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Athanasius of Alexandria, Pastor and Confessor

Today, we remember the fourth-century priest Athanasius, and our devotional reading comes from The Great Jesus Debates: Four Early Church Battles about the Person and Work of Jesus.

Introduction

Today we commemorate Athanasius, faithful pastor and confessor. In the face of great opposition, Athanasius defended the truth of Scripture—that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, the Word made flesh who made His dwelling among us.

Devotional Reading

Athanasius had served as Alexander of Alexandria’s secretary at the Council of Nicaea. Upon Alexander’s death in AD 328, Athanasius succeeded as archbishop or patriarch of Alexandria. . . . Saintly and stubborn, Athanasius devoted his life to the defense of the Council of Nicaea. For his troubles, he was condemned repeatedly by his fellow clergy. He was exiled five times by various emperors. . . .

Athanasius and Arius were diametrically opposed. Arius . . . found his starting place for his theology in the perfection of God, from which all else followed. Athanasius’s starting point was salvation. His choice of starting points was not the result of philosophical reasonings but was a deeply felt and all-consuming passion for the salvation of the human soul. . . .

Arius . . . insisted that the Word is only a creature. . . . Arius maintained that the Word, being a creature, needed God’s grace to do His work. Athanasius, on the other hand, insisted that because only God can save us, the Word must be God, and He is the dispenser of this grace. It is we, not the Word, that need grace. . . .

Athanasius’s main response to his opponents came from his most deeply held belief: that the Word, our Savior, Jesus Christ, is completely divine. The toughest problems that Athanasius faced were the biblical citations that demonstrated the incarnate Word was subject to change. His reply, which he repeated over and over again, was that all those passages refer to the human Jesus that was taken up by the Word. Certainly Jesus grew up, hungered, thirsted, and the like. But the Word itself never changed. It remained as it always was—perfect and totally immune to decay and death. Otherwise, it was not God Himself who united with us, so we are not saved.

Devotional reading is from The Great Jesus Debates: Four Early Church Battles about the Person and Work of Jesus, pages 89–90, 92–93, 95–96 © 2005 Douglas W. Johnson. Published by Concordia Publishing House.

Portion of the Athanasian Creed

The catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance. For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Holy Spirit is another. But the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

Athanasian Creed is taken from Lutheran Service Book, page 319 © 2006 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

 

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