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Saint Athanasius - The Father of Orthodoxy
by F.A. [Frances Alice] Forbes
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The Arians were behaving in their usual way—"always slippery, always shuffling," as one who knew them asserted.* At one council, having been accused of denying the Divinity of Christ, they had said: "Let anyone who says that Jesus Christ is a creature like unto other creatures be anathema" (accursed). At another which followed it closely—for the Arians and Constantius held a council every few months to gain their ends—they openly stated that Jesus Christ was not God, but a creature. Someone present who had been at the previous council reminded them of the statement they had made on that occasion. "We never meant that Jesus Christ was not a creature," they retorted, "only that he was a different kind of creature from the others!"

* The Arians, seeing that their original doctrines were offensive to all Catholic consciences, had now taken up the position known as "Semi-Arian." The Son was like the Father, they declared, though not of one substance with Him.

In the meantime, as things had quieted down a little in Alexandria, George of Cappadocia resolved to return and see if he could not make a little more money. He was received in an ominous silence, for he was held in abhorrence almost as much by the pagans as by the Christians. A few days later the news reached the city that Constantius was dead and that his nephew Julian had succeeded him as Emperor.

The moment of reckoning had come. George was seized by the pagan population and literally torn to pieces; his body was burned and its ashes scattered to the winds. Thus perished Constantius' "prelate above all praise," and it was not likely that the new Emperor would take much trouble to avenge his death.

Julian, known as "the Apostate," had been a pupil of Eusebius of Nicomedia and a model of youthful piety; but the Christianity of which Eusebius was a living example had struck but shallow roots. Later he went to Athens, where St. Basil and St. Gregory, the two great doctors of the Church, were his fellow students. "What a viper the Roman Empire is cherishing in its bosom!" exclaimed Gregory, no mean judge of character, "but God grant that I prove a false prophet."

No sooner was Julian crowned Emperor than he threw off the mask and openly declared himself a pagan. The temples of the gods were now rebuilt, sacrifices were offered, and wealth and honors were given to all the Christians who would apostatize.

An edict was published allowing the people to practice whatever religion they chose and recalling everybody who had been banished during the reign of Constantius. This seemed generous, but Julian did not believe in persecution; its results in the past had only been to strengthen the Christians in their faith. His methods were different. Privileges were granted to the pagans which were denied to the Church; the Galileans, as Julian called the Christians, were ridiculed, and paganism was praised as the only religion worthy of educated men.

The results were not what the Emperor had expected, and he complained bitterly that there were so few who responded to his efforts to enlighten them. As for the Church, she knew at least what she had to expect; an open enemy is less dangerous than a false friend.



Chapter 9 A SHORT-LIVED PEACE

ATHANASIUS was quick to take advantage of the decree which allowed the banished Bishops to return to their sees. On the way to Alexandria he stopped to talk over matters with other noble exiles who, like himself, had suffered for the Truth. Many of the faithful had been compelled by force or induced by threats or persuasion to accept the creed of the Arians; what was to be done in order that these weak ones might be brought back to the Faith?

Athanasius and those who with him had been ready to give their lives for the Truth being, like all brave and noble men, gentle and compassionate, they resolved to make it as easy as possible. They announced that absolution would be given freely to all who accepted the Creed of Nicea. Those who had fallen away were mostly good men and true believers who had yielded in a moment of weakness or of fear, or who had been deceived by the protestations of the Arians. They had been thoroughly miserable, but now the proclamation of Athanasius set them free from what had seemed like a bad dream. The Pope himself expressed his approval of Athanasius' forbearance, and the Bishops of the West hastened to follow his example.

In other places, Antioch and Constantinople especially, Arianism had taken deeper root. These were the strongholds of heresy, where the spirit of Eusebius of Nicomedia still prevailed. Men of his stamp were not likely to be ready to enter into communion with that Athanasius whom they had looked upon for years as their mortal enemy, nor was it to be expected that they would allow the true Faith to prevail without a struggle. It was thanks to Athanasius and his untiring efforts that Egypt and Alexandria were still, in the main, true to the Catholic Church.

We can imagine the joy with which the Alexandrians received their exiled Patriarch after his six years' absence. They had been worthy of their Bishop, for they too had made a brave fight for the Faith. Blood had been shed for Christ, and much had been suffered by the Catholics; they could face their Patriarch without shame. Many pagans who had watched the behavior of the Christians under persecution now came forward and asked to join the Church, among them some Greek ladies of noble family whom Athanasius himself instructed and baptized.

News of this reached the ears of the Emperor Julian, who was already furious at the influence that this Christian Bishop of Alexandria was exercising throughout the whole empire. He had hoped that Athanasius' return from exile would have been a cause for division among the people, instead of which it had been the signal for everyone to make peace with his neighbor. Never, he foresaw, as long as the voice of this undaunted champion of the Catholic Church was ringing in the ears of his subjects, would paganism triumph.

There were others who saw the matter in the same light. These were the magicians, diviners, fortune-tellers, all the servants of idolatry who had risen up at Julian's bidding and were swarming in Alexandria as everywhere else. The presence of Athanasius in their midst, they complained to the Emperor, was the ruin of their trade. Even their charms would not work as long as he was near them. There would soon not be a pagan left in the city if he were allowed to remain.

The Patriarch had been barely eight months in Alexandria when the Governor of Egypt received a message from his royal master. "Nothing that I could hear of would give me greater pleasure," he wrote, "than the news that you have driven that miscreant out of the country."

Soon after, the Alexandrians themselves were addressed. "We have allowed the Galileans," wrote Julian, "to return to their country, but not to their churches. Nevertheless, we hear that Athanasius, with his accustomed boldness, has replaced himself on what they call his 'episcopal throne.' We therefore order him to leave the town at once or take the consequences."

The Governor of Egypt, who knew the affection of the Alexandrians for their Patriarch, dared not take any steps against him; the citizens in the meantime had addressed a letter to the Emperor, begging him to reconsider the matter and to leave Athanasius in his see. This only served to anger Julian the more.

"I am painfully surprised that you Alexandrians," he wrote, "who have the great god Serapis and Isis his Queen for your patrons, should ask permission to keep such a man in your midst. I can only hope that those of the citizens who are wiser have not been consulted and that this is the action of a few. I blush to think that any of you could call himself a Galilean. I order Athanasius to leave not only Alexandria, but Egypt."

The Governor also received a curt message.

"If the enemy of the gods, Athanasius, remains in Egypt after the kalends of December," it ran, "you and your troops shall pay a hundred pounds in gold. The gods are despised and I am insulted."

Julian, however, had not much confidence in the Governor, or in the Alexandrians either. In order to make things doubly sure, messengers of his own were sent to Alexandria with orders to put the Patriarch to death.

The people were inconsolable, but Athanasius comforted them. "This time it is only a passing cloud," he said; "it will soon be over." Then, recommending his flock to the most trusted of his clergy, he left the city, an exile once more. It was not a moment too soon. Scarcely had he vanished when the messengers of Julian arrived.

"Where is Athanasius?" they asked; but a grim silence was the only answer.

The Patriarch, in the meantime, had reached the Nile; on the banks of the river a boat was waiting; he entered it, and they rowed swiftly upstream toward the Thebaid.

It was a dangerous moment, but the faithful were watching. A message was brought to the fugitives that soldiers of the Emperor who had orders to seize and kill the Saint had learned his whereabouts and had sworn to overtake him. They implored him to land and take refuge in the desert.

"No," said Athanasius; "turn the boat's head and row toward Alexandria." They thought he was mad, but dared not disobey his orders.

"He who is for us is greater than he who is against us," he said, smiling at their terrified faces. Presently the Imperial boat came in sight, rowing hard in pursuit of the fugitive.

"Have you seen Athanasius? Is he far off?" they shouted, as the little boat drew near.

"He is quite close," answered the Patriarch calmly; "press on."

The crew bent to their oars, the skiff was soon out of sight, but needless to say they did not find their prey. As for Athanasius, he continued his journey to Alexandria, where he landed once more, remaining there for a few days in hiding before he set out for the deserts of the Thebaid.

"The enemy of the gods" had been gotten rid of—for a time, at least, but Julian had still to wait for the triumph of paganism. The gods themselves seemed to be against him. Never had a year been so unlucky as that which followed the banishment of Athanasius. There were earthquakes everywhere; Nicea and Nicomedia were reduced to ruins and Constantinople severely damaged. An extraordinary tidal wave swept over the lower part of the city of Alexandria, leaving shells and seaweed on the roofs of the houses. Famine and plague followed, and it was remarked that the famine seemed to dog the steps of the Emperor wherever he went. People dreaded his arrival in their city; at Antioch, where he stayed for a considerable time, the sufferings were terrible. Julian ordered sacrifices to the gods. So many white oxen were slain that it was said that soon there would be none left in the empire; but still things did not improve.

Julian had begun by being tolerant, but disappointment was making him savage. It was all the fault of the Galileans, he declared. He ordered the Christian soldiers in his army to tear the Cross from Constantine's sacred standard, and he put them to death when they refused. Many Christian churches were closed, and the sacred vessels of the altar seized and profaned. Those who dared resist were imprisoned or slain. Wine that had been offered to the gods was thrown into the public wells and fountains, and all the food that was sold in the markets was defiled in the same way. Two of his officers who complained of this profanation were put to death—not for their religion, Julian hastened to explain, but for their insolence.

The Emperor posed as a philosopher. His long, dirty nails and ragged, uncombed hair and beard were intended to impress his subjects with the wisdom of a man so absorbed in learning that he was above such things as cleanliness. Unfortunately, they had just the opposite effect, and the people made fun of him. They laughed at his sacrifices, where he was often to be seen tearing open with his own hands the bleeding victim to see if he could read inside the signs of success or failure. They laughed at his writings in praise of the gods, where he represented himself as receiving compliments from them all. They laughed at his short stature, at his narrow shoulders and at the huge steps he took in walking, as if, they said, he had been the near relation of one of Homer's giants.

Julian revenged himself upon them in his writings satires in which Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, was especially held up to ridicule. The Galileans were at the bottom of this as of all other contradictions, he declared, and continued to vent his spleen upon the Christians. It was the last stand of ancient paganism before it died out forever.



Chapter 10 THE LAST EXILE

IT was not safe for Athanasius to remain long in the neighborhood of Alexandria, for the pagans were now having it all their own way. Two of the bravest and most faithful of his clergy had been seized and exiled, and Julian's troops were searching everywhere for the Patriarch. Athanasius made his way to the Thebaid, where he was received with all the old enthusiasm. Under cover of the night, he came up the river to Hermopolis, intending to stay there for some time to preach to the people. The banks of the river were crowded with bishops, monks and clergy who had come out to welcome their Father.

Athanasius landed and, mounted on an ass led by Theodore, Abbot of Tabenna, proceeded to the town escorted by a vast throng of people carrying torches and singing hymns of praise. Here he dismounted, and the monks asked him for his blessing.

"Blessed indeed and worthy of all praise are these men who carry always the cross of the Lord," he replied.

After having stayed for some time at Hermopolis, he went with the Abbot Theodore to his monastery of Tabenna, where he was already beloved by all. He took the keenest interest in everything that related to the religious life, even to the work of the humblest brother. "It is these men, devoted to humility and obedience," he would often say, "who are our fathers, rather than we theirs."

Round about him lay the great cities of ancient Egypt—"Thebes of the Hundred Gates" and Memphis, the old capital of the kingdom—cities of the dead whose glories had already passed away. The glory that these men had come to seek in their humble monasteries was one which is eternal. The things of this world were small and fleeting to those who lived in the thought of eternity.

It was a country full of holy memories. On the banks of that Nile that flowed so tranquilly among the ancient cities of Egypt, Moses himself had stood lifting hands of prayer for the deliverance of his people. Later, the Salvation of the world Himself had come to dwell for a time beside it, sowing the seeds that were now bringing forth so great a harvest.

It was midsummer, and Athanasius was at Arsinoe when the news came that the enemy was on his track once more. The Abbot Theodore, who was visiting the Patriarch, persuaded him to embark in his covered boat and to return with him to Tabenna. Tide and wind were against them; the monks had to land and tow the boat; progress was slow, and the soldiers of Julian were not far off. Athanasius was absorbed in prayer, preparing for the martyr's death that, this time at least, seemed very near.

"Fear not," said one of the monks called Ammon, "for God is our protection."

"I have no fear," answered Athanasius; "for many long years I have suffered persecution, and never has it disturbed the peace of my soul. It is a joy to suffer, and the greatest of all joys is to give one's life for Christ."

There was a silence during which all gave themselves to prayer. As the Abbot Theodore besought God to save their Patriarch, it was suddenly made known to him by a divine revelation that at that very moment the Emperor Julian had met his death in battle against the Persians, and that he had been succeeded by Jovian, a Christian and a Catholic. At once he told the good news to Athanasius, advising him to go without delay to the new Emperor and ask to be restored to his see.

In the meantime they had arrived in safety at Tabenna, where the monks had assembled with joy on hearing of Athanasius' approach. Great was their sorrow when they learned that he had only come to bid them farewell. They gathered around him weeping, begging that he would remember them in his prayers. "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem," cried Athanasius in the words of the Psalmist, "let my right hand be forgotten." The Emperor Jovian had been an officer in the Roman Army, where his cheerful good nature had so endeared him to the soldiers that he was proclaimed Emperor immediately on Julian's death. There was no need to plead for justice with such a man; scarcely had Athanasius arrived in Alexandria when he received a cordial letter from the Emperor himself.

"Jovian—to Athanasius, the faithful servant of God," it ran. "As we are full of admiration for the holiness of your life and your zeal in the service of Christ our Saviour, we take you from this day forth under our royal protection. We are aware of the courage which makes you count as nothing the heaviest labors, the greatest dangers, the sufferings of persecution and the fear of death. You have fought faithfully for the Truth and edified the whole Christian world, which looks to you as a model of every virtue. It is therefore our desire that you should return to your See and teach the doctrine of salvation. Come back to your people, feed the flock of Christ and pray for our person, for it is through your prayers that we hope for the blessing of God."

Another letter followed shortly afterward from the Emperor, asking Athanasius to tell him plainly what was the true faith of the Catholic Church and inviting him to visit him at Antioch.

The faith of Nicea was alone to be believed and held, replied the Patriarch; it was that of the whole Catholic world, with the exception of a few men who still held the doctrines of Arius. Nevertheless, he thought it prudent to accept the Emperor's invitation and set out shortly afterward for Antioch. It was well that he did so, for the Arians were already on the spot. They had brought with them a man called Lucius in the hope that they would be able to induce Jovian to name him Patriarch of Alexandria in place of Athanasius.

"We are Alexandrians," they declared, "and we beseech your Majesty to give us a Bishop."

"I have already ordered Athanasius to return to his See," was the reply.

"We have proofs against him," they said; "he was condemned and banished by Constantine and Constantius of blessed memory."

"All that was ten or twenty years ago," answered the Emperor; "it is too late to rake it up again now. Besides, I know all about it by whom he was accused and how he was banished. You need say no more."

The Arians persisted. "Give us whomever you like as Patriarch," they said, "as long as it is not Athanasius. No one in the town will hold communion with him."

"I have heard a very different story," said Jovian; "his teaching is greatly appreciated."

"His teaching is well enough," they retorted, "but his heart is full of malice."

"For his heart he must answer to God, who alone knows what is in it," replied the Emperor; "it is enough for me if his teaching is good."

The Arians at last lost patience. "He calls us heretics!" they exclaimed indignantly.

"That is his duty and the duty of all those who guard the flock of Christ" was the only reply they got.

The Emperor received Athanasius with the deepest respect and listened eagerly to all he had to say on the subject of the true Faith.

After a short stay in Antioch, the Patriarch returned to Alexandria, where he related to the people the success of his enterprise and spoke much in praise of the new Emperor. Their joy was not destined to be lasting. Jovian had been but a few months on the throne when he died suddenly on his way from Antioch to Constantinople. He was succeeded by Valentinian, who, unfortunately for the peace of the Church, chose his brother Valens to help him in the government, taking the West for his own share of the Empire and leaving the East to his brother.

Valens, who was both weak and cruel, had an Arian wife and declared at once in favor of the Arians. The East was once more to be the scene of strife and persecution. The Emperor, who had not yet been baptized, received the Sacrament at the hands of Eudoxius, the Arian Bishop of Constantinople, a worthy successor of Eusebius, who, in the middle of the ceremony, made Valens take an oath that he would remain faithful to the Arians and pursue the Catholics with every rigor.

The Emperor thus won over, the Arians began to persecute and slander those who were faithful to the Church; several were even put to death. The Catholics, in desperation, resolved at last to send an embassy to Valens to ask for justice, eighty priests and clerics being chosen to make the petition.

The Emperor, who pretended to listen patiently to their complaints, had given secret orders to Modestus, the Prefect of the Pretorian Guard, to put them all to death. Modestus was as cruel as his master; but even in Nicomedia, where Arius and Eusebius had been so active in preaching heresy, the bulk of the people remained true to the Faith of Nicea. Such a wholesale slaughter of innocent ecclesiastics would be almost certain to cause a rising; the thing must be done secretly.

Summoning the doomed men to appear before him, Modestus informed them that the Emperor had sentenced them to banishment. Glad to suffer something for the Faith, they received the news with joy and were promptly embarked on a ship which was supposedly to carry them to the country of their exile. The crew, however, had received their orders from Modestus. They set the ship on fire and escaped in the only boat, leaving the eighty martyrs to perish in the flames. After this, it was evidently useless to appeal to Valens for justice.

The Governors of the different provinces soon received orders to drive out all the Bishops banished by Constantius who had returned during the reign of Julian. The people of Alexandria, however, protested that Athanasius had not returned in the reign of Julian but had been personally recalled by Jovian. The Governor of Egypt dared not insist, for the citizens had gathered in force, determined to defend their Bishop; but he warned the Emperor of the Catholic spirit of the Alexandrians.

A few days later, Athanasius left the city to stay for a short time in a country house in the neighborhood. It was a providential thing that he did so. That very night the Governor, with a body of armed troops, broke into the church where the Patriarch was usually to be found at prayer. They searched everywhere and were much astonished to find that their prey had escaped them. Athanasius, in the meantime, warned by friends, had concealed himself in his father's tomb, a fairly large vault, where a man might remain for some time in hiding. The secret was well kept by the faithful, who brought food to the Patriarch during the night and kept him informed of all that was passing in the city. For four long months he remained in concealment: at the end of which time the Governor, fearing an outbreak among the people—for the whole of Egypt was in a ferment—persuaded Valens to let him return in peace to his see.



Chapter 11 THE TRUCE OF GOD

ATHANASIUS was back once more in the midst of his people. This time they were determined to keep him at any cost, as they gave the Arians to understand a year later when Lucius, the man who had been recommended to Jovian as a suitable Patriarch, ventured to make his appearance in Alexandria. No sooner did the people hear of his arrival than they surrounded the house where he was lodging, and it would have gone ill with him had not the Governor, with an armed troop, rescued him and hurried him out of Egypt. The roar against him that arose from the multitude as he was escorted by a strong guard out of the city completely cured him of any desire to return, and Athanasius was left in peace for the remaining years of his life.

He had grown old, and his strength was failing, but his soul, still young and vigorous, was undaunted and heroic as ever. The seven last years of his rule at Alexandria were no more years of rest than those which had gone before. He was one of the few bishops still living who had been present at the Council of Nicea. The whole Catholic world, West as well as East, venerated him as a Confessor of the Faith and looked to him for advice and help.

His pen was still busy. One of his first acts on his return to Alexandria was to write the life of St. Antony of the Desert, a last tribute of love and gratitude to the memory of his dear old friend. The book was eagerly read; we are told in the Confessions of St. Augustine how two young officers of the Imperial army, finding it on the table of a certain hermitage near Milan and reading it, were so inspired by enthusiasm for the religious life that they embraced it then and there.

In the other parts of the Eastern empire Valens and the Arians were still at work, and persecution was raging as of old. Many of the persecuted Bishops looked to Athanasius for the comfort and encouragement which they never sought in vain. He was always ready to forget the past and to make advances even to those who had been his bitterest enemies. Let them only accept the Creed of Nicea, he said, and he would admit them to communion.

There was a splendid chivalry about the man who could so generously hold out the right hand of fellowship to those who had never ceased to plot his ruin. The triumph of truth and the salvation of souls was his first, and indeed his only thought; everything else could be safely forgotten. Unfortunately, it was not so with the leaders of the Arians, and they refused to respond to his appeal. There were, however, among them good men who had been deceived into signing false creeds and who were beginning to see things in their true light. Many of these were received back into the Church and became true and firm friends of the Patriarch, who was always more ready to see the good in his fellowmen than the evil.

God had not given to everyone the clear instinct and the wide learning of an Athanasius. It was sometimes really difficult to see where the truth lay, for the Arians always tried to conceal their real doctrines from those who would have shrunk from them in horror. Their old trick of declaring that they believed all that the Church believed had led many astray. For misled men such as these, honest and true of heart, Athanasius had the greatest compassion and sympathy; they could always count on his help.

He carried the same large-mindedness into the affairs of his government. A certain Bishop of Libya having grown too old to carry out his duties to the people's satisfaction, they asked that he should be replaced by a younger and more capable prelate. But they had not the patience to wait till the affair was settled. Siderius, a young Christian officer stationed in the province, had won the hearts of all by his virtue and wisdom; he, and none other, they resolved, should take the place of the old man. A Bishop called Philo was accordingly persuaded to consecrate Siderius, a thing he had no right to do, as the Patriarch had not been consulted; neither were there two other Bishops present, as was required for a lawful consecration.

The news of this irregular proceeding came in due time to the ears of Athanasius, who sent someone to inquire into the matter. Finding, however, that Siderius was worthy in every way of the position in which he had been placed, he ratified the choice of the people and showed much favor to the young Bishop.

Yet a few years later he was ready to brave the Emperor's anger by excommunicating the Governor of Libya, a man whose cruelty and evil deeds had made him hateful to all. As the man was a native of Cappadocia, Athanasius wrote to St. Basil, the Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, to tell him what he had done. St. Basil replied that he had published the excommunication throughout his diocese and forbidden anyone to hold communion with the unhappy man. He asked Athanasius to pray for him and his people, for the Arians were hard at work among them.

Valens, in the meantime, had decided that the whole empire must be Arian and was trying to obtain his end by force. Arian prelates arrived in Caesarea, and Modestus, Prefect of the Pretorian Guard, informed the Archbishop that he must admit them to communion under pain of banishment. St. Basil, having resisted the order, was brought up before the Prefect's tribunal.

"Why will you not accept the Emperor's religion?" asked the latter. "Do you think it is a small thing to be of our communion?"

"Although you are Prefects and powerful people," answered the Archbishop, "you are not to be more respected than God."

"Do you not know that I have power to drive you into exile, even to take your life?" cried Modestus in a rage.

"I am God's pilgrim," was the answer; "all countries are the same to me, and death is a good gift when it brings me to Him for whom I live and work."

"No one has ever spoken so boldly to me before," replied Modestus, astonished.

"You have probably never met a Christian Bishop before," said Basil, "or he would certainly have answered you as I have done. In all other things we are meek and obedient, but when it is a question of God's worship, we look to Him alone. Threats are of no use, for suffering in His service is our greatest delight."

"Would you not like to have the Emperor in your congregation?" asked Modestus. "It would be so easy. You have only to strike that word 'consubstantial' out of your creed."

"Gladly would I see the Emperor in my church," said Basil; "it is a great thing to save a soul; but as for changing my creed, I would not alter a letter for the whole world."

The persecution continued, and Basil addressed himself once more to Athanasius, asking for prayers and guidance. "We are persuaded," he wrote, "that your leadership is our sole remaining comfort in our distress. By the power of our prayers, by the wisdom of your counsels, you are able to carry us through this fearful storm, as all are sure who have in any way made trial of your goodness. Wherefore cease not to pray for our souls and to stir us up by letters; if you only knew how these benefit us, you would never let pass an opportunity of writing. If it were given to me, through your prayers, once to see you, to profit by your gifts and to add to the history of my life a meeting with such a great and apostolic soul, surely I should consider that the loving mercy of God has given me a compensation for all the ills with which my life has been afflicted."

In 366 Pope Liberius died and was succeeded by Pope St. Damasus, a man of strong character and holy life. Two years later, in a council of the Church, it was decreed that no Bishop should be consecrated unless he held the Creed of Nicea. Athanasius was overwhelmed with joy on hearing this decision. The triumph of the cause for which he had fought so valiantly was now assured.

Athanasius' life was drawing to an end. Five years later, after having governed his diocese for forty-eight years—years of labor, endurance and suffering—he passed peacefully into the presence of that Lord for whose sake he had counted all his tribulations as joy.



From his earliest youth Athanasius had stood forth as the champion of Truth and defender of the Faith—a gallant warrior who had not laid down his arms until the day of his death. Where a weaker man would have lost courage, he had stood firm; suffering had only served to temper his spirit, as steel is tempered by the fire. Among men who were capable of every compromise he had remained loyal and true, and few have been more loved or hated than he. To his own people he was not only their Bishop, but a Saint, an ascetic, a martyr in all but deed; above all, he was an intensely lovable personality, whose very greatness of soul only made him more compassionate. To the outside world he was a guiding light, a beacon pointing straight to God and Heaven. He was a living example of the truth that a man may be large-minded and yet strong; that he may hate error, yet love the erring—stand like a rock against heresy, yet be full of compassion for heretics.

Scarcely was Athanasius dead when he was honored as a Saint. Six years after his death, St. Gregory Nazianzen speaks of him in one breath with the patriarchs, prophets and martyrs who had fought for the Faith and won the crown of glory. His influence is with us to this day, his memory lingers in the words of that Nicene Creed which was his war cry; for it is largely owing to his valor that we possess it still. And through all his works breathes the same spirit—the spirit that nerved him to fight and suffer—an intense love and devotion to Him who was the Lord and Master of his life—Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.

THE END

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