This phrase leaps out at me every time I read this section of Athanasius’ writing.
nor, secondly, does repentance call men back from what is their nature—it merely stays them from acts of sin.
God can and does call man to repentance. Nobody argues that point. However, I have some sense that repentance may often be seen as the whole point. And it’s not. All it can do is restrain us from further acts of sin and that very imperfectly. That is an important step, to be sure, but it does nothing to heal our nature.
But if, when transgression had once gained a start, men became involved in that corruption which was their nature, and were deprived of the grace which they had, being in the image of God, what further step was needed? or what was required for such grace and such recall, but the Word of God, which had also at the beginning made everything out of nought? For His it was once more both to bring the corruptible to incorruption, and to maintain intact the just claim of the Father upon all. For being Word of the Father, and above all, He alone of natural fitness was both able to recreate everything, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be ambassador for all with the Father.
The Word alone was able to recreate everything. We do not fundamentally need forgiveness, though forgiveness abounds in Christ for those who turn to him. No, we need freedom from death, a nature not enslaved to the corruption of death. That was and remains an act of such magnitude that only the language of creation, new creation, and recreation can begin to encompass and describe it.
God didn’t become man so that we could be forgiven. God became man so we could be made new.