Today is the feast of St. Athanasius, a fourth-century bishop and doctor of the Church. His titles aptly include “Father of Orthodoxy” and “Pillar of the Church.” He defended the faith of the Church against the Arian heresy, which held that Christ was created and therefore not divine.
Our Lord’s divinity was upheld at the ecumenical council of Nicea in 325 A.D.–a council attended by the young Athanasius–but he spent the next 50 years defending the Council’s teaching at great personal cost, including exiles and persecution.
For the Office of Readings for this date, we are given a beautiful excerpt from a discourse by St. Athanasius on the Incarnation of the Word. Here is part of that selection:
The Word of God, incorporeal, incorruptible and immaterial, entered our world. Yet it was not as if he had been remote from it up to that time. For there is no part of the world that was ever without his presence; together with his Father, he continually filled all things and places.
Out of his loving kindness for us he came to us, and we see this in the way he revealed himself openly to us. Taking pity on mankind’s weakness, and moved by our corruption, he could not stand aside and see death have the mastery over us; he did not want creation to perish and his Father’s work in fashioning man to be in vain. He therefore took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen.
If he had wanted simply to be seen, he could indeed have taken another, and nobler, body. Instead, he took our body in its reality.
Within the Virgin he built himself a temple, that is, a body; he made it his own instrument in which to dwell and to reveal himself. In this way he received from mankind a body like our own, and, since all were subject to the corruption of death, he delivered this body over to death for all, and with supreme love offered it to the Father. He did so to destroy the law of corruption passed against all men, since all died in him. The law, which had spent its force on the body of the Lord, could no longer have any power over his fellowmen. Moreover, this was the way in which the Word was to restore mankind to immortality, after it had fallen into corruption, and summon it back from death to life. He utterly destroyed the power death had against mankind–as fire consumes chaff–by means of the body he had taken and the grace of the resurrection. . . .
You raised up Saint Athanasius
to be an outstanding defender
of the truth of Christ’s divinity.
By his teaching and protection
may we grow in Your knowledge and love.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.