Sub-Saharan Africa, 02 May, 2021 / 10:15 am (ACI Africa).
Catholics honor St. Athanasius on May 2. The fourth century bishop is known as “the father of orthodoxy” for his absolute dedication to the doctrine of Christ's divinity.
St. Athanasius was born to Christian parents living in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in 296. His parents took great care to have their son educated, and his talents came to the attention of a local priest who was later canonized as St. Alexander of Alexandria. The priest and future saint tutored Athanasius in theology, and eventually appointed him as an assistant.
Around the age of 19, Athanasius spent a formative period in the Egyptian desert as a disciple of St. Anthony in his monastic community. Returning to Alexandria, he was ordained a deacon in 319, and resumed his assistance to Alexander who had become a bishop. The Catholic Church, newly recognized by the Roman Empire, was already encountering a new series of dangers from within.
The most serious threat to the fourth-century Church came from a priest named Arius, who taught that Jesus could not have existed eternally as God prior to his historical incarnation as a man. According to Arius, Jesus was the highest of created beings, and could be considered “divine” only by analogy. Arians professed a belief in Jesus' “divinity,” but meant only that he was God's greatest creature.
Opponents of Arianism brought forth numerous scriptures which taught Christ's eternal pre-existence and his identity as God. Nonetheless, many Greek-speaking Christians found it intellectually easier to believe in Jesus as a created demi-god, than to accept the mystery of a Father-Son relationship within the Godhead. By 325, the controversy was dividing the Church and unsettling the Roman Empire.