Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Athanasius is one of the most important figures in the history of the Church. When the Church first began to work out its own theology the natural instinct was to use words and terms borrowed from the Greco Roman world. However, these terms were always associated with their original meaning and the exact meaning that the Church wanted to give was often lost.
Athanasius realized that if the Church was to lay down its own teaching precisely then it would have to assign specific meanings to the words it used. It was not long before this idea was put to the test.
In 318 a priest called Arius preached that Jesus was the highest of all creation, but that he was still a creature, created by God. This teaching had many followers among the bishops of the time. In fact there were several councils where Arian bishops were in the majority.
Athanasius was the first bishop who was able to see the flaw in Arius’ teaching and he did so by showing the precise meaning from a Christian standpoint of the word ‘Logos.’
This word had been borrowed from Gnosticism where it had a completely different meaning and this had confused Arius and led him astray.
Arianism was not defeated until the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD but Athanasius was the first of the great proponents of true Catholic teaching. That is why he is so important to us today.