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May 2

Saint Athanasius

Saint Athanasius

Bishop, Doctor of the Church

“Father of Orthodoxy”

(Around 296 or 298 – 373)

“You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria

Saint’s Life Story

His Well Educated Early Life 

Athanasius was born around 296 or 298 in Alexandria, Egypt, to a prominent Christian family.  He was well educated, especially in Scripture and theology, and made great progress in learning and virtue. Athanasius went to the desert to spend some time in retreat with Saint Anthony of Egypt.  He was ordained a deacon and became secretary to Bishop Alexander around 318.  Athanasius assisted Bishop Alexander at the Council of Nicaea, which condemned Arianism and excommunicated the Arius, an ambitious priest of the Alexandrian Church who denied the divinity of Christ. This was to be the life struggle of Athanasius.

Unanimously Elected Bishop of Alexandria

Athanasius was unanimously elected bishop of Alexandria after Alexander’s death around 327. In addition to his rule as bishop of Alexandria, he became the spiritual head of the desert hermits and of Ethiopia. Athanasius was a friend of Saint Anthony of Egypt and is credited with writing his biography. His first years as bishop were devoted to visitation of his extensive patriarchate which included the whole of Egypt and Libya. He established important contacts with the Coptic monks of Upper Egypt and their leader Saint Pachomius

Accused of Murder and Exile #1

Athanasius was immediately confronted with a revival of Arianism in his role as bishop.  In 330, Eusebius of Nicomedia (modern day Turkey), a supporter of Arius, persuaded Emperor Constantine to direct Athanasius to admit Arius for communion. When Athanasius flatly refused, Eusebius incited the Meletians to use every means to discredit Athanasius. He was charged with various crimes and was cleared. But, then he was accused of murdering Arsenius, a Meletian bishop everyone knew was alive and hiding.  Athanasius, aware of this fact, refused the summons of the Meletians to attend a synod to answer the preposterous charge. However. Athanasius did attend the Council of Tyre in 335 when he was summoned by the Emperor. This council was completely dominated by his Arian enemies. So, he was exiled to Trier, Germany.

Recalled as Bishop

After the Emperor died in 337 and his empire was divided among his sons, Athanasius was recalled to bishop in 338. Eusebius had Athanasius deposed at a synod at Antioch and Gregory, an Arian Cappadocian, was installed as archbishop. After Athanasius was supplanted, riots broke out in Alexandria as the people refused to accept him as their bishop. Athanasius went to Rome to attend a synod and suggested to Pope Julian I to hear the case. However he was unable to return to Alexandria until Gregory died in 345 and he was restored as bishop.

Exile #2 to the Desert Where He Wrote Great Works

Emperor Constan was assassinated in 350. His successor Constantius caused packed councils at Arles in 353 and at Milan in 355 to condemn Athanasius and exile Pope Liberius to Thrace. Athanasius continued to resist until one-night soldiers broke into his church, killing and wounding many of the congregation. Athanasius fled to the desert and was protected there by the monks for the next 6 years. It was here that he wrote many of his great theological works, the Apologia to Constantius, the Apology for his Flight, the Letter to the Monks, and the History of Arians.

Returned and Exile #3

In 362, Athanasius returned to Alexandria with great fanfare by the crowds. However, he soon came into conflict with Emperor Julian the Apostate when he opposed plans to paganize the Empire and was again forced to flee to the desert yet again.

Brought Back and Exile #4 and Exile #5

When Julian was killed in 363, Athanasius was brought back by the Emperor Jovian.  The new emperor died after a short 8-month reign; Athanasius was forced into hiding a fifth time when Emperor Valens banished all orthodox bishops in 365. This order was revoked. After 17 years of on-and-off exile, Athanasius was returned as bishop where he spent the last 7 years of his life in Alexandria. He  helped build the Nicene party whose support secured the triumph of orthodoxy over Arianism at the Council of Constantinople in 381, well after his death.

Doctor of the Church and “Father of Orthodoxy”

Athanasius died on May 2, 373 in Alexandria, Egypt. Athanasius is one of the great figures in Christianity and an intrepid champion of the Catholic faith withstanding 5 exiles over 17 of 46 years as bishop. He was named a Doctor of the Church and is called the “Father of Orthodoxy”.

Born:                  Around 296 or 298 in Alexandria, Egypt

Died:                  May 2, 373 in Alexandria, Egypt

Beatified:          Pre-Congregation

Canonized:       Pre-Congregation

Feast Day:         May 2

Patron Saint:    Theologians



In his Life of St. Anthony, Saint Athanasius described the great monk’s many struggles with demons, while he himself spent his life fighting against the Church’s enemies. St. Athanasius recognized the reality of evil and of human sinfulness — but he firmly believed in the all-conquering power of Christ.

How will you use the all-conquering power of Christ today to fight against and conquer sin in your life?


Saint Athanasius, your courage and perseverance in combating false teaching cost you comfort and security. Every day you faced the possibility that Arianism might prevail, but you did not waiver in professing the divinity of Jesus.  Although I may not have the difficulties that you faced, may your example and intercession assist me in living out my faith and help me to understand the importance of truth as the starting point for reflecting more fruitfully on the mysteries of our Faith.

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 2 May – St Athanasius

Catholic Culture – Saint Athanasius of Alexandria

Catholic Exchange – St. Athanasius (Bishop and Doctor)

Catholic Fire – Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor

Catholic Ireland – May 2 – St Athanasius (295-373)

Catholic News Agency – St. Athanasius, Doctor of the Church Feast Day: May 02

CatholicSaints.Info – Saint Athanasius of Alexandria

Franciscan Media – Saint Athanasius

Independent Catholic News – St Athanasius

Loyola Press – Saint Athanasius Feast day May 2

My Catholic Life – St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor

Newman Ministry – Saint Athanasius

Saints, Feasts, and Family – Saint Athanasius’ Story

Saint Mary’s Press – Saint Athanasius (c.297-373)

Saint of the Day – St. Athanasius

Simply Catholic – St Athanasius

uCatholic – Saint Athanasius

Video Link

St. Athanasius – YouTube (Catholic Online)