Wednesday, May 03, 2006

St. Athanasius

Two thoughts the day after we celebrated this wonderful Egyptian Patriarch:

1) The Introit we sang at Mass was the ironically named "In medio ecclesia" "In the middle of the assembly/church." In a mystical sense, St. Athanasius, as the great defender of orthodox Christology, spoke from the heart of the Body of Christ. On the other hand, he was hardly ever speaking in the midst of his actual flock: he was exiled three separate times for defending orthodoxy, once for seventeen years!

2) There are a variety of theories, some of them conspiratorial in nature, that put forward the idea that the Early Church was full of vibrant variants of doctrine, and that these varieties were suppressed by politically astute orthodox bishops. St. Athanasius gives an eloquent counter-witness. The Arians, who denied the pre-existence of Christ as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, were by far more politically powerful than the orthodox. In fact, Constantine himself was a sympathizer as was his great apologist, Eusebius (Later on, the Emperors tended to lean toward Monophysitism and Iconoclasm, too). It is more probable that orthodoxy won out in the end because it is true, and that those who worship and those who read the Scriptures come to understand this intuitively. Here, as it was often the case in the early Church, it was the heretics who were interested in gaining political advantage to suppress orthodoxy, not the other way around. So we have the machinations of the Arians, the violence of the Circumcellians and Donatists (ironically, St. Augustine is criticized for 'calling out the troops' to put down the Donatists; few criticize the Donatists for killing Catholics) and so on. What appears as doctrinal diversity is really political maneuvering by the powerful who can take advantage of the relative weakness of orthodoxy.

We might take a lesson from this, in our era of politically weak Catholicism: the Early Church produced great saints and Fathers of the faith. A politically powerful Church struggles to produce saints of this stature. Who, between 1000 A.D. and the Reformation martyrs, can match St. Athanasius in valour?

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
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and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
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