Contra mundum

Athanasius the Apostolic (as he has been to the Copts of Alexandria, since the IVth century, when he was intermittently the Coptic pope) took on the Arians, including Arius, the Egyptian heretic, directly. It was not merely an Egyptian affair — although Egypt was in the middle of Christendom in those days. For Athanasius also fought with Roman emperors, from Constantine to Valens, in defence of Christianity, plain and catholic. Intermittently, he was removed from office and kicked out of Alexander’s town, but there was no shutting him up. Attempts to kill him always failed.

We (Dogans) remember him today (literally) because the creed he advanced still has meaning. Catholic Christianity is the same as Nicene Christianity, sixteen-and-a-half centuries later. The Trinity, and the divine identity of Jesus, were the truths that Athanasius contrived to make clear. He maintained these orthodoxies, contra mundum, and is one of our most formidable proofs that, sometimes, the world loses.

To follow the “Proper of the Saints” daily is to take in Catholicism in her breadth. It is to be, at least in aspiration, a little Athanasius, from yesterday until tomorrow. It is how one learns to be a proper irritant to the heretics one encounters. For our religion isn’t narrow, and we will not make it narrow to please them. It was perhaps in his frequent displacements from the See of Alexandria that Athanasius acquired his familiarity with the wide world, and with the monks of the Egyptian desert, including Anthony the Great.

He was smeared by the Arians, over and over; their mud naturally targeted Athanasius, for he never moved. But Pope Julius in Rome, and Holy Church, eventually washed it away.