Today the Church celebrates the commemoration of Saint Athanasius, one of the great fathers and doctors of the ancient Church. He was bishop of the important city of Alexandria in the delta of the Nile in northern Egypt. He spent much of his life combatting Arianism, the most widespread heresy during the years of the early Church. It taught that Our Lord was truly man, but not God. Many Catholics either died or suffered a great deal in defense of the dogma that Jesus is indeed “TRUE GOD AND TRUE MAN” as we say in the Divine Praises.
I’d like to call to your attention the name of this saint whom we celebrate today. The name “Athanasius” comes from two Greek words which mean “Not dying.” Or, if you prefer, “Immortal,” which is the same thing in the Latin rather than the Greek derivation. If you look in the index of a complete book of the lives of the saints, you will find that there are a number of male and female saints named either Athanasius or Athanasia—Undying or Immortal.
And then you will also find a number of male saints named Anastasius, and female saints called Anastasia. This name in the two forms again comes from the Greek and means “Standing up again.” It means that after Our Divine Lord gave up his life on the cross and was placed lifeless in the tomb, he rose again and stood up in the newness of his risen life and will remain alive forever. It is interesting to see what names the early Catholics gave to their children, most of those names referring to theological or spiritual concepts taken from Sacred Scripture or from the names of earlier saints who had lived exemplary lives.
The names are sometimes taken from the world of animals. The coming Christ was to be the Lion of Juda, and “lion” in Latin is Leo, so we have a number of Saints Leo. Saint John the Baptist called Jesus “the lamb of God.” Lamb in Latin is “Agnus,” so there have been a number of women named Agnes, several of them canonized. The Holy Spirit descended upon Our Lord in the form of a dove at Jesus’s baptism, so there have been many Christians named “Columba” or “Colum” or “Columban,” all meaning a dove. The world of flowers has given us the names “Flora,” Rose,” “Iris,” “Lily” and “Lillian”, even “Susan,” from the Hebrew “Susanna” meaning lily. The flower called hyacinth has given us our Dominican saint Hyacinth, and, because of him, the Texas name “San Jacinto,” very well known in Texas history as the place of a battle where Texas independence was won. In the New Testament, we find the mother of Saints James and John called Salome, meaning Peace. We call girls Irene, the Anglicized form of the Greek “eirene,” meaning Peace.
I hope that you bear a Christian name, that you know its meaning and derivation, and reflect from time to time upon your being given that name. It is a sacramental, a holy thing, and another link between you and Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.