Two thousand years of Christian history has given us a legacy of the church in all its triumphs and tragedies. One of my goals as an author is to introduce Christians to historical figures who made courageous stands during challenging times and whose voices remain critical for us today.

St. Athanasius (c. 296–373) was born and educated in the ancient city of Alexandria. Coming from a Christian family, he would go on to an exceptional career and become the greatest theologian of his time. He was an articulate, tenacious, and untiring defender of Nicene orthodoxy. He battled what was perhaps the greatest heresy in church history and argued for the truth of such essential doctrines as the incarnation and the Trinity.

Yet while Athanasius is one of the most famous theologians in all of church history, there are three things you may not know about him.1 I hope this brief sketch on Athanasius will inspire you in your service and devotion to Christ.

1. He battled the Arian heresy for some fifty years.

Athanasius attended the pivotal Council of Nicea in 325 when the historic Christian church condemned the influential heresy known as Arianism—the view that Jesus was the first and highest creature of God but not fully equal to God. This view is similar to the one advocated by present-day Jehovah’s Witnesses. Despite conciliar condemnation, Arianism did not disappear but remained popular in some parts of Christendom. Athanasius later became bishop of Alexandria, a post he held for 46 years, though he was exiled five times for his outspoken opposition to the vexing Arian heresy that continued to gain influence. Athanasius died not knowing whether his efforts had been effective enough to defeat Arianism. They had, for later church councils reaffirmed Arianism as a heresy.

2. He wrote a book that influenced St. Augustine’s conversion.

Athanasius was asked to write a biography about the great spiritual and monastic leader St. Antony (c. 251–356). Written in Greek around AD 360, The Life of Antony profiles St. Antony’s life of spiritual warfare in which he battles the devil during his sojourn in the Libyan desert. Athanasius’s account of Antony’s extraordinary life of spiritual discipline caused many people in history to consider a monastic vocation. When the work was translated into Latin it even influenced St. Augustine, who mentions Antony in his classic work, Confessions.2

3. He may be the most honored theologian in church history.

All three branches of Christendom revere Athanasius. The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic branches have granted him sainthood status. Protestants have also praised Athanasius as a great defender of the deity of Christ. As the bearer of the honorific title of “father of orthodoxy,” Athanasius may be a rare universal voice within all of Christendom.

Thus, we see three admirable things about Athanasius: (1) he was steadfast and determined to promote the truth at a time when the church was vulnerable to error, (2) he provided inspiration and an example that would influence one of the shapers of Western civilization, and (3) he was a force for unity that all Christians recognize.

Athanasius was a heroic figure who wouldn’t back down when it came to the essentials of the Christian faith. His example can inspire all of us. So how about taking up his book On the Incarnation? You’ll be reading a theological masterwork of historic Christendom.

Reflections: Your Turn

Which of the three points about Athanasius did you find most interesting? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

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1. For more about Athanasius and his accomplishments as a Christian thinker and writer, see Kenneth Richard Samples, Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2019), chapter 2.

2. St. Augustine mentions Athanasius’s book about St. Antony in his own work Confessions, Book VIII, part 6.

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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