Alexandria Lost Notable Alexander

Dan Graves, MSL

Alexandria Lost Notable Alexander

The whole Christian world honors Athanasius as its champion because of his battles against Arianism. But behind Athanasius was a great bishop--the man who set Athanasius' feet on the path to fame. Alexander not only selected Athanasius to be his successor, but took open action against the heresy of Arius, the priest who insisted Jesus was a created being rather than an eternal member of the Godhead.

Alexander was born around 250. An upright man, he survived as a priest through the persecutions that raged under Galerius and Maximinus. He became Patriarch of Alexandria in 313. It was well that the post was given him, for Arius was conniving to get the job and would undoubtedly have used the position to disseminate his heresy even more widely than he did.

Arius began to teach his views around 300. Peter, the Patriarch of Alexandria at that time excommunicated him. While Peter was on death row for his faith, Alexander joined with Achillas (who took Peter's place as patriarch) to plead for the restoration of Arius. Peter refused in strong terms, declaring that Arius was eternally damned. Nonetheless, when Achillas took power, he made Arius a priest.

Alexander was slow to recognize the danger of Arius' false teaching. In fact, he moved so slowly against the renegade priest that his clergy grew restive.

Finally Alexander excommunicated Arius. A council held in Alexandria upheld this decision and declared Arius' views heretical. The Egyptian bishop wrote to Patriarch Alexander of Constantinople that Arius and his buddies had "constructed a workshop for contending against Christ, denying the Godhead of our Savior, and preaching that He is only the equal of all others. And having collected all the passages which speak of His plan of salvation and His humiliation for our sakes, they endeavor from these to collect the preaching of their impiety, ignoring altogether the passages in which His eternal Godhead and unutterable glory with the Father is set forth."

But Arius would not disappear. In fact, his ideas led to riots. Arians clashed with Trinitarians until Constantine feared for the empire. In 325 the emperor called the first general council, which met at Nicea. Alexander drew up its acts. At that council, his young protege, Athanasius, offered a stalwart defense of the doctrine of Christ's full divinity.

On his deathbed, Alexander summoned Athanasius to his side and named him his successor. Alexander died on this day, April 17, 326. Athanasius carried on the fight for orthodoxy until his own death, suffering serious harassment and five episodes of exile.

Bibliography:

  1. "Alexander, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  2. Butler, Alban. "St. Alexander, Confessor, Patriarch of Alexandria." Lives of the Saints. Various editions.
  3. Campbell, T.J. "St. Alexander." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  4. Hough, Lynn Harold. Athanasius the Hero. Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham, 1906, especially at p. 49.
  5. Various encyclopedia and internet articles on Alexander and on Arianism.

Last updated May, 2007.

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