The Council of Nicea was historic in nature, so much so that it is often looked upon as a key point in Christian history. Just as it is in today’s society though, a formal time of meeting and decision making still did not settle the issue at hand. In fact, the Council of Nicea created an argument that was ongoing. As the bishops returned home, two still remained in the area and thus had the ear of Constantine.
While Constantine had tried to avoid division, in fact he created it. Not only did he see division in the bishops, but Sabellianism began to also cause a rift taking hold of the council as an opportunity to assert its position. Seeing this, Constantine began to soften towards Arius and even reinstated him in AD 332, although he would die just four years later.
Serving at his side through the council and beyond, Athanasius was not wholly unknown to the people. However, his role was support until Alexander’s death in 323. At that time, Athanasisus followed his mentor and the restoration of Arius did not sit well with him. He refused to recognize Arius’ authority despite Constantine’s threat.
This was the standard by which Athanasius’ ministry is defined. He was a man who would refuse to compromise on biblical integrity for the sake of ecclesiastical unity. He saw the value of God’s Word as supreme and he would fight for it, even when it seemed like the world was against him.
Those with authority during this time were known to be in a constant state of flux. Both the state and the church were constantly revising positions and changing who they were. This only furthered the arguments and made the division worse. Yet through this wavering, Athanasius remained fixed and firm.
He would defend the original creed as it was written, noting that salvation depended on the notion that Jesus was God, not that He was like God.
In spite of the world against Him, Athanasius remained committed to his principles. During his lifetime he would endure five exiles. In fact, he spent 17 out of 46 years in exile. At one time he had to flee Rome in 339 because the opposition was so intense. Although he was cleared, those against him would even bring false changes against him. Even during those times of exile, Athanasius’ supporters affirmed his position even refusing to replace or recognize anyone who tried to replace Athansius as bishop.
He and his followers would argue three points necessary to maintaining the integrity of the teachings of both Christ and the Apostles (which obviously would be the same):
If the Father is God, the Son must be God otherwise God changed.
If the Son is not God, salvation would be impossible.
If the Son was not God, He would not be the true revelation of God.
While seemingly meaningless to us today, it was Athanasius’ defense of Scripture that helped to guide the church to the point its at today. He not only provided the example of a man who endured giving us a testimony like that of Paul, he helped to set the foundation of what would become the doctrine of the Trinity.
If only we were all committed to the defense of God’s truth like Athanasius!