May 2: St Athanasius, Class III

St Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the Church is perhaps most famous as a theologian and for his struggle against the Arian heresy. From the monastic point of view, however, his Life of St Anthony was enormously influential in articulating a theology of monastic life and promoting the monastic life in the West.

Pope Benedict XVI devoted a General Audience to the saint on 20 June 2007, here are some extracts from it:

"...Athanasius was undoubtedly one of the most important and revered early Church Fathers. But this great Saint was above all the impassioned theologian of the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God who - as the Prologue of the fourth Gospel says - “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).

For this very reason Athanasius was also the most important and tenacious adversary of the Arian heresy, which at that time threatened faith in Christ, reduced to a creature “halfway” between God and man, according to a recurring tendency in history which we also see manifested today in various forms.

In all likelihood Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in about the year 300 A.D. He received a good education before becoming a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, the great Egyptian metropolis. As a close collaborator of his Bishop, the young cleric took part with him in the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council, convoked by the Emperor Constantine in May 325 A.D. to ensure Church unity. The Nicene Fathers were thus able to address various issues and primarily the serious problem that had arisen a few years earlier from the preaching of the Alexandrian priest, Arius...

In 328 A.D., when Bishop Alexander died, Athanasius succeeded him as Bishop of Alexandria. ...At least five times - during the 30 years between 336 and 366 A.D. - Athanasius was obliged to abandon his city, spending 17 years in exile and suffering for the faith. But during his forced absences from Alexandria, the Bishop was able to sustain and to spread in the West, first at Trier and then in Rome, the Nicene faith as well as the ideals of monasticism, embraced in Egypt by the great hermit, Anthony, with a choice of life to which Athanasius was always close.

St Anthony, with his spiritual strength, was the most important champion of St Athanasius’ faith. Reinstated in his See once and for all, the Bishop of Alexandria was able to devote himself to religious pacification and the reorganization of the Christian communities. He died on 2 May 373, the day when we celebrate his liturgical Memorial. ...

Lastly, Athanasius also wrote meditational texts on the Psalms, subsequently circulated widely, and in particular, a work that constitutes the bestseller of early Christian literature: The Life of Anthony, that is, the biography of St Anthony Abbot. It was written shortly after this Saint’s death precisely while the exiled Bishop of Alexandria was staying with monks in the Egyptian desert. Athanasius was such a close friend of the great hermit that he received one of the two sheepskins which Anthony left as his legacy, together with the mantle that the Bishop of Alexandria himself had given to him.

The exemplary biography of this figure dear to Christian tradition soon became very popular, almost immediately translated into Latin, in two editions, and then into various Oriental languages; it made an important contribution to the spread of monasticism in the East and in the West.

It was not by chance that the interpretation of this text, in Trier, was at the centre of a moving tale of the conversion of two imperial officials which Augustine incorporated into his Confessions (cf. VIII, 6, 15) as the preamble to his own conversion.

Moreover, Athanasius himself showed he was clearly aware of the influence that Anthony’s fine example could have on Christian people. Indeed, he wrote at the end of this work: “The fact that his fame has been blazoned everywhere, that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God’s love of his soul. For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Anthony renowned, but solely from his piety towards God. That this was the gift of God no one will deny.

“For from whence into Spain and into Gaul, how into Rome and Africa, was the man heard of who dwelt hidden in a mountain, unless it was God who makes his own known everywhere, who also promised this to Anthony at the beginning? For even if they work secretly, even if they wish to remain in obscurity, yet the Lord shows them as lamps to lighten all, that those who hear may thus know that the precepts of God are able to make men prosper and thus be zealous in the path of virtue” (Life of Anthony, 93, 5-6).... "


Anonymous said...

I'm a bit confused...I see in a copy of the Roman calendar that May 3 is the 4th Sunday after Easter, whereas in your ordo you list it as the third. Calendar issues aside for now, may I assume that the ordo for St. Atanasius, May 2, as given in your blog, is correct for a Roman Catholic?
Mike H

Terra said...

Mike - The short answer to your question is yes! It is the feast of St Athanasius in both the new and old calendars.

The longer answer is that the Ordo I have given is according to the 1962/3 rubrics. At the moment in the Church there are essentially two calendars (well really a lot more, but think of them as two with variants!) running in parallel, both of which can legitimately be used.

One essentially relates to the missal of Paul VI (Novus Ordo or Ordinary Form), in which this coming Sunday is the fourth Sunday after Easter.

The other relates to the missal of John XXIII (Extraordinary Form, Traditional Latin Mass, etc), even though we celebrated Easter on the same day, we are only up to the Third Sunday!

Religious orders and monasteries prepare their own ordos incorporating their own feasts and excluding some working from one or other of these these 'base' calendars.

Because the Farnborough diurnal uses antiphons and readings that essentially line up with the traditional mass, that is the calendar I'm working from on this blog.

And just to confuse things further, I note that there is another Ordo around for the Monastic Diurnal published by Lancelot Andrewes Press which uses the Orthodox calendar, and according to which this coming Sunday would have been, I think the second Sunday after Easter I think, were it not Holy Cross Day (as it was in the pre-1962 Traditional Roman calendar!).

We all agree on the date for St Athanasius however!

In the not too distant future I plan to do a few posts on choice of calendars!

Anonymous said...

Whew! and a big thanks for this, I understand a bit better, now.