Ignatian Model Defender of the Faith: St. Athanasius

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St. Athanasius: Role Model for Ignatians in their Mission to Defend and Spread the Faith

“It is not surprising that one who was called to fill so large a place in the history of his time should have impressed the very form and feature of his personality, so to say, upon the imagination of his contemporaries. St. Gregory Nazianzen is not the only writer who has described him for us (Orat. xxi, 8). A contemptuous phrase of the Emperor Julian’s (Epist., li) serves unintentionally to corroborate the picture drawn by kindlier observers. He was slightly below the middle height, spare in build, but well-knit, and intensely energetic. He had a finely shaped head, set off with a thin growth of auburn hair, a small but sensitively mobile mouth, an aquiline nose, and eyes of intense but kindly brilliancy. He had a ready wit, was quick in intuition, easy and affable in manner, pleasant in conversation, keen, and, perhaps, somewhat too unsparing in debate. (Besides the references already cited, see the detailed description given in the January Menaion quotes in the Bollandist life. Julian the Apostate, in the letter alluded to above sneers at the diminutiveness of his person — mede aner, all anthropiokos euteles, he writes.)

“In addition to these qualities, he was conspicuous for two others to which even his enemies bore unwilling testimony. He was endowed with a sense of humour that could be as mordant — we had almost said as sardonic — as it seems to have been spontaneous and unfailing; and his courage was of the sort that never falters, even in the most disheartening hour of defeat. There is one other note in this highly gifted and many-sided personality to which everything else in his nature literally ministered, and which must be kept steadily in view, if we would possess the key to his character and writing and understand the extraordinary significance of his career in the history of the Christian Church.

“He was by instinct neither a liberal nor a conservative in theology. Indeed the terms have a singular inappropriateness as applied to a temperament like his. From first to last he cared greatly for one thing and one thing only; the integrity of his Catholic creed. The religion it engendered in him was obviously — considering the traits by which we have tried to depict him — of a passionate and consuming sort. It began and ended in devotion to the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He was scarcely out of his teens, and certainly not in more than deacon’s orders, when he published two treatises, in which his mind seemed to strike the keynote of all its riper after-utterances on the subject of the Catholic Faith. The “Contra Gentes” and the “Oratio de Incarnatione” — to give them the Latin appellations by which they are more commonly cited — were written some time between the years 318 and 323.” (Clifford, Cornelius. “St. Athanasius.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 4 May 2016 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02035a.htm>.)