But if any honest Christian wants to know why the Lord suffered death on the cross and not in some other way, we answer thus: in no other way was it expedient for us, indeed the Lord offered for our sakes the one death that was supremely good. He had come to bear the curse that lay on us; and who could He “become a curse” otherwise than by accepting the accursed death. And that death is the cross, for it is written, “cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree.” – Athanasius, Treasury, p. 176
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Archive for the ‘Athanasius’ Category
The Fourth Century of Christianity is by far my personal favorite. This is part of the assignment this week, so I thought I might share a rough draft or so…
Athanasius’ Christology was, as it should be, focused on Christ, and with all of his effort in De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (c. 328[i]) pointed only to the teleological precept that Christ, the very Image of God, was incarnated for the express purpose to recreate the fallen human race. Further, by necessity, the Word of God must be fully divine, full deity, to accomplish this great feat. It was only through the creative force of God that recreation could occur (7.5). For the ancient writer, who no doubt was still reeling from the single most important event in the life of the Church (after Pentecost, of course), the matter of the Incarnation was no small thing as it is the very ‘faith of our religion’ (1.1). It is, simply, the sine qua non of the Christian Faith, which shows not only God’s love, righteousness and power, but so too presents us with a present hope as a matter of the New Creation. Throughout the treatise (indeed, this one and others), Athanasius appeals to Scripture, and much to the dismay of Protestants, makes use of the book of Wisdom (of Solomon) like other early writers before, and after him. There was simply no greater theologian considered orthodox in the fourth century than Athanasius who defended his bishop at Nicaea and for the rest of his life would defend his view of the Godhead.
Following Athenagoras and Irenaeus before him, Athanasius focuses heavily on Wisdom Christology[ii], and should not be read without the first few chapters of Wisdom and several passages of Proverbs[iii] in the mind of the reader; surely, they were in Athanasius’s mind. For our ancient writer, Christ was the Word, the Wisdom, and the Power of God as he used those terms frequently, mirroring Paul in 1st Corinthians 1.24 as well as those after the Apostle who would see Christ as the Wisdom of God, developing their theology on that attribute. Further, Athanasius would stand against Justin and the Arians in their insistence that the Incarnation was the last of a line of appearances of the Son[iv] (note Justin’s commentary on Genesis 19) in defending that Christ was the Incarnation, designed for a purpose, and that purpose was to finally restore humanity. Athanasius would write that his entire treatise was to make sure his reader, Macarius, would ‘neither fail to know the cause of the bodily appearing of the Word of the Father…’ but know that the Incarnation was for the expressed purpose of being ‘manifested to us in a human body for our salvation.’ (1.3) Robertson notes that this ‘manifestation’ language is Athanasius’ method of describing Christ as Mediator, without seeing Christ as a waiting third party, ready to intervene. Instead, Athanasius sees ‘God manifesting himself immediately through his Word in creation’[v] a radically different view than that of the Semi-Arianism of the Eusebian Party.
One interesting note, and while not clearly expressed it is alluded to, is that the present Christological debates had a meaning to Athanasius that went beyond the normal exercises of battling heresies. Following John’s purpose of the Apocalypse, Athanasius sees that the present Christological debates involve eschatological purposes of revealing more of who Christ is. In 1.2, Athanasius comments that ‘the more He (Christ) is mocked among the unbelieving, the more witness does He give of His own Godhead.’ With the persecutions stopped by order of the Roman Emperor, and the Church gaining a foothold into the Imperial Roman Government, for many, the Kingdom had come. Yet, not all of the eschatological promises, especially those of mature knowledge[vi] of Christ, were fulfilled. It is possible that Athanasius and his audience believed that the current climate was purposed in order that Christ might finally be revealed and a mature knowledge of Him held by all believers.
Other insights into Athanasius’s Christology are found in such instances as 3.4 when he notes that ‘Holy Writ also gives warning, saying in the Person of God’ and goes on to quote the Edenic warning. While Nicaea had passed, certain theological words might not have been succinctly defined, and yet, it is still interesting that Holy Writ, something later given to the Spirit although still the purview of Christ here(10.2 – in which Athanasius notes that it is Christ who inspires the writers), speaks in the Person of God. It is also noteworthy that Athanasius rarely referred to the Christ as the Son before the Incarnation, but generally maintained the distinction of Word/Pre-Incarnate and Son/Incarnate that his ally Marcellus of Ancyra would be chastised over. It is not until 15.4 that Athanasius would write that Christ ‘alone among men appeared Son of God.’ In the same chapter, Christ is still called the Word of God, but only before he takes a body. Upon the Incarnation, Christ then becomes the Son of God, although later in 47.3, Athanasius would write that ‘Christ alone has been recognized among men as the true God, the Word of God. Rarely does Athanasius use Son, and then, only in connection to the act of Incarnation. As Word, and then as Son, Christ would be the ‘very Image of God, our Lord Jesus Christ’ (13.4) which would allow humanity to be recreated ‘after the image of God’, which for Athanasius seems to be a distinction worth noting, although the ancient writer certainly believed in θείας[vii]. Finally, Athanasius, although not nearly as easily done as Ignatius of Antioch, calls Christ God, unqualifibly (19.3). For Athanasius, Christ is the Image of God, the Son and Wisdom and Power of God (19.2), following in a long tradition of other ancient, and orthodox, writers.
While removed by 30 years, Athanasius’ Christology, and his Trinity, is summed up easily in his letter to Serapion,
God is above all things as Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit. – Athanasius’ first letter to Serapion (Ep. 1 ad Serapionem 28-30: PG 26, 594-95. 599) (c.360)
For Athanasius, then, had the Incarnated Word been anything less than God manifested in the flesh which the Arians decried, was to destroy all hope of Salvation.
[i] Although most scholars date it to this time, it may be that Athanasius was writing at a much later date than 326-328, perhaps as late at 337, the year in which a presbyter named Macarius (1.1) and several deacons traveled as deputies from the Eusebian Party to Rome to present the East’s case against Athanasius and Marcellus. (See Apol c. Arianos 22-24). It is possible that this letter was the response to Macarius which Athanasius sent, ultimately leading Macarius to feign illness and excuse himself from the case against Athanasius.
[ii] There is not the focus on the Logos Christology that we have in Justin and the other Alexandrines, although Athanasius sees the Word as Rational and thus imparting to the rational race, Reason. Athanasius, instead, focuses on Christ not as the organizing principle of the Logos but the divine creating attribute of Wisdom.
[iii] I would agree with several scholars who believe that the disputed passage which first caused Arius’ disruption was most likely Proverbs 8.
[iv] See the discussion on the Dyohypostatic Theology in Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., Contra Marcellum Catholic University of America Press, Washington 1999, p38-42 as well as p63 in which Lienhard notes that for Athanasius, the decisive moment in human history was the Incarnation.
[v] Robertson, Jon M., Christ as Mediator, A Study of the Theologies of Eusebius of Caesarea, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Athanasius of Alexandra, 194-214, 2007.
[vi] Ephesians 4.13
[vii] See 54.3, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei; cf 2nd Peter 1.4
- Was De Incarnatione Verbi Dei Athanasius’ defense in 337? (thechurchofjesuschrist.us)
- Scratch Pad Two: Arianism (thechurchofjesuschrist.us)
- Reflections: Ancient Christian Commentary – Apocrypha (1) (thechurchofjesuschrist.us)
- Athanasius contra Stephen Hawking (thechurchofjesuschrist.us)
- Arius’s Thalia (thechurchofjesuschrist.us)
Many scholars date Athanasius’ greatest work defending the Incarnation of Word of God to right after the Council of Nicaea. (You can read, and should read, the entire work.) Opening the letter, Athanasius writes,
In our former book we dealt fully enough with a few of the chief points about the heathen worship of idols, and how those false fears originally arose. We also, by God’s grace, briefly indicated that the Word of the Father is Himself divine, that all things that are owe their being to His will and power, and that it is through Him that the Father gives order to creation, by Him that all things are moved, and through Him that they receive their being. Now, Macarius, true lover of Christ, we must take a step further in the faith of our holy religion, and consider also the Word’s becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst. (1.)
Although most scholars date it this letter to this time, it may be that Athanasius was writing at a much later date than 326-328, perhaps as late at 337, the year in which a presbyter named Macarius and several deacons traveled as deputies from the Eusebian Party to Rome to present the East’s case against Athanasius and Marcellus. (See Apol c. Arianos 22-24). It is possible that this letter was the response to Maracius which Athanasius sent, ultimately leading Macarius to feign illness and excuse himself from the case against Athanasius.
Could this treatise then be the defense offered by Athanasius in 337?
Hawking: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” (here)
Athanasius: “Of the making of the universe and the creation of all things many have taken different views, and each man has laid down the law just as he pleased. For some say that all things have come into being of themselves, and in a chance fashion; as, for example, the Epicureans, who tell us in their self-contempt, that universal providence does not exist, speaking right in the face of obvious fact and experience. For if, as they say, everything has had its beginning of itself, and independently of purpose, it would follow that everything had come into mere being, so as to be alike and not distinct. For it would follow in virtue of the unity of body that everything must be sun or moon, and in the case of men it would follow that the whole must be hand, or eye, or foot. But as it is this is not so. On the contrary, we see a distinction of sun, moon, and earth; and again, in the case of human bodies, of foot, hand, and head. Now, such separate arrangement as this tells us not of their having come into being of themselves, but shews that a cause preceded them; from which cause it is possible to apprehend God also as the Maker and Orderer of all.” (On the Incarnation 2.1-2)
See the previous post. Also, do you see Arianism in the modern Church?
Arianism, long latent even before it had a name given to it by a man born long after the heresy developed, erupted in Alexandria at the start of the State Church due to a dispute between Alexander, Bishop of that city, and the conservative Arius[i], one of his presbyters. Erupting over a contested passage[ii], the contest soon spread throughout Egypt and into the Levant, roundly dividing the priests and bishops into the two camps, although those two camps were not as neatly defined as their leaders who have us believe. While Arius and his most ardent followers most likely aligned symmetrically, as were Alexander and his, the tiered supporters did have disagreements amongst themselves. Each had their theologians, with Arius, a poor theologian, defended by Eusebius of Caesarea and Eusebius of Nicomedia, joined by the lapsed Narcissus of Neronias and Alexander supported immediately by Athanasius who would later be accompanied into exile by Marcellus of Ancyra. Letters, documents and position papers were produced, leading to excommunications and eventually, an Imperial call for a council.
In 325, Constantine summoned hundreds of bishops, but only a fraction attended, and nearly all of them from the East. It was to decide, for all time, the position of the Church. After heated disputes[iii], a Creed was introduced by Eusebius and without little change, was accepted as a middle ground to both sides. This Creed was roundly supported by Marcellus of Ancyra and others because of the inclusion of the word ὁμοούσιον (consubstantiálem, Lat.) tying Christ to the same substance as the Father, directly refuting, at least in the majority opinion, the notion that Christ is a creature, made by the Father. The Creed of 325 differed greatly from the Creed of 381 which developed, although with the fight over of the completion enjoyed by the Son, the formula of the Spirit. Further, with its focus on more of the ontological nature of Christ, the Creed of 381 tried to forever put to rest the heresy that there was a time in which the Son was not.
Arianism’s problem for Christianity resides in the question of Incarnation and Atonement. If Christ was a created being, and although higher than the angels, could salvation be affected? Christ, as orthodoxy considered Him, was God in the Flesh, which was necessary, via developed theology, to bring about Salvation because in the Atonement, Christ through His divinity accomplished the ultimate sacrifice. As Melito of Sardis would say, God died; or as Athanasius would say, God became human so that humanity could become divine. It diluted the deity of Christ to a high and perfect creature, but a creature none the less. And if the blood of bulls and goats did nothing, how could another mere creature, regardless of his own divine status? Arius, while attempting to drive the Church away from polytheism which he perceived in Alexander’s speech, drove the Church into the ancient heresies of Ebionism and in some small way, Gnosticism.
[i] So is the argument by Rowam Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his book, Arius: Heresy and Tradition, Eerdmans,
[ii] I would venture that it was Proverbs 8, in which Wisdom (Christ) is said to be created, although most likely Arius was using the LXX. Constantine in his letter to Alexander would write, When you, Alexander, demanded of the priests what opinion they each maintained respecting a certain passage in Scripture, or rather, I should say, that you asked them something connected with an unprofitable question. See Constantine to Alexander and Arius, 6
[iii] One of my favorite stories is that of Bishop Nicolas (St. Nicholas) who upon hearing Arius’ full treatment walked over to the heretic and with as much strength as he could muster, punched Arius – in front of the Emperor, no less!
Any one who reads this blog for any amount of time knows that I have no Protestant qualms about using the Apocrypha, rather, the Deuterocanon. As a matter of fact, I am pretty adamant about using it to shed light into the thought-world of the New Testament. Let’s be honest: Paul didn’t have a closed canon. Instead, he used ‘other’ books for his dictionary and lexicon. Some of those books are no doubt in the Deuterocanon. Easily seen to my readers are my favorites – Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch and 1st Maccabees.
One of the great services that InterVarsity Press has given us is a wide range of collections centered on the ancient Christians. These series, such as the series on the Creeds and this voluminous set, provides for modern Christians a touchstone to the past, a hallmark of those who have gone before. In doing so, they shed light on modern beliefs that ‘have always been.’
This week, I intend to shed some light from this particular volume on the Apocrypha. It doesn’t cover all of the books, leaving out 1st Maccabees, however, it does get to the core of those which still provide liturgical uses for even Protestant denominations.
Then all the Gentiles will turn to fear the Lord God in truth, and will bury their idols. (Tobit 14:6 RSV)
While there are numerous writers mentioned, I thought we might go with a personal favorite, Athanasius:
See then what human beings considered the foolishness of God because of the cross, how this has become above anything else the most honored. For our resurrection is stored up in it. No longer Israel alone, but from this time forward all the nations, as the prophet has foretold, abandon their idols and acknowledged the truth God, the Father of Christ. The illusion of demons has come to nothing, and he alone who is truly God is worshiped in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians, 1.43.1 (p33)
In discussing the doctrines of the afterlife, we find difficult verses, one of them being John 12.32. I will try not to draw a conclusion, but simply present information on this verse:
And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.
So then, men having thus become brutalized, and demoniacal deceit thus clouding every place, and hiding the knowledge of the true God, what was God to do?
The Son is in the Father because his whole being is proper to the Father’s essence…so that whoever sees the Son sees what belongs to the Father and understands that the Son’s being, because it comes from the Father, is therefore in the Father. The Father is in the Son, because the Son is what is from the Father and belongs to him. They relate to one another as the radiance to the sun, the word to the thought expressed and the stream to the fountain. Whoever contemplates the Son like this contemplates what belongs to the Father’s essence and knows that the Father is in the Son. (Discourses Against the Arians 3.23.3 ACD vol 1 pg72)
For whereas man sinned, and is fallen,
and by his fall all things are in confusion:
death prevailed from Adam to Moses,
the earth was cursed,
Hades was opened,
man, lastly, corrupted and brutalised cf.Psalm 49:12,
while the devil was exulting against us—
then God, in His loving-kindness,
not willing man made in His own image to perish,
said, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go?’
But while all held their peace,
the Son said, ‘Here am I, send Me.’
And then it was that, saying ‘Go Thou,’
He ‘delivered’ to Him man,
that the Word Himself might be made Flesh,
and by taking the Flesh, restore it wholly.
For to Him, as to a physician,
man ‘was delivered’ to heal the bite of the serpent;
as to life, to raise what was dead;
as to light, to illumine the darkness;
and, because He was Word, to renew the rational nature.
– St. Athanasius, On Luke 10:22