On the Incarnation of the Word 44 – Redemption (or Re-Creation) Required More Than Creation

Posted: October 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 44 – Redemption (or Re-Creation) Required More Than Creation

This next section of Athanasius’ writing is complicated, but provides a vital component of his defense and explication of the Incarnation. I’ll do what I can to unravel it, but you made need to spend some time meditating on his words more than mine.

Athanasius considers the objection that since the Christian God is held to have created the world from nothing with a word (or Word as the case may be), he should have simply restored it with a command rather than through the messiness of the Incarnation. Athanasius responds that it requires more to cure that which already has existence than to bring it originally from non-existence.

To this objection of theirs a reasonable answer would be: that formerly, nothing being in existence at all, what was needed to make everything was a fiat and the bare will to do so. But when man had once been made, and necessity demanded a cure, not for things that were not, but for things that had come to be, it was naturally consequent that the Physician and Saviour should appear in what had come to be, in order also to cure the things that were. For this cause, then, He has become man, and used His body as a human instrument.

You see immediately that Athanasius primarily links Jesus’ saving work to the healing work of a physician, not in terms of law or judgment. Moreover, it required more to cure than it did to bring man into existence from nothing. I love this summary.

For it was not things without being that needed salvation, so that a bare command should suffice, but man, already in existence, was going to corruption and ruin.

Next comes another turn that bears close consideration.

Now if death were external to the body, it would be proper for life also to have been engendered externally to it. But if death was wound closely to the body and was ruling over it as though united to it, it was required that life also should be wound closely to the body, that so the body, by putting on life in its stead, should cast off corruption.

We’ve seen a lot about death and life in this treatise. Here he is drawing all of that together. Death and corruption had become part of the nature of man. We needed life. God had always been our only source of life and once we had abandoned life, the only way God could bring life to us was to become one of us — to assume our corrupted nature and destroy the death coursing through it.

For this cause the Saviour reasonably put on Him a body, in order that the body, becoming wound closely to the Life, should no longer, as mortal, abide in death, but, as having put on immortality, should thenceforth rise again and remain immortal. For, once it had put on corruption, it could not have risen again unless it had put on life. And death likewise could not, from its very nature, appear, save in the body. Therefore He put on a body, that He might find death in the body, and blot it out. For how could the Lord have been proved at all to be the Life, had He not quickened what was mortal?

Wow. Is that not a God worthy of not just all worship, but all love?

in this very way one may say, with regard to the body and death, that if death had been kept from the body by a mere command on His part, it would none the less have been mortal and corruptible, according to the nature of bodies; but, that this should not be, it put on the incorporeal Word of God, and thus no longer fears either death or corruption, for it has life as a garment, and corruption is done away in it.

All humanity has received life as a garment. It is no longer in the nature of man to die. We were meant to live.


On the Incarnation of the Word 32 – Whom the Demons Confess

Posted: September 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Athanasius continues to defend the Resurrection in this section by emphasizing that the demons flee from the power of Christ and at his name. And this would not be true if Jesus were dead. Demons do not fear a dead man. He ends this section with a marvelous statement of our faith.

As then demons confess Him, and His works bear Him witness day by day, it must be evident, and let none brazen it out against the truth, both that the Saviour raised His own body, and that He is the true Son of God, being from Him, as from His Father, His own Word, and Wisdom, and Power, Who in ages later took a body for the salvation of all, and taught the world concerning the Father, and brought death to nought, and bestowed incorruption upon all by the promise of the Resurrection, having raised His own body as a first-fruits of this, and having displayed it by the sign of the Cross as a monument of victory over death and its corruption.

Amen and amen. This is what we believe as Christians. This is good news indeed!

An earlier thought by Athanasius in this section sent my mind wandering. I’m going to take a moment to explore that rabbit trail. Athanasius writes the following.

For it is God’s peculiar property at once to be invisible and yet to be known from His works, as has been already stated above.

Athanasius is explaining how we can know the Resurrection from the works that Jesus continues to accomplish even though we do not presently see him in the flesh. However, it recalled to my mind the distinction in Eastern theology between God’s essence and his energies. God cannot be known in his essence. (In truth, we can say the same of other human beings. Every other person is essentially unknowable to us in their inner essence.) But God is known through his energies, through the impact he has in creation, through his actions, and through the power of his presence. We see this in Scripture, of course. And as Christians, we know this to be true. We live within the power and assurance of the energies of God. Those energies are not something created by God. They are not some kind of byproduct. They are God.

Often we call these energies at work in our lives grace. It seems to me that Western Christianity (at least in its Protestant form) has done something almost sacrilegious by reducing the concept of grace to unmerited favor. Yes, of course we have God’s unmerited favor. God is a good God who loves mankind.  Every human being who has ever and will ever live has the utterly unmerited favor and love of God upon them. Scripture assures us of that in both the Old and New Testament. Our God is not some changing deity who one moment looks on us with disfavor and in another with favor. He is a good and constant God who blesses the just and the unjust alike. Certainly we have the unmerited favor and forgiveness of God. The Incarnation and the Cross proved that beyond all doubt.

But that has nothing to do with grace. Those of us who follow Jesus have the presence and power of God acting mystically in and through us. These energies of God are grace. The more we learn to live within the presence and activity of God, the more grace we experience. As Paul prays, we grow in grace. You cannot grow in “unmerited favor”. No, we are growing in union with God. Grace and peace are active, participatory experiences of the life of God. We participate in the life of God and grow in union with him in his energies. Grace is one of the most powerful theological statements of the New Testament. Let’s not neuter it.


On the Incarnation of the Word 31 – Impossible Not To Die, Impossible To Remain Dead

Posted: September 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 31 – Impossible Not To Die, Impossible To Remain Dead

Athanasius continues to defend the Resurrection against those incredulous about it. But I want to focus on the manner in which he develops the core of the argument itself.

For if He took a body to Himself at all, and—in reasonable consistency, as our argument shewed— appropriated it as His own, what was the Lord to do with it? or what should be the end of the body when the Word had once descended upon it? For it could not but die, inasmuch as it was mortal, and to be offered unto death on behalf of all: for which purpose it was that the Saviour fashioned it for Himself. But it was impossible for it to remain dead, because it had been made the temple of life. Whence, while it died as mortal, it came to life again by reason of the Life in it; and of its Resurrection the works are a sign.

Jesus was mortal because he was fully human in every way. He inherited the same consequences of the ancestral sin — death. And thus he could not but die. Being human means bodies. Period. We are an embodied being. There is no place where our bodies stop and the “rest” of us continues in any way that can be defined. Our minds and our spirits affect our bodies. Our bodies and our minds affect our spirits. Our embodied spirituality transforms our minds. Though Jesus remained faithful to God in every way, lived the life of the faithful man — the true man, he was in every other way fully human to the core of his nature. There are traditions in Christianity that make Jesus different from us in his nature in one way of another. When we do that, we destroy the power and beauty of the Incarnation.

However, Jesus was also — in his body — Life itself, the divine Logos, the Word. And as the temple of the Logos, that which creates and sustains all life, it was also impossible for him to remain dead. We follow an embodied and a living Lord. It’s important to remember and live within that reality.


On the Incarnation of the Word 30 – Christ Is Himself The Life

Posted: September 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 30 – Christ Is Himself The Life

Athanasius next emphasizes the power of the Resurrection.

For now that the Saviour works so great things among men, and day by day is invisibly persuading so great a multitude from every side, both from them that dwell in Greece and in foreign lands, to come over to His faith, and all to obey His teaching, will any one still hold his mind in doubt whether a Resurrection has been accomplished by the Saviour, and whether Christ is alive, or rather is Himself the Life?

Jesus is not merely alive. He is Life. And this is seen in his power to change men and exert authority over all creation.

Or how, if he is no longer active (for this is proper to one dead), does he stay from their activity those who are active and alive, so that the adulterer no longer commits adultery, and the murderer murders no more, nor is the inflicter of wrong any longer grasping, and the profane is henceforth religious? Or how, if He be not risen but is dead, does He drive away, and pursue, and cast down those false gods said by the unbelievers to be alive, and the demons they worship? For where Christ is named, and His faith, there all idolatry is deposed and all imposture of evil spirits is exposed, and any spirit is unable to endure even the name, nay even on barely hearing it flies and disappears. But this work is not that of one dead, but of one that lives–and especially of God. In particular, it would be ridiculous to say that while the spirits cast out by Him and the idols brought to nought are alive, He who chases them away, and by His power prevents their even appearing, yea, and is being confessed by them all to be Son of God, is dead.


On the Incarnation of the Word 29 – We Live in the Daylight of the Cross

Posted: September 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 29 – We Live in the Daylight of the Cross

In this section, Athanasius continues to hammer the strength and perpiscuity of Christ’s defeat of death on the Cross.

Now if by the sign of the Cross, and by faith in Christ, death is trampled down, it must be evident before the tribunal of truth that it is none other than Christ Himself that has displayed trophies and triumphs over death, and made him lose all his strength. And if, while previously death was strong, and for that reason terrible, now after the sojourn of the Saviour and the death and Resurrection of His body it is despised, it must be evident that death has been brought to nought and conquered by the very Christ that ascended the Cross. For as, if after night-time the sun rises, and the whole region of earth is illumined by him, it is at any rate not open to doubt that it is the sun who has revealed his light everywhere, that has also driven away the dark and given light to all things; so, now that death has come into contempt, and been trodden under foot, from the time when the Saviour’s saving manifestation in the flesh and His death on the Cross took place, it must be quite plain that it is the very Saviour that also appeared in the body, Who has brought death to nought, and Who displays the signs of victory over him day by day in His own disciples.

And again, the strength of Christ’s victory can be seen by the despite in which Christ’s people hold death.

For when one sees men, weak by nature, leaping forward to death, and not fearing its corruption nor frightened of the descent into Hades, but with eager soul challenging it; and not flinching from torture, but on the contrary, for Christ’s sake electing to rush upon death in preference to life upon earth, or even if one be an eye-witness of men and females and young children rushing and leaping upon death for the sake of Christ’s religion; who is so silly, or who is so incredulous, or who so maimed in his mind, as not to see and infer that Christ, to Whom the people witness, Himself supplies and gives to each the victory over death, depriving him of all his power in each one of them that hold His faith and bear the sign of the Cross. For he that sees the serpent trodden under foot, especially knowing his former fierceness no longer doubts that he is dead and has quite lost his strength, unless he is perverted in mind and has not even his bodily senses sound. For who that sees a lion, either, made sport of by children, fails to see that he is either dead or has lost all his power? Just as, then, it is possible to see with the eyes the truth of all this, so, now that death is made sport of and despised by believers in Christ let none any longer doubt, nor any prove incredulous, of death having been brought to nought by Christ, and the corruption of death destroyed and stayed.


On the Incarnation of the Word 27 – Our Contempt For Death

Posted: September 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 27 – Our Contempt For Death

In this section of his treatise, Athanasius writes of the proof of death’s destruction in the contempt with which Christians view death.

For that death is destroyed, and that the Cross is become the victory over it, and that it has no more power but is verily dead, this is no small proof, or rather an evident warrant, that it is despised by all Christ’s disciples, and that they all take the aggressive against it and no longer fear it; but by the sign of the Cross and by faith in Christ tread it down as dead.

Death is not just defeated. Death is destroyed. Athanasius powerfully presents our case.

And a proof of this is, that before men believe Christ, they see in death an object of terror, and play the coward before him. But when they are gone over to Christ’s faith and teaching, their contempt for death is so great that they even eagerly rush upon it, and become witnesses for the Resurrection the Saviour has accomplished against it. For while still tender in years they make haste to die, and not men only, but women also, exercise themselves by bodily discipline against it. So weak has he become, that even women who were formerly deceived by him, now mock at him as dead and paralyzed. For as when a tyrant has been defeated by a real king, and bound hand and foot, then all that pass by laugh him to scorn, buffeting and reviling him, no longer fearing his fury and barbarity, because of the king who has conquered him; so also, death having been conquered and exposed by the Saviour on the Cross, and bound hand and foot, all they who are in Christ, as they pass by, trample on him, and witnessing to Christ scoff at death, jesting at him, and saying what has been written against him of old: “O death, where is thy victory? O grave, where is thy sting.”

Death has no dominion over us. I think sometimes we forget, but that’s our true reality.


On the Incarnation of the Word 22 – Received the Death of All Men

Posted: September 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 22 – Received the Death of All Men

Athanasius makes several closely related points in today’s section, but I’m going to focus on one.

And besides, the Saviour came to accomplish not His own death, but the death of men; whence He did not lay aside His body by a death of His own — for He was Life and had none — but received that death which came from men, in order perfectly to do away with this when it met Him in His own body.

Jesus, the eternal Word was Life and had no death of his own. He received the death which came from men, at the hands of men, in his body. And when the Life of the Word met the Death of the eikon in the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth, Life overcame Death once and for all. Jesus did away with death.

Reflect on that thought today. Feel its immensity.


On the Incarnation of the Word 21 – Why Death on the Cross?

Posted: September 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 21 – Why Death on the Cross?

I like the way Athanasius describes the way we no longer die the death as we once did in the opening of this section.

For like the seeds which are cast into the earth, we do not perish by dissolution, but sown in the earth, shall rise again, death having been brought to nought by the grace of the Saviour.

I think many of us are sufficiently culturally removed, though, that we miss the critical import of the primary question he is addressing here.

Why, then, one might say, if it were necessary for Him to yield up His body to death in the stead of all, did He not lay it aside as man privately, instead of going as far as even to be crucified? For it were more fitting for Him to have laid His body aside honourably, than ignominiously to endure a death like this.

The cross was the most painful and shameful means of execution in that part of the ancient world. Our modern American culture is also not at its core an honor/shame society. The cross stripped those on it of all honor and rendered them almost subhuman, at least as it was generally perceived. Athanasius had to address not just why the union of natures in the Incarnation was essential and that Christ had to die to defeat death, he had to explain why that death, the death on the Cross.

Athanasius addresses that question rather like an onion as he peels back the layers. Christ could not simply die from age or disease or other weakness. For example, he could be hungry and weak from hunger, but he couldn’t die from hunger. Moreover, if he had simply died on his own, he would have appeared no different from other men in his death. He had to die at the hands of other men and his confrontation of the Powers and their abuse, failure to love, and failure to fulfill their function as ordained by God made such an end all but inevitable.

Why, then, did He not prevent death, as He did sickness? Because it was for this that He had the body, and it was unfitting to prevent it, lest the Resurrection also should be hindered, while yet it was equally unfitting for sickness to precede His death, lest it should be thought weakness on the part of Him that was in the body. Did He not then hunger? Yes; He hungered, agreeably to the properties of His body. But He did not perish of hunger, because of the Lord that wore it. Hence, even if He died to ransom all, yet He saw not corruption. For [His body] rose again in perfect soundness, since the body belonged to none other, but to the very Life.

Even so, Jesus could have prevented his death on the Cross. Nobody could take his life from him. He relinquished it voluntarily. Scripture, of course, is clear about that. Athanasius re-emphasizes it.


On the Incarnation of the Word 15 – God Meets Us In Every Place We’ve Turned

Posted: September 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 15 – God Meets Us In Every Place We’ve Turned

Athanasius describes in this chapter of his treatise how the Incarnation meets man in every place he had turned.

For seeing that men, having rejected the contemplation of God, and with their eyes downward, as though sunk in the deep, were seeking about for God in nature and in the world of sense, feigning gods for themselves of mortal men and demons; to this end the loving and general Saviour of all, the Word of God, takes to Himself a body, and as Man walks among men and meets the senses of all men half-way, to the end, I say, that they who think that God is corporeal may from what the Lord effects by His body perceive the truth, and through Him recognize the Father.

Or as Jesus answered when Phillip asked him to show them the Father:

He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.

Athanasius goes on to describe how the Incarnation reaches out to meet us in the various places we had turned seeking God. The places he describes are not markedly different from where we turn today. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. In the Incarnation God meets us. As we actively seek to follow other Gods, we find Christ in every place we look.

For this cause He was both born and appeared as Man, and died, and rose again, dulling and casting into the shade the works of all former men by His own, that in whatever direction the bias of men might be, from thence He might recall them, and teach them of His own true Father, as He Himself says: “I came to save and to find that which was lost.”

As one who has followed, tried to follow, or considered following many different paths in my life, I deeply appreciate God seeking those who did not even know they were looking for him.