One of the greatest Fathers of the Eastern Church, St. Athanasius spent his whole life defending the truth of Orthodoxy against the Arian heresy, which in denying the Divinity of Jesus Christ took away from mankind the salvation which only God Incarnate Himself can give to man.
Born in Alexandria in 293, he was ordained deacon in 319, and in this rank attended the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 325, where he spoke out against Arius. Elected Archbishop of Alexandria in the next year, he worked untiringly to establish the true faith in his diocese, but the influence of the Arians was such that he was exiled five times from his see, precisely because of his firmness in Orthodoxy.
An enthusiastic supporter of monasticism, St. Athanasius knew personally many of the great Fathers of the Egyptian desert in the earliest flowering of the monastic life in the East. His Life of St. Anthony the Great, in addition to giving rise to a whole literature of monastic Lives, proved to be a great inspiration to monasticism in both East and West.. During his exiles to Rome and Gaul he helped found some of the first monasteries in the West.
St. Athanasius was also instrumental in determining which books should be included in the canon of the New Testament; his Paschal Epistle of 367 for the first time names precisely the 27 books everyone now knows as the New Testament, and in the same order.
Restored to his see of Alexandria for the fifth time in 366, he remained in it until his death in 373, leaving behind many works both of monastic instruction and of defense of the Orthodox Faith. Among these is his celebrated work, "On the Incarnation of the Word of God".
"Just as he who desires to see God Who by nature is invisible and not to be beheld, may yet perceive and know Him through His works, so too let him who does not see Christ with his understanding at least consider Him in His bodily works and test whether they be of man or God. If they be of man, then let him scoff; but if they be of God, let him not mock at things which are no fit subject for scorn, but rather let him recognize the fact and marvel that things divine have been revealed to us by such humble means, that through death deathlessness has been made known to us, and through the Incarnation of the Word the Mind whence all things proceed has been declared, and its Agent and Ordainer, the Word of God Himself. He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become god." (from chap. 54, "On the Incarnation")
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