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|No. 17||Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program||May 1988|
Athanasius Contra Mundum
The U.S. Bishops' Proposed Response to Concerns of Women
by John F. McCarthy
by Monica KingSt. Athanasius was one of the greatest Christian bishops of all time. He was born in Alexandria (c. 296) of wealthy Egyptian parents who were able to send their 'little' son (for he was little in stature) to the famous Catechetical School at Alexandria, where the saintly Clement of Alexandria had taught in the late second or early third century. Origen, the great teacher, Scripture exegete, and philosopher, took over from Clement, who was presumed to have been martyred, as head of the school at the early age of eighteen. It was possible therefore for Athanasius to have a broad Greek education combined with a Christian one, and Athanasius soon became well-versed in the Scriptures. Not only his studies, however, but the fact that he grew up during the last and possibly the worst of all the Christian persecutions, under Diocletian, must have had a profound effect on him. Although his mother did not hide his clothes, as we are told of Origen, in order that he should escape martyrdom, nevertheless he was in danger throughout his childhood and refers to it in his De Incarnatione. This work was written when he was a young man and before Arius had even been thought of. It was the second of a two-part treatise, the first part of which was called Contra Gentes, or Against the Heathen. He wrote it as his first major work for a young man called Macarius, who was a recent convert to Christianity. In it we sense a virtual break with his Greek Platonic background. The soul could no longer, as Plato propounded, become divine merely by contemplation of God. It had fallen from its original state of grace and was a very frail entity in need of a saviour. The crux of Athanasius' teaching is that the soul is created out of nothing (creata ex nihilo) and not out of any pre-existent and uncreated matter, because to accept this teaching of Plato would be to deny that God Himself is the cause of matter and therefore to impute limitation to God, just as it is a limitation on the part of a carpenter if he can make nothing unless he has the wood with which to make it. St. Athanasius saw no diminution of God, only the corruption of man who needed a saviour in order "that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of his body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire" (De Incarnatione, Chap. II). 1
He was sublime in action, lowly in mind; inaccessible in virtue, most accessible in intercourse; gentle, free from anger, sympathetic, sweet in words, sweeter in disposition; angelic in appearance, more angelic in mind; calm in rebuke, persuasive in praise, without spoiling the good effect of either by excess, but rebuking with the tenderness of a father...2Athanasius contra mundum is a phrase that no doubt many students of Church history have often heard. It is certainly no less exaggerated than St. Jerome's remark, "that all the world suddenly woke up to find itself Arian." Perhaps people were more concerned about the doctrines of the Church in those days, but, however suddenly it appeared, it was centuries before Arianism disappeared. No doubt the errors which have sprung up since Vatican II, although not contained in the Council documents, will take as long, if not longer, to die out.
by John F. McCarthyPartners in the Mystery of Redemption is the title given to the "First Draft of the U.S. Bishops' Pastoral Response to Women's Concerns for the Church and Society." This document was published in the April 21, 1988, issue of Origins: NC Documentary Service.
Thus I likewise teach in all the churches of the saints. Let women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted thee to speak, but let them be submissive, as the Law also says. But if they wish to learn anything let them ask their husbands at home, for it is unseemly for a woman to speak in church.Again in 1 Tim 2:11-15:
Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. For I do not allow a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over men; but she is to keep quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and was in sin. Yet women will be saved by childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with modesty.One does not get the impression that serious theological attention was given in the draft to the full historical situation of men and women that St. Paul is referring to in these passages. One hears rather the background voices of articulate feminist women who have rebelled against this teaching and have won the hearts of the writers. St. Paul is not forbidding women to learn or to teach, but he is forbidding women to preach or teach in church and to preside over men, especially in ecclesiastical ministry. This idea of subordination by reason of sex is infuriating to the feminist mind, and that fury is given expression in the draft response.