Wednesday, June 20, 2007

General Audience: Athanasius of Alexandria

Nuns and faithful cheer as Pope Benedict XVI arrives for his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican,Wednesday, June 20, 2007. The general audience was held indoors because of the heat. (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri)

~from Asia News

Benedict XVI’s appeal came at the end of the general audience, in which the Pope evoked the figure Saint Athanasius of Alexandria and his opposition to the Arian heresy, his “decisive and tenacious intransigence” in his defence of the faith against those who wished to “politicise it to render it more accessible”.

An in door audience, to protect the circa 11 thousand pilgrims from the heat, divided between St. Peters basilica and the Paul VI audience hall.

Continuing in his teachings on the figures of the early church, Benedict XVI spoke today of the Egyptian bishop who he described as “protagonist of the Christian tradition”, already renowned within years of his death as a “as a pillar of Christian orthodoxy”, venerated in East and West alike. Against the followers of the Arian heresy, he insisted on the full divinity and consubstantiality of the Son with the Father and was author of a spiritual biography of Saint Anthony Abbot, influence in the spread of the monastic ideal.

A great Saint and “passionate theologian of the incarnation of Logos”, Athanasius born in Alexandria circa 300, took part in the Council of Nicaea called by Constantine in 325, who was concerned with Church unity. It was in fact threatened by the Arian theory, for which Logos, made flesh, “was not the true God, but a created god, a middle being between man and God”, who remained “inaccessible to us”. This affirmation threatened faith in Christ. In the Pope’s words, it is “a tendency which we see all around us today”. It was against this tendency that the “symbol” of the faith the “credo” was elaborated in Nicaea then completed in Constantinople, “a fundamental text for the united Church which we still recite today”. In this “symbol” the word “consubstantial” is elaborated, the Son is of the same substance as the Father, defending his full divinity.

Becoming bishop of Alexandria in 328 Athanasius was determined to counter the Arian theory. He was the most important and tenacious adversary of the heresy which threatened Christ’s divinity, against which he used a “necessary intransigence”, which led to him being targeted by those who opposed the Nicaea symbol. “These incorrect ideas came back into circulation” they were even accepted by an Emperor. “The Arian crises continued for many difficult years”, during which the Saint was forced into exile for over 17 years. There he met St Anthony Abbot and became familiar with his spiritual life, living among the monks in the Egyptian desert. On his death Athanasius was bequeathed a sheep’s skin by the hermit.

In 366 once he could return to his seat he dedicated himself to placating religious divisions and repairing the Christian community.

Of Athanasius many writings the pope underscored his treatise On the Incarnation of the Word, which defends the full divinity of the Son, whose incarnation is the source of our salvation “he became man so that we could become God”, which promotes the idea that God is accessible to us through Christ “.

Athanasius moreover showed that he was fully aware of the influence that a figure such as St Anthony could have on people”. “It was a best-seller – he maintained – so much so that St Augustine tells us that one of his public letters inspired the conversion of two Imperial officials it was at the origins of his own conversion”.

In conclusion, “we have many reasons to be thankful” for through the life of St. Athanasius, just like that of St. Anthony, we see that “who goes towards God does not distance himself from man, but helps man to ever greater unity”.

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