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Athanasius of Alexandria
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Athanasius of Alexandria

Athanasius of Alexandria was a Christian bishop of Alexandria in the fourth century. He is revered as a saint by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Roman Catholics have declared him one of 33 Doctors of the Church.

Historical significance

Before reaching the age of 20, Athanasius wrote a treatise entitled On the Incarnation, affirming and explaining that Jesus was both God and Man. In about 319, when Athanasius was a deacon, a presbyter named Arius began teaching that there was a time before God the Father begat Jesus Christ when the latter did not exist. Athanasius responded that the Father's begetting of the Son, or uttering of the Word, was an eternal relationship between them, not an event that took place within time. Thus began Catholic Christianity's fight against the heresy of Arianism. Athanasius fought consistently against Arianism all his life. He accompanied Alexander to the First Council of Nicaea in 325, which council produced the Nicene Creed and anathematized Arius and his followers. On May 9, 328, he succeeded Alexander as bishop of Alexandria. As a result of rises and falls in Arianism's influence, he was banished from Alexandria only to be later restored on at least five separate occasions, perhaps as many as seven. This gave rise to the expression "Athanasius contra mundo" or "Athanasius against the world". During some of his exiles, he spent time with the Desert Fathers, monks and hermits who lived in remote areas of Egypt.

Athanasius is also the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today; up until his Easter letter, various similar lists were in use. However, his list was the one that was eventually ratified by a series of synods and came to be universally recognized as the New Testament canon.

He also wrote a biography of Anthony the Great that later served as an inspiration to Christian monastics in both the East and the West. The Athanasian Creed is traditionally ascribed to him.

See also: Theodelinda

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