January 18 Saints of the Day – Athanasius the Great and Margaret of Hungary

Athanasius the GreatOn this day in 1943, the United States banned the sale of sliced bread to save metal, or paper, or something, for the war effort. As it turns out it didn’t save anything. The first legal slice after the ban was rescinded on March 8 was used by Food Administrator Claude R. Wickard to wipe the egg off his face.

Athanasius the Great (ca. 296-373), Patriarch of Alexandria, was also called Athanasius of Alexandria, Athanasius the Apostolic, the Father of Orthodoxy, the Father of the Canon, Athanasius the Confessor, and Athanasius contra mundum. He was greatly embarrassed by these titles and kept them out of sight in a drawer.

Athanasius wrote many theological treatises, letters, and hagiographies, including that of his beloved friend and spiritual guide Anthony the Great, whom we’ve already met. In 319 he published his greatest work, On the Incarnation. So great was his erudition — he quoted Plato and Aristotle, for goodness’ sake — that his editor got none other than C.S. Lewis to write the introduction. Lewis famously pronounced that the book was easier to read than Xenophon, which is certainly true since a lot of English readers have trouble with words starting with “X.”

Athanasius served as bishop for 45 years, at least officially — 17 of those years were spent in exile, hiding from the Arians. We’re talking no love lost here. He gave Arianism what-for in his writings, and they came gunning, or, swording I suppose we should say. Finally at the end of his life he had a breathing spell, and was able to die in peace. He was the first compiler of the table of contents for the New Testament, and is beloved among the Copts as the first Patriarch to write in Coptic as well as Greek (shopping lists? our sources don’t say).

Margaret of HungaryMargaret of Hungary (1242-1271) was the eighth daughter of King Bela IV of Hungary, which at the time had a bit of a Mongol problem. Her parents promised God they would dedicate her to religion if He would do something about the pesky invaders. God came through, so when she turned four, little Margaret was trundled off to a monastery. She took to monastic life like a duck, memorizing the Divine Office and singing it to herself as she played, for instance, which says something about the advantages of a bilingual childhood. All parents should speak Latin at home, if only for the sake of their children.

As the years went on, it became clear that she had settled in to stay. Sadly, no one got this message to the king, and when Margaret turned twelve, he found a useful marriage for her, having conveniently forgotten his thanks to God for the Mongolectomy. She said no. Then, for reasons I was not able to ascertain, he built a monastery just for her on an island in the Danube between Buda and Pest. There she took her vows and her veil. When she turned 18, King Ottokar of Bohemia turned up on the beach with a dispensation from the Pope releasing Margaret from her vows if only she would be his bride. “What’s the King of Bohemia compared to the King of Heaven?” she said, and that settled it. Dad gave up.

She shunned discussion of her royal parentage, preferring to talk about her aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and other saintly relatives, on the theory that it’s more humble to brag about how holy your family is than how royal it is. Unable to go on pilgrimages, she created virtual pilgrimages by finding out how far away various holy places were, and saying one Hail Mary for every mile of the journey, making her the only pilgrim in history who would have had to travel farther under the metric system. She died young, and was proclaimed a saint by her acquaintances almost immediately, and by the Church in 1943 (the in-box was very full). She is the patroness against floods.

Sliced bread (Wikipedia)
Athanasius of Alexandria (Wikipedia)
Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (SQPN)
Athanasius of Alexandria (OrthoWiki)
Saints Titus & Timothy (Memorial) January 26. 1998 (St. Patrick Church, D.C.)
Margaret of Hungary (saint) (Wikipedia)
Saint Margaret of Hungary (SQPN)
Elizabeth of Hungary (Wikipedia)
Athanasius. On the Incarnation. (book on paper)
The Prologue of Ohrid (book on paper)

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

2 comments on “January 18 Saints of the Day – Athanasius the Great and Margaret of Hungary

  1. This is historical! “…saying one Hail Mary for every mile of the journey, making her the only pilgrim in history who would have had to travel farther under the metric system.” For that reason alone, I’m so glad I live in America. And I’m no saint (though I’m married to one).

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