Thursday, May 2, 2013

Memorial of Saint Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Acts 15:7-21; John 15:9-11)

The name Athanasius means immortal.  St. Athanasius, of course, died, but he now enjoys eternal life.  He came to it by making good use of the grace bestowed on him.

Athanasius both ingeniously defended the divinity of Christ and severely suffered for his efforts.  When Arius taught that Christ could not be on the same level of the Father, Athanasius rose in defense of the traditional teaching.  He agreed with Arius that it is unimaginable how God could constrict himself into a human body.  But, in contrast to the heretic (as we think of him), he realized that God’s ways are infinitely beyond human imagining.  Political machinations favored Arian teaching for a time, and Athanasius was exiled repeatedly for his insistence on Christ’s complete divinity.  In the end, however, his status as bishop of the prominent see of Alexandria was restored.

We do well to keep in mind Athanasius’ insight that God’s ways transcend human understanding.  Partly on the authority of his genius and partly on our own experience of Christ’s love, we hold fast to our belief that God made us, loves us, and reveals Himself to us in Jesus Christ.