On the Incarnation of the Word 52 – United In Peace

I’ve spent no small amount of time reflecting on the Christianity Athanasius describes in today’s section of his treatise. The things he takes for granted are more difficult to see among Christians today.

Who then is He that has done this, or who is He that has united in peace men that hated one another, save the beloved Son of the Father, the common Saviour of all, even Jesus Christ, Who by His own love underwent all things for our salvation? For even from of old it was prophesied of the peace He was to usher in, where the Scripture says: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their pikes into sickles, and nation shall not take the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

The above is a fairly consistent ancient interpretation of that famous Scripture. They saw the peace of Christ as something real already working itself into and through the live of those who joined the already present and growing Kingdom. These days, it seems that many Christians instead interpret the peace of Christ that passes all understanding as something internal, individual, and purely spiritual, not as something that has any real, tangible, communal reality. They view the description of the prophecy above as something that will happen in the future, not as something that is already in the process of being fulfilled.

And this is at least not incredible, inasmuch as even now those barbarians who have an innate savagery of manners, while they still sacrifice to the idols of their country, are mad against one another, and cannot endure to be a single hour without weapons:  but when they hear the teaching of Christ, straightway instead of fighting they turn to husbandry, and instead of arming their hands with weapons they raise them in prayer, and in a word, in place of fighting among themselves, henceforth they arm against the devil and against evil spirits, subduing these by self-restraint and virtue of soul.

Athanasius is saying this peace is breaking out among warring peoples as they turn to Christ. It’s not an ideal. It’s not hypothetical. It’s real. He was writing in a age in which wars were not at all unknown. Athanasius lived within the context of an empire that defended itself against those who warred against it and by the time of this writing, Christians were participants within the government of that Empire, sometimes the emperors were Christian, and many in those armies were Christian. His head was not off in the clouds and out of touch with reality. He dealt with those realities every day.

And yet, Athanasius still writes the above. What did he see and experience that we are missing?

Why, they who become disciples of Christ, instead of warring with each other, stand arrayed against demons by their habits and their virtuous actions: and they rout them, and mock at their captain the devil; so that in youth they are self-restrained, in temptations endure, in labours persevere, when insulted are patient, when robbed make light of it: and, wonderful as it is, they despise even death and become martyrs of Christ.

It was, of course, St. Paul who famously wrote that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. The weapons of the powers haven’t changed and the above captures some of them well in its list of things those who follow Christ resist and overcome. The threat of death, of course, remains the ultimate weapon. Death’s power over us may have been broken in the Resurrection, but we still often give it power through our fear.

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