Contending for Christ “ Contra Mundum”: Exile and Incarnation in the Life of Athanasius -- By: John Piper

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 12:2 (Summer 2008)
Article: Contending for Christ “ Contra Mundum”: Exile and Incarnation in the Life of Athanasius
Author: John Piper

Contending for Christ “
Contra Mundum”: Exile and Incarnation in the Life of Athanasius1

John Piper*

*John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he has ministered since 1980. He has the D.theol. in New Testament from the University of Munich and taught for six years at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of more than thirty books, and more than twenty-five years of his preaching and teaching is available free at

Best-Loved Bishop

Athanasius was born in A.D. 298 in Egypt and became the bishop of Alexandria on June 8, 328, at the age of thirty. The people of Egypt viewed him as their bishop until he died on May 2, 373, at the age of seventy-five.2 I say he was “viewed” by the people as their bishop during these years because Athanasius was driven out of his church and office five times by the powers of the Roman Empire. Seventeen of his forty-five years as bishop were spent in exile. But the people never acknowledged the validity of the other bishops sent to take his place. He was always bishop in exile as far as his flock was concerned.

Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389) gave a memorial sermon in Constantinople seven years after the death of Athanasius and described the affections of the Egyptian people for their bishop. Gregory tells us that when Athanasius returned from his third exile in 364, having been gone for six years, he arrived

amid such delight of the people of the city and of almost all Egypt, that they ran together from every side, from the furthest limits of the country, simply to hear the voice of Athanasius, or feast their eyes upon the sight of him.3

From their standpoint none of the foreign appointments to the office of bishop in Alexandria for forty-five years was valid but one, Athanasius. This devotion was owing to the kind of man Athanasius was. Gregory remembered him like this:

Let one praise him in his fastings and prayers … another his unweariedness and zeal for vigils and psalmody, another his patronage of the needy, another his dauntlessness towards the powerful, or his condescension to the lowly… . [He was to] the unfortunate their consolation, the hoary-headed their staff, youths their instructor, the poor their resource, the wealthy their steward. Even the widows will … praise their protector, even the orphans their father, even the poor their benefactor, strangers their entertainer, brethren the man of brotherly love, the sick their physician.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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