Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/62

This page needs to be proofread.




his brief career 26 June, 363; and Athanasius re- turned in secret to Alexandria, where he soon re- ceived a document from the new emperor, Jovian, reinstating him once more in liis episcopal functions. His first act was to convene a council which re- affirmed the terms of the Kicene Creed. Early in September he set out for Antioch, bearing a sjmodal letter, in which the pronouncements of this council had been embodied. At Antioch he had an inter- view with the new emperor, who received him gra- ciously and even asked him to prepare an exposition of the orthodox faith. But in the following Febru- ary Jovian died; and in October, 364, Athanasius was once more an exile.

With the turn of circunostances that handed over to Valens the control of the East this article has nothing to do; but the accession of that emperor gave a fresh lease of life to the Arian party. He issued a decree banishing the bishops who had been deposed by Constantius, but who had been permitted b}' Jovian to return to their sees. The news created the greatest consternation in the city of Alexandria itself, and the prefect, in order to prevent a serious outbreak, gave public assurance that the very special case of Athanasius would be laid before the emperor. But the saint seems to have divined what was pre- paring in secret against him. He quietly withdrew from Alexandria, 5 October, and took up his abode in a eountrj' house outside the city. It was during this period that he is said to have spent four months in hiding in his father's tomb (Soz., "'Hist. Eccl. ", VI, xii; Soc, "Hist. Eccl.", IV, xii). Valens, who seems to have sincerely dreaded the possible conse- quences of a popular outbreak, gave orders n-ithin a verj' few weeks for the return of Athanasius to his see. And now began that last brief period of com- parative repose which imexpectedlj- terminated his strenuoiis and extraordinary career. He spent his remaining days, characteristically enough, in re- emphasizing the view of the Incarnation which had been defined at Nicsa and which has been substan- tially the faith of the Christian Church from its earliest pronouncement in Scripture down to its last utterance through the lips of Pius X in our own times. "Let what was confessed by the Fathers of Nicsa prevail", he â– nTote to a philosopher-friend and correspondent in the closing years of his life (Epist. Ixxi, ad Max.). That that confession did at last prevail in the various Trinitarian formularies that followed upon that of Nicea was due, humanly speaking, more to his laborious witness than to that of any other champion in the long teachers' roll of Catholicism. By one of those inexplicable ironies that meet us everywhere in human historj-, this man, who had endured exile so often, and risked life itself in defence of what he believed to be the first and most essential tnith of the Catholic creed, died not by violence or in hiding, but peacefully in his own bed. sur- rounded by his clergj' and mourned by the faithful of the see he had served so well. His feast in tlie Roman Calendar is kept on the anniversary of his death.

All the essential materials for the Saint's biography are to be found in his writings, especially in those -n-ritten after the year 350, when the Apologia contra Ariarws was composed. Supplementary information will be found in St. Epiphan'ICs, HcET., loc. cit.; in St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Orat., xxi; also RuFixrs, Socr.\tes. Sozomex, and Theodoret. The Historia Acephala. or Maffeian Fragvient (discovered bv Maffei in 1738. and inserted bv G.\ll.ixdi in Bibliotheca Patrum, 1769). and the Chronicon Alhajiasianum. or Index to the Festal Letters, give us data for the chronological problem. All the foregoing sources are included in Mign'E, P. G. and P. L. The great P.^pebroch's Lile is in the Acta SS.. May, I. The most important authorities in English are: Newman, Avians of the Fourth Century, and Saint Athanasius: Bright, Dictionary of Christian BioffrapKy; Robertsox, Life, in the Prolegomena to the Select irnVinffS and Letters of Saint Athana- sius (re-edited in Library of the Nicene and post-\ icene Fathers, New York, 1903); Gwatkix. Studies of Arianism (2d ed.. Cambridge. 1900): MoHleb, Athanasius der Grosse; Hergex- ROTHER and Hefele.

Cornelius Clifford.

Atheism (a privative, and Oeos, God, i. e. without God) is that system of thought which is formally opposed to theism. Since its first coming into use the term atheism has been verj- vaguely employed, gene- rally as an epithet of accusation against any system that called in question the popular gods of the day. Thus, while Socrates was accused of atheism (Plato, Apol., 26 c), and Diagoras called an atheist by Cicero (Nat. Deor., I, 23), Democritus and Epi- curus were styled in the same sense impious (without respect for the gods) on account of the trend of their new atomistic philosophj'. In this sense, too, the early Christians were known to the pagans as atheists, because they denied the heathen gods; while, from time to time, various religious opinions and philosophi- cal systems have, for similar reasons, been deemed atheistic. Though atheism, historically considered, has meant no more in the past than a critical or sceptical denial of the theologj- of those who have employed the term as one of reproach, and has consequently no one strict philosophical meaning; though there is no one consistent system in the exposition of which it has a definite place; yet, if we consider it in its broad meaning as merely the opposite of theism, we shall be able to frame such divisions as will make possible a grouping of definite systems under this head. And in so doing we shall at once be adopting both the historical and the philosophical view. For the common basis of all systems of theism as well as the cardinal tenet of all popular religion at the present day is indubita- bly a belief in the existence of a personal God, and to deny this tenet is to invite the popular reproach of atheism. The need of some such definition as this was felt by Mr. Gladstone when he WTote (Contem- porary" Review, June, 1876): "By the Atheist I un- derstand the man who not only holds off, like the sceptic, from the affirmative, but who drives himself, or is driven, to the negative assertion in regard to the whole unseen, or to the existence of God." More- over, the breadth of comprehension in such a use of the term admits of divisions and cross-divisions being framed under it; and at the same time limits the num- ber of sj-stems of thought to which, with any pro- priety, it might otherwise be extended. Also, if the term is thus taken, in strict contradistinction to the- ism, and a plan of its possible modes of acceptance made, these .systems of thought will naturally appear in clearer proportion and relationship.

Thus, defined as a doctrine, or theorj-, or philosophy formally opposed to theism, atheism can only signify the teaching of those schools, whether cosmological or moral, which do not include God either as a principle or as a conclusion of their reasoning. The most trench- ant form which atheism could take would be the posi- tive and dogmatic denial of the existence of any spir- itual and extra-mundane First Cause. This is some- times known as dogmatic, or positive theoretic, athe- ism; though it may be doubted whether such a system has ever been, or could ever possibly be seriously main- tained. Certainly Bacon and Dr. Arnold voice the common judgment of thinkingmen when they express a doubt as to the existence of an atheist belonging to such a school. Still, there are certain advanced phases of materialistic philosophy that, perhaps, should rightly be included under this head. Material- ism, which professes to find in matter its own cause and explanation, may go farther, and positively exclude the existence of any spiritual cause. That such a dog- matic assertion is both unreasonable and illogical needs no demonstration, for it is an inference not warranted by the facts nor justified by the laws of thought. Biat the fact that certain individuals have left the sphere of exact scientific observation for speculation, and have thus dogmatized negatively, calls for their inclusion in this specific tj-pe. Mate- rialism is the one dogmatic explanation of the universe