra Mundum

Saint Athanasius, a Doctor of the Church, and the foremost defender of the divinity of Christ, is one of the key figures in the history of the Faith.  His era, the Fourth Century, was a time period of turbulent change, not unlike our own in that respect.  With the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christ, the Church was suddenly transformed from a proscribed cult into the religion of the Empire.  Instead of being executed for their faith in Christ, bishops found themselves important players in what was rapidly becoming a Christian Empire.  To many Christians, it seemed as if they had reached a golden period in human history when the Church could rapidly reach its goal of bringing all men to Christ.  History, however, never ceases to twist and turn as it charts the affairs of Man.

One of the more dangerous twists of History in the Fourth Century for the Church, was the meteoric rise of the Arian heresy.  A priest of Alexandria, Egypt, Arius propounded the doctrine that the Son, since he was begotten of the Father, was a creation of God, and not God.  He was the greatest of God’s creations, and next to God, but he was not God.  Of course, Arius thus destroyed the doctrine of the Trinity, and reduced Jesus from being God to being a creature serving God.  This doctrine, if it had prevailed, would have transformed Christianity into a Unitarian faith and inevitably downplayed the centrality of Christ.  The doctrine of Arius began to spread, until it was necessary for it to be addressed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the first of the ecumenical councils.  Called specifically to address Arianism, the Council was unequivocal in its condemnation of Arianism as indicated by the Nicene Creed written at the Council:

We Believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, very God from very God, begotten, not made, Consubstantial with the Father, by whom all things were made, both things in heaven and things in earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate, was made man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, and is coming to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit, and those who say “There was when he was not” and “Before his generation he was not” and “He came to be from nothing” or those who pretend that the Son of God is “Of other hypostasis or substance; or “created” or alterable” or “mutable”; the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.

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13 Responses to Athanasius Contra Mundum

  • The Eastern half of the Roman Empire seems to receive the brunt of everything bad.

    Arianism, Chalcedonian schism, the doctrine of ceasaro-papalism, and Islam.

    I really feel for those guys, our Orthodox brothers and sisters.

  • Arianism is still alive and well in our time, in the form of the Adventist religions – particularly the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  • And some Pentecostals.

    They don’t believe the Holy Spirit is not part of the triune God.

  • I think you’ve got a double negative there, Tito. 🙂

  • Don,

    I blame my public school education.


  • I blame the Reformation. 🙂

  • I tend to blame the French Revolution myself.

    Never trust a freemason frog.


  • A lot of Catholic don’t believe in the divinity of Christ either.

  • “A lot of Catholics don’t believe in the divinity of Christ either.”

    Then they aren’t Catholics Tony.

  • Everyone is Catholic – some of us actually know it.

    I don’t want to be excessively critical and my Latin is very, very weak; however, doesn’t the Creed actually begin with I believe, instead of We believe?

    I think the distinction is a recognition of our free will. I freely choose to believe what the Church believes, but I cannot speak for what you believe. Hence when we are in Mass with divinity-denying Catholics (referenced above) we can still state what we believe as individual members of the Mystical Body of Christ. Or, perhaps, I don’t really know what I am talking about.

  • The Nicene Creed was written in Greek AK. I believe the English translation is an accurate rendering of the Greek, although I confess my Greek is weak!

  • It is all Greek to me 🙂

    The revised translation of the Novus Ordo begins the Creed with, “I believe” as opposed to “We believe”. I am fairly confident that is to emphasize that we are individual parts of the Mystical Body, each with a free will and that each of us on our own accord chooses to believe what the Church (We) believes.

    Just another reason why the Mass should be in a dead, uncorrupted, static language. Well, at least the propers should be.

    Kyrie Eleision (that’s all the Greek I know 😉

  • I think the official Latin uses “Credo” which I believe (ha ha) translates to “I believe” rather than “we believe.”