One for the Thumb

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.

  • 2 Peter 2:1-10

”Athanasius was born at the end of the third century. He entered the household of Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and in due course became a deacon. He accompanied the bishop to the Council of Nicea. When Alexander died in 328, Athanasius succeeded him as bishop of Alexandria. He was bishop for forty-five years, dying in 373.
“The chief preoccupation of Athanasius’s life was the struggle against Arianism. Arius had been condemned at Nicea, but the Creed of Nicea was not acceptable to the Origenist majority in the East. The emperor wanted unity above all else, so favoured a more tolerant approach to orthodoxy which could embrace a suitably chastened Arius. Athanasius would have none of this. He saw the deity of Jesus Christ as the foundation of the Christian faith. Arianism meant the end of Christianity. Athanasius fought Arianism with every weapon at his disposal, including that of ecclesiastical politics. His uncompromising stand made him unpopular with bishops and rulers alike. Seventeen of his forty-five years as bishop were spent in five different exiles. The most important of his years in exile were those spent in Rome from 340 to 346. This was a time of considerable mutual influence between Athanasius and his hosts. After this exile he spent the ‘Golden Decade’ of 346-56 at Alexandria, his longest uninterrupted time as bishop.
“ ‘Were he [the Word] a mere creature he would not have been worshipped nor spoken of [as in the Bible]. But he is in fact the real offspring of the substance of the God who is worshipped, his Son by nature, not a creature. Therefore he is worshipped and believed to be God …The sun’s rays belong really to it and yet the sun’s substance is not divided or lessened. The sun’s substance is whole and its rays are perfect and whole. These rays do not lessen the substance of the light but are a true offspring from it. Likewise we understand that the Son is begotten not from outside the Father but from the Father himself. The Father remains whole while ‘the stamp of his substance’ [Hebrews 1:3] is eternal and preserves the Father’s likeness and unchanging image. (
Orations against the Arians 2.24, 33)”

  • Tony Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought

“Wherever and whenever false doctrine is taught, the mature in the faith must contend for the truth so that error can he refuted and the immature instructed. However, contending is not being corrosively contentious. On a happier note, one way to triumph over your enemies is to outlive them.”

  • David K. Stabnow, editor, churchfails, (author of this section – Rodrick K. Durst)

“Athanasius’s persistence in the face of all these ill-advised adversaries leaves us with a great example of following God’s calling for our lives at all costs. When Athanasius was ordered by Emperor Constantine to re-admit Arius to fellowship with the Alexandrian church, Athanasius refused, preferring exile to ethical and theological compromise. When he was exiled, he spent his time productively, and he shrewdly responded where a response was most needed. Proverbs 24:16 says, ‘Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin.’ The Black Dwarf demonstrated this well throughout his life, even if he never got to dunk a basketball.”

  • David K. Stabnow, editor, churchfails, (author of this section – Ken “Deep Dish” Cleaver)

Before we get started, the title stems from my first impression of the Pittsburgh, PA area when I first moved here.  I arrived after the Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys in 1996.  I never heard the Steeler’s quarterbacks name without hearing a curse word in the middle, since he threw an interception that sealed the Cowboy victory.  If the people of Pittsburgh were not cursing the quarterback, who did not return the next year, they were yelling “One for the thumb!”  The city had four Super Bowl wins, all in the 1970s.  Although none of those players were still around, the chant for the fifth Super Bowl win was one for the thumb, since you get a ring when you win the Super Bowl.  The Steelers eventually got two more wins after we moved here for six Super Bowl victories total.  Since Athanasius was exiled five times, I wonder if he angered the emperor after the fourth exile was over, just so he could get “one for the thumb.”  But all kidding aside, I might have done no less in his position, if I had the courage to do so.  I could not have remained silent.

Athanasius I of Alexandria (296?-373) was also known as Athanasius the Great, Athanasius the Confessor, and Athanasius the Apostolic (to the Coptics).  His enemies referred to him as the Black Dwarf, for his dark skin and diminutive stature.  He is venerated by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, and Lutheranism.  He was bishop of Alexandria and the 20th Pope of Alexandria (of the Coptic church).

His great volumes of written works against Arianism, one paragraph quoted above, was some of the best theology of his time defining the Trinity as a whole, but especially the divinity of Jesus Christ, something that Arius denied.  Arius, the founder of the heretical Arianism, felt that Jesus did not exist before being born of Mary and thus was a begotten creature, the best model of the perfect creature, but still a mere creature, begotten by God.  It robs Jesus of all his deity, and Athanasius would not give an inch.  Emperor Constantine ordered Athanasius to reinstate Arius.  He refused, thus the first exile.  Eusebius, the philosopher and bishop of Caesarea who was discussed last week, was an Arian.  Athanasius would not be silenced, even after five exiles.

Constantine, to his credit, established the Council of Nicea to create a statement of faith that formed the foundation for the church.  The Nicene Creed was among the Council’s results.  But as I mentioned last week, if you are a false teacher (prophet, etc.), you are already a liar and you deny the Truth.  Nothing will stop you from placing your hand on the Bible and swearing to any number of things you did not believe in.  Then when the emperor is looking the other way, the heretic will go back to his heresy.  In this case, all male clergy.  To Constantine’s discredit, he looked the other way concerning the Arian heresy in order to produce unity within the church.  The Nicene Council was to unify under one set of beliefs, but a meaningless oath and signature opened the doors to heresy within the church.

But in Athanasius’ writings, he also did the most in-depth biblical study of the Holy Spirit in the first 400 years of the church.  Note that the Nicene Creed gives no details, just that we believe in the Holy Spirit.  Athanasius was the first to give cogent explanations of all three persons of the Trinity.

Did Athanasius play dirty, as the churchfails book suggests, or was he savvy within the church’s political structure and tenacious at wanting to rid the church of this heresy?  It might depend on which side you were on.  There were probably three sides.  The Arians.  Those who agreed that the Arians were heretics.  And those that feared the schism within the church was too high a price and wanted Athanasius to simply go away.  As churchfails put it, one way to beat them was to outlive them.

As I said, I would have probably been the bull-headed sidekick of Athanasius.  I saw things that were not right, and I had no problem giving my opinion.  And most other people simply wanted me to be quiet.  I found it more infuriating that they responded with apathy toward the subject and their ploy was to change the subject or, in a few cases, tell the pastor to tell me to shut up.  So, yes, this particular church leader stuck to his guns, was an excellent writer.  He was accurate biblically.  But, like me at times, he was a bit obnoxious.

Indeed, I have argued with people who were seminary trained, and others who were not.  They vehemently denied all Christophanies in the Old Testament.  There are many Christophanies in the Old Testament, when God (“the Lord”) appeared.  Genesis 18 featured three “men” who appeared to Abraham.  One was revered as the Lord, and Abraham argued and bargained that if a certain many righteous people could be found in Sodom, God will not destroy the cities.  Note that the other two “men” went on to Sodom, and there is no record of the third past Abraham’s argument.  There are several others (notably the fourth man in the fire in Daniel 3, as another example), plus a few that may be a Christophany or an angel’s appearance.  But the well-educated people could not believe that a fully grown Jesus could appear in the Old Testament and then become an embryo in the womb of Mary.  I call it the Outside Space and Time Conundrum.  In that Jesus, except for a little over thirty years on earth, remains outside space and time from before time until time is no more.  Yet, many people cannot rap their head around that.  Besides, God is God, and He can do anything within the moral Law that He Himself established.  (In other words, God cannot, by His nature, sin.)

But being obnoxious while preaching the Truth should never be a reason to be exiled.  Yet, we live in a fallen world and even church leaders are humans who can make mistakes.  But it was the efforts of such heroes as Athanasius who kept the heresies of his time at bay so that we have a clear understanding of our faith.

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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