Athanasius (ca. 296-373), bishop of Alexandria. A native of Alexandria, Athanasius was appointed a deacon and served as secretary to Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, whom he attended at the Council of Nicaea in 325. In 328 Athanasius succeeded Alexander. Because of his refusal to compromise on the decisions made at Nicaea, he earned the enmity of the Arianizing party that gained much power during the latter part of Constantine's and throughout Constantius II's reign. He was exiled five times.
Athanasius is remembered chiefly for his strong stand against Arianism. While in his twenties he wrote his famous work On the Incarnation in which he argued that restoration of human relationship with God necessitated the Incarnation. Between 339 and 359 he penned a series of treatises defending the decisions made at Nicaea. He even enlisted the venerable desert hermit Antony in the cause by writing Antony's biography in 356. After 361 he sought to win the large Semi-Arian party to the Nicene formula homoousios ("of the same essence") and to uphold the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. As a friend of Pachomius and Serapion and biographer of Antony, he gave a boost to the ascetic movement in Egypt. He also introduced monasticism to the West when he brought two Egyptian monks to Rome during his second exile in 339.
[Excerpted with permission from the entry on Athanasius by E. Glenn Hinson, from The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, edited by Keith Beasley-Topliffe. Copyright © 2003 by Upper Room Books®. All rights reserved.]