Lawson points out that Athanasius from the age of five to his fourteenth year had lived through the last great Roman persecution against the Church. And he lived where the onslaught was the greatest, in Egypt. The persecution began in 303 A.D. after forty years of peace for the Churches. As Lawson puts it, “The Church of Alexandria, already so rich in martyrs, became richer yet …”
Athanasius’ experience is described: “among them [the martyrs] were many whom Athanasius knew, men and women from whom he had learned the Catholic faith and a loving intimacy with Holy Scriptures, children with whom, probably, he had worked and played.”
Lawson goes on to state, “All through the most impressionable years of his childhood he not only learnt the Christian faith, he had seen it in action. He had faced the possibility of martyrdom for himself; and he had made his own the faith for and by which the martyrs died—the faith of the Creator-Word Incarnate, the crucified and risen, the living and triumphant Christ.”
I could add the historical information that the early Church historian Eusebius gives of the Christian suffering in Alexandria since he was a contemporary of Athanasius. But his account is so detailed and awful I will refrain from quoting. But I am attempting to make a point. When Athanasius writes about the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ he is standing not only on the layers of witness from the Bible and the extremely early church years, he is referring to his own time and seeing evidence with his own eyes. And this is what he writes:
“If, then, it is by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ that death is trampled underfoot, it is clear that it is Christ Himself and none other Who is the Archvictor over death and has robbed it of its power. Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Saviour and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally.The words ‘silly’ and ‘incredulous’ are great descriptors of those in this post-modern age who want to hold on to the name Christian and yet reject a resurrection history that just keeps traveling back carried by the faith of all the martyrs and forward towards the promise of his glorious coming.
If you see with your own eyes men and women and children, even thus welcoming death for the sake of Christ’s religion, how can you be so utterly silly and incredulous and maimed in your mind as not to realize that Christ, to Whom these all bear witness, Himself gives the victory to each, making death completely powerless for those who hold His faith and bear the sign of the cross?”