Reflections - Athanasius

Posted by Jason Cook on February 15, 2023

Reflections: Athanasius

If you were to make a Hall of Fame for the most influential men and women to the Christian faith, who would make the cut? It’s an uncouth exercise, I admit, but indulge me for a moment. If we were to just consider the Top 10 (not including Jesus, because, well…he’s JESUS) who would be on it. Some may include Lottie Moon, John Wesley, William Seymour, or Perpetua. Others might say Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, or Harriet Tubman. All of these would be worthy candidates indeed! For me, one of the lesser known men who God is still using 1700 years after his death is near the top of that list. He’s an African church father who might be the “Superman” of orthodox Christianity.

He is Athanasius of Alexandria.

If you’ve ever wondered how it was determined that the 27 books of the New Testament were to be canonized (recognized as God’s enduring word) you can look at Athanasius. If you’ve ever recited or sung the Apostle’s Creed you have Athanasius to thank. If you’ve ever been encouraged by John Calvin, John Wesley, or the writings and sermon of Charles Spurgeon, you have Athanasius to thank. To put it plainly, there may only be one other person in human history with a more lasting impact on the enduring witness of Christian orthodoxy than Athanasius.

His primary fight was against Arianism — the idea that Jesus was born at a particular point in time. The Libyan Bishop Arius concluded that there was a time that the son of God was not — and it took the region by storm. Athanasius dedicated his life to tearing this heresy down and revealing the enduring truth that Jesus was eternally begotten (chosen and appointed as son) — neither made nor born. Jesus has always been, as the scriptures teach.

The ultimate showdown came at the council of Nice in 325 AD. When Constantine the Great, emperor at the time, heard of the schism in the church he convened some 300 bishops to settle the matter. When the dust settled, Arius was declared a heretic, thrown out of the church, and the doctrine was settled. To this day, his seminal work On The Incarnation is still studied and seen as a masterclass of Christology (the study of the person and work of Jesus Christ).

If you have been saved by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, you have Athanasius to thank for the language to describe that miraculous transformation. One of my favorite quotes from his is, “We become by grace what God is by nature”. It is by and through grace alone that we are transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus. It is by grace that we begin to slough off our “creatureliness” and clothe ourselves in the divine — the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Black History Month is full of men and women to venerate and celebrate. But for Christians, we owe much gratitude to “The Black Dwarf” of Africa for the faith that we enjoy and follow today.


Jim Munsell Feb 15, 2023

I have not read many blogs. They just conjure up a picture of a long, wordy exposition of too much information. I did not, to my delight find that with this blog (probably means I'll be back each week). I loved the concise but educating introduction to Athanasius, and loved the quote, “We become by grace what God is by nature”. Great blog, I may have missed a lot over my years. Thank you. Jim M

Stephanie Loomis Feb 16, 2023

Keep writing

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