A true upholder of tradition
St Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, suffered many persecutions and injustices because he refused to tolerate Arianism, the reigning heresy of the 4th Century which denied the divinity of Christ. He died in 373 A.D., and his feast day is kept on the 2nd of May, the anniversary of his death.
St Athanasius was one of the very few bishops in the world who, during the Arian heresy, openly defended the Catholic teaching. He suffered slander, exile and even unjustified excommunication for his almost lone stand in defence of the Faith.
It was a time when the Faith was more upheld by the laity who remained true to their baptism than by the vast majority of the episcopate who failed to remain faithful to their divine commission. Only when we realise this stupendous fact can the full extent of the heroism of St. Athanasius be appreciated (together with a few other heroic bishops such as St. Hilary, who supported him faithfully).
Cardinal Newman cites numerous Patristic testimonies to the abysmal state of the Church at that time. In Appendix V to the third edition of his "Arians of the Fourth Century", we read:
A. D. 360. St. Gregory Nazianzen says, about this date: "Surely the pastors have done foolishly; for, excepting a very few, who either on account of their insignificance were passed over, or who by reason of their virtue resisted, and who were to be left as a seed and root for the springing up again and revival of Israel by the influence of the Spirit, all temporised, only differing from each other in this, that some succumbed earlier, and others later; some were foremost champions and leaders in the impiety, and others joined the second rank of the battle, being overcome by fear, or by interest, or by flattery, or, what was the most excusable, by their own ignorance." (Orat. xxi. 24).
St. Basil says, about the year 372: "Religious people keep silence, but every blaspheming tongue is let loose. Sacred things are profaned; those of the laity who are sound in faith avoid the places of worship as schools of impiety, and raise their hands in solitude, with groans and tears to the Lord in heaven." Ep. 92. Four years after he writes: "Matters have come to this pass: the people have left their houses of prayer, and assemble in deserts, - a pitiable sight; women and children, old men, and men otherwise infirm, wretchedly faring in the open air, amid most profuse rains and snow-storms and winds and frosts of winter; and again in summer under a scorching sun. To this they submit, because they will have no part in the wicked Arian leaven." Ep. 242. Again: "Only one offence is now vigorously punished, - an accurate observance of our fathers' traditions. For this cause the pious are driven from their countries, and transported into deserts." Ep. 243.
WE CAN SEE A PARALLEL IN WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE CHURCH OF TODAY:
What happened over 1600 years ago is repeating itself today, but with two or three differences: Alexandria is the whole Universal Church, the stability of which is being shaken, and what was undertaken at that time by means of physical force and cruelty is now being transferred to a different level. Exile is replaced by banishment into the silence of being ignored; killing, by assassination of character.
(Mgr. Rudolf Graber, Bishop of Regensburg,
Athanasius and the Church of Our Times, p. 23)