Aug 14, 2013
The Church is largely indebted to St. Athanasius for hammering out the dogma of the Incarnation, the mystery of God’s Son becoming a human person by Mary of Nazareth. This core belief of Christianity is not only the mystery of God; it is also the mystery of human life in which Jesus assumes the human condition without reserve, exception, or limit to man’s cruelty to man. It is the mystery of God’s solidarity with the world for the redemption of the world.
The life of Athanasius may be summarized as one bitterly long and hard battle to defend the mystery of the Incarnation.
His outer appearance was off-putting: Athanasius “was so small that his enemies called him a dwarf. He had a hook nose, a small mouth, a short reddish beard which turned up at the ends in the Egyptian fashion, and his skin was blackish. His eyes were very small and he walked with a slight stoop, though gracefully . . . .” (Robert Payne, The Holy Fire, 67).
In 295, not far from the Nitrian desert (northwest of the Nile delta), Athanasius was born into a period of relative tranquility without imperial persecution. He entered the Alexandrian clergy and received a fine classical education and theological formation. Accompanying Bishop Alexander to Council of Nicaea in 325 as a peritus, he gained a name for himself as a firebrand, he was repeatedly exiled with many threats made to his life. He died in 373. The Church celebrates his feast day on May 2.