By Martin Morrison
“Black Dwarf” was the name his enemies called him. And the short, dark-skinned Egyptian Bishop had many enemies. He was exiled five times by four Roman emperors spending 17 of his 45 years he served as Bishop of Alexandria in exile. His enemies accused him of murder, illegal taxation, sorcery and treason. He lived from 296 – 373 and he has become one of my all-time heroes.
The reason that Athanasius is one of my great heroes, is not only because he was a major African leader, but because he almost singlehandedly saved all of Christendom from a great heresy. A heresy so great that the Gospel itself would have been lost. Humanly speaking, none of us who are now Christians would have been saved. Let me explain.
The accepted teaching of the times, was Arianism. Arius, taught that the Son, was fully human but not fully God. The Son was created, the Son was a creature and did not share in the deity of God. Arius taught his theology through music. Christians throughout the Roman Empire would sing a catchy tune which stated, “There was a time when the Son was not”. Which by the way shows the huge power of music!
Athanasius correctly argued that Jesus was both God and man in the same person. One person, two natures. 100% God and 100% man. Supernatural, you’re right!! For Athanasius it was not a matter of splitting theological hairs! Salvation was at issue. Only one who was fully human could atone for human sin; only one who was fully divine could have the power to save us. To Athanasius, the logic of New Testament salvation assumed the dual nature of Christ.
The New Testament repeatedly affirms this dual nature. For instance, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” Romans 10:9. This “dead Jesus”, is the man Jesus of Nazareth. This “Lord” is Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. By denying the deity of Christ, you not only lose a Saviour, but you lose the Trinity! “Baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Matthew 28: 19.
The Nicene Creed, which Athanasius helped to craft, is a wonderful affirmation of what we believe as Christians and has been affirmed by literally billions of Christians through the ages. It has this extraordinary statement about Christ, “ I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God; begotten not made, of one substance with the Father”. Meditate on that and it will flip your mind!!
There are many, many things we obviously do not understand about the Christian faith when we become Christians. A young child can come to know that Jesus loved her so much that he died for her on the cross. That is clear. That is wonderful! However, if you consciously and deliberately go out of your way to deny either the deity of Christ or the humanity of Christ, you cannot under any circumstances be a Christian. Only a man could take your place on the cross. Only God could have the power to save you from your sin.
Think about it. It’s uncanny, how reflecting on the person of Christ can lift your heart! Can feed your soul. Can lift your perspective onto what really matters. It’s uncanny how reflecting on the person of Christ, can cause you to worship, to want to love Him even more!