athanasius of alexandria
Athanasius, 300-373 AD, was small in stature but a theological giant. He recognized that Jesus Christ is truly God in the flesh, and stood against the Arian movement that diminished Jesus’s deity. Though he would face trial and banishment throughout his life, he never wavered in his doctrinal beliefs, beliefs which would mark the orthodox understanding of who Jesus is and what he accomplished in salvation. A phrase represented the thrust of his life and ministry: Athanasius contra mundum (“Athanasius against the world”).
Athanasius may not have possessed the education or philosophical training that his Arian opponents had, but his commitment to discipline and conviction, combined with his dogged grit, allowed him to be a force of the fourth century and remembered as a stalwart today.
Arianism, the belief that the Son is a lesser being than the Father and created like the rest of mankind, was condemned at the Council of Nicaea in 325. However, in the years following, Emperor Constantine and others softened their stance toward Arianism, and the heretical position gained steam. Athanasius, who was present at the Council of Nicaea, is remembered for his efforts in standing against Arianism in the years following 325. He knew this heresy totally undermined the sacrifice of Christ and the gospel itself.
Over 1,500 years later, Christians all over the world are indebted to Athanasius when they recount the words of this early Christian creed:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Where to Begin
On the Incarnation by Athanasius.
Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin Holcomb.
Brian Litfin has an excellent chapter on Athanasius in Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction.