Athanasius and the Nicene Creed
Athanasius and the Nicene Creed is the epic story of Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria and his fight for the Nicene Creed. The story is not a pretty one, and the result was permanent divisions of the Christian world and relationships between church and state that persist to this day. The battle was the Nicene Creed against Arianism, named after Arius, the priest who began the controversy. More
From the arid deserts of Egypt to Germany's lush and mountainous Mosel River, the exiled Athanasius fought for the Nicene Creed. Through the reigns of seven emperors from Constantine to Valens, his fight took him from favored bishop to enemy of the state, from honored friend to the death sentence. Exiled or in flight five times, he took whatever life dealt him, whether the comfortable life in Treves (Trier) or constant narrow escapes in Alexandria and the burning sands of Egypt's desert.
Athanasius and the Nicene Creed is the epic story of Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria and his fight for the Nicene Creed. Athanasius was one of the most powerful bishops of the fourth century, and the battle for the Nicene Creed occurred at the same time Constantine was establishing Christianity as the favored religion of the empire. This caused church politics to become part of Empire policy, resulting in the uniting of church and state. Arius was the pastor who gave his name to Arianism, the name given to the opponents of the Nicene Creed. Arius enlisted the aid of powerful bishops to promote the view that Jesus was a lesser being than the Father, a created being, against the monotheistic Nicene view that Jesus is one with God. The struggle threatened to tear the empire apart as each side vied for Constantine’s favor and manipulated him to their ends. Athanasius was sent into or escaped into exile five times—to Trier and Rome in relative comfort but also into the vast trackless deserts of Egypt in staggering discomfort, often with a price on his head. From those places of exile he supervised his see, wrote books and letters in defense of the Nicene Creed, and defended himself to the emperors, including Constantine’s three sons and their successors, Julian the Apostate, and others down to Valens. The emperors, as they dealt with the Church issues, had to fight wars against barbarians to the north and Persians to the east, as well as civil war among themselves, all of which are part of the story of Athanasius. Arius died a horrible death, seen by the Nicenes as the hand of God, but the Arians regrouped and gained the upper hand. Intertwining their goals with those of the emperor, with church and state no longer separate, Nicenes were tortured, sent to mines to die, and exiled. It was a brutal time, and the issues raised in that day shaped the hierarchy of the Church and the way church and state would relate to each other up to our time.
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