Friday, October 12, 2012

Heroes: Athanasius

As all Narnia buffs know, the black dwarfs are usually suspect. But today I’d like to tell you about the original Black Dwarf, a man who, by merely being faithful, is my hero, and a hero to every Christian on earth. His name is Athanasius. He was born about A.D. 300 in Alexandria, Egypt, one of the great cities of the time. Even as a child, he was noted for his deep faith and great learning, and when very young, he was put in charge of teaching the Faith to new Christians. His most famous book On the Incarnation, that I re-read every Advent, was written when he was only in his early twenties.

As a young man, he became a deacon, and the secretary and advisor to the bishop of Alexandria. This was during the time when the arch-heretic Arius was beginning to teach that Jesus was not God – that He was the pinnacle of creation, but still only a created being. The Council of Nicea was called together in A.D. 325 to discuss this issue, and Athanasius attended the Council as secretary to the bishop. At the Council, he was heavily involved in the debate, even though he wasn’t supposed to be (after all, he was only a deacon, not a bishop), and he made a big impression as a pious and intellectual Orthodox Christian. It was here that he received the nickname “Black Dwarf” because of his short stature and dark features. Within five months of the end of the Council, which thoroughly condemned Arianism, Bishop Alexander died, and Athanasius was chosen as the new head of Alexandria’s Christians. He was about 30 years old, very young to be in charge of one of the five major Christian cities.

Athanasius was wildly popular with the lower classes, but not so much with the aristocracy and many of the Egyptian priests, who tended to be Arians. He was exiled by several emperors – emperors tended to waffle on the issue of Arianism – but he always managed to show back up in Alexandria in triumph, preaching the truth that Jesus Christ is wholly divine, of one essence with the Father. Athanasius is a hero to me because even when the power structure of the Empire and the local religious hierarchy was against him, he stayed true to the Faith. But even though he kept writing and preaching the deity of Christ without compromise, it was always without anger and bitterness. He was commended by others for reaching out even to his enemies.

Athanasius picked an important fight, and then fought it all his life, even when it looked like he was fighting alone. In fact, he died several years before the next great Church Council that reinforced Nicea – he never saw the triumphant result of all his labors, but this noble defender of the Faith never gave up. He was hated by everyone “important” during his lifetime, but now, he is one of the few Christians who have ever lived that everyone looks up to.

In closing, my favorite quote from Athanasius:

Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?”

Darren A. Jones
Staff Attorney HSLDA

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