St Athanasius of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor – Feast Day – May 2

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St Athanasius of Alexandria also had these titles; the Great, the Confessor, or the Apostolic.

He was a Christian theologian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church born between 296 AD and 298 AD in Alexandria Egypt, and died on May 2 373 in the same place.

We celebrate his feast day on May 2 every year in the Catholic Church.

St Athanasius is the Patron Saint of

  • Theologians
  • Faithful Orthodox Christians
  • Faithful Roman Catholic Christians
St Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor Biography
St Athanasius of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor - Feast Day - May 2
St Athanasius of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor – Feast Day – May 2
Date of Birth Between 296 AD and 298 AD
Place of Birth Alexandria Egypt
Profession Christian theologian and Bishop of Alexandria
Place of Work Alexandria Egypt
Date of Death May 2 373 AD
Place of Death Alexandria Egypt
Feast Day May 2
Canonization Pre-Congregation
Patron Saint of
  • Theologians
  • Faithful Orthodox Christians
  • Faithful Roman Catholic Christians

St Athanasius Life History

St. Athanasius of Alexandria was born in Alexandria between 293 AD and 298 AD to a Christian family. Although his parents were affluent enough to provide him with a good secular education, they were not part of the Egyptian nobility. He had a mastery of both Greek and Coptic.

In a story recounted by the monk Tyrannius Rufinus, Bishop Alexander observed boys playing on the seashore beneath his window, mimicking the Christian baptism ritual.

Intrigued, he called for the children and discovered that one of them, Athanasius, had played the role of bishop.

The bishop questioned Athanasius and determined that the baptisms were legitimate, as the proper words were spoken and water was administered.

However, he advised Athanasius not to continue with such practices since those who were baptized were not properly instructed in the faith. Instead, he invited Athanasius and his friends to consider preparing for a career in the church.

In 319, Bishop Alexander (who was also known as Patriarch Alexander) appointed Athanasius as a deacon. Six years later, in 325, Athanasius attended the First Council of Nicaea as Alexander’s secretary.

By that time, he had already gained recognition as a theologian and ascetic. When Alexander became too old to serve, Athanasius was seen as the natural successor to the position of Patriarch of Alexandria, even though followers of Arius and Meletius of Lycopolis opposed him.

During the Council of Nicaea, the term “consubstantial” was chosen, and a statement of faith containing it was created.

From that moment until the conclusion of the Arian debates, the word “consubstantial” was consistently used to determine what was considered orthodox. The document outlining this statement of faith is recognized as the Nicene Creed.

Around 319 AD, during Athanasius’ time as a deacon, a presbyter by the name of Arius had a direct disagreement with Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria.

It seems that Arius accused Alexander of teaching misguided or heretical doctrines. Arius’ teachings became known as Arianism and were backed by a prominent bishop named Eusebius of Nicomedia.

After being excommunicated by Alexander, Arius gained the support of many bishops who shared his views.

As Patriarch Alexander lay on his deathbed, he summoned Athanasius, who became frightened and ran away because he thought he might be pressured into becoming the new bishop.

When the bishops of the church gathered to choose their next patriarch, the entire Catholic population surrounded the church, raised their hands to the sky, and exclaimed, “We want Athanasius!” Since the bishops had no better candidate, Athanasius was elected when he was about thirty years of age.

For more than 17 years, Patriarch Athanasius was exiled five times by four distinct Roman Emperors. Additionally, he had to flee Alexandria on approximately six other occasions to avoid people who wanted to harm him.

During his early years as bishop, Athanasius traveled to the churches throughout his region, which at that time encompassed Egypt and Libya.

He also formed connections with the hermits and monks living in the desert, including Pachomius, which proved to be quite beneficial to him in the future.

Throughout his 48-year episcopate, Athanasius’s story is intertwined with the history of his involvement in the disputes with the Arians and the hardships he had to endure to defend the Nicene faith.

It is worth noting that, in 328 AD, when Arius was permitted to come back from his exile, Athanasius refused to revoke the ex-communication ruling against him.

Athanasius’ first exile occurred due to the failure of Meletius of Lycopolis and his followers to comply with the decisions made at the First Council of Nicaea.

At this council, Arius was also condemned. Athanasius was later accused of mistreating Arians and Meletians, and he was called upon to respond to these charges at the First Synod of Tyre in 335 AD.

There, Eusebius of Nicomedia and other supporters of Arius removed Athanasius from his position. On November 6th, both sides of the dispute met with Emperor Constantine I in Constantinople, and the Arians alleged that Athanasius was trying to cut off essential Egyptian grain supplies to Constantinople.

He was found guilty and exiled to Augusta Treverorum in Gaul (now Trier in Germany). When Athanasius arrived in exile in 336 AD, Maximin of Trier welcomed him with respect, not as a disgraced person, and he stayed with him for two years.

Athanasius was able to return to Alexandria after the death of Emperor Constantine in 337 AD, but his exile was reinstated by Constantine’s son Constantius in 338 AD.

Athanasius fled to Rome and found refuge under the protection of Constans, Constantius’s brother and the emperor in the West.

While Athanasius was in Rome, an Arian bishop named Gregory was appointed to the see of Alexandria.

Following a ten-year period of peace and prosperity, Athanasius gathered records about his exiles and returns to create the Apology Against the Arians.

However, after Constans passed away in 350 AD, Constantius became the sole emperor and resumed his pro-Arian stance.

Athanasius faced political charges again, was banished again, and during a vigil service in 356 AD, an attempt was made to arrest him. This time, he fled to Upper Egypt where he found protection in monasteries or friendly homes.

While in exile, Athanasius completed Four Orations Against the Arians and defended his actions in the Apology to Constantius and Apology for His Flight.

Constantius’ persistence and reports of persecution under the new Arian bishop George led Athanasius to portray him as a precursor of Antichrist in the History of the Arians, which was a more violent work.

After Constantius’s death and the murder of George in 361, Athanasius returned to his see with great success.

He called for unity among those who shared the same faith but differed in their terminology during the Synod of Alexandria in 362 AD.

This paved the way for the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, which emphasized distinctions within the Godhead more than Athanasius typically had.

However, the new emperor Julian the Apostate demanded that Athanasius leave Alexandria, and he went into exile in Upper Egypt again. He remained there until Julian’s death in 363 AD.

Valens, who supported Arianism, ordered Athanasius to be exiled again in 365 AD. However, instead of leaving the area, the bishop decided to relocate to the outskirts of Alexandria for a short period.

Eventually, the local authorities convinced Valens to reconsider his decision, and Athanasius was able to return to his post.

Following his final return to Alexandria from exile, Athanasius dedicated his remaining years to rebuilding and restoring the damage caused by the earlier periods of conflict, dissent, and exile.

He resumed his writing and preaching with no interruptions and consistently reaffirmed the Nicaean view of the Incarnation.

On 2 May 373, he appointed Peter II, one of his presbyters, as his successor, and died calmly and peacefully in his own bed, with his clergy and loyal followers at his side.

Athanasius was originally laid to rest in Alexandria, but later his body was moved to the Chiesa di San Zaccaria in Venice, Italy.

During a visit by Pope Shenouda III to Rome in May 1973, Pope Paul VI gave the Coptic Patriarch a part of Athanasius’s remains, which was brought back to Egypt and currently kept at the new Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo.

However, most of Athanasius’s body still remains in the Venetian church.

St. Athanasius authored various works including apologetics such as that Against the Heathen, The Incarnation of the Word of God, The Letters (to Sarapion) which discussed the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and The Life of St. Antony.

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About Laban Thua Gachie 10762 Articles
The founder of Catholicreadings.org is Laban Thua Gachie. I am a Commissioned Lector, a commissioned Liturgy Minister, and a Commissioned member of the Catholic Men Association. We at Catholic Daily Readings, operate the catholicreadings.org, a Catholic Church-related website and we pride ourself in providing you, on a daily basis the following; 1. Catholic Daily Mass Readings 2. Reflections on those Daily Readings 3. Daily prayers 4. Bible Verse of the Day 5. Saint of the Day