On the Incarnation of the Word 8 – The Word Became Flesh

Posted: August 31st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 8 – The Word Became Flesh

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Having described the breadth and depth of the problem, Athanasius turns again to God’s response. As you read Athanasius and my own thoughts, also rest in the above passage from John’s prologue. It’s important to keep in mind that the Word becoming flesh does not describe a distant God coming near us, for God was never distant.

For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, howbeit he was not far from us before. For no part of Creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere, remaining present with His own Father.

No, the purpose was not to come near us, for the Word who creates and sustains us could not be nearer or more present. No, the purpose was much grander and fearsome.

He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery—lest the creature should perish, and His Father’s handiwork in men be spent for nought—He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours.

A body of no different sort from ours. That’s hard to wrap our heads around. But when the Word became flesh, he assumed the totality of our nature. Even today, Christians often want to back away from that statement. They want to make Jesus less than fully human in one way or another, often subtly. We feel more comfortable, somehow, with the superhero Jesus. I suppose that’s a less intimate, less frightening, and less intimidating view of the Incarnation.

And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death He gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father—doing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone (inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord’s body, and had no longer holding-ground against men, his peers), and that, secondly, whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like fire from the straw.

The power of death was fully spent in the body of Jesus. It no longer has any power over us. We are made alive again by and through his body (which certainly reads like a reference to the Eucharist). We are made alive by the grace of the Resurrection. That phrasing makes no sense if ‘grace’ is simply unmerited favor, as many present it today. But if grace is the energy and action of God, if grace is the presence and power of God himself, then it makes perfect sense. The Incarnation and the Resurrection bring the fullness of God into humanity.

Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen!


On the Incarnation of the Word 7 – Repentance Is Not Enough

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

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.


zpizza

Posted: August 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on zpizza

After skating at our favorite skating rink, my daughter and I decided to try the new zpizza in Round Rock. They use quality, organic ingredients and, most importantly from my perspective, offer the option of a gluten free pizza crust! As the employee who greeted us was explaining how to order for our first visit, my daughter actually spoke up and told him that I couldn’t eat gluten before I could say a word. He didn’t miss a beat and immediately told me the crust was available for the 10 inch pizzas and handed me the list of gluten free ingredients. I ordered the Greek pizza on the gluten free crust and my daughter ordered her personal favorite, ham and pineapple, on a white glutinous crust.

As we waited, I observed the preparation. While they don’t have a great deal of space in which to work, I noticed they have a smaller, separate work area for the gluten free pizzas. It had its own cutting board, its own slicing knife, and everything. I was concerned about the risk of cross contamination in the confined space and was impressed with how well they had thought it out.

The pizzas? Mine was delicious and my daughter assures me hers was as well. Two thumbs up to zpizza! We’ll definitely be going back again someday.


Alamo Village & Inglorious Basterds

Posted: August 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Movie Reviews, Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Alamo Village & Inglorious Basterds

Alamo Drafthouse

One of the joys of living in Austin has been the opportunity to experience the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for years. We first visited Alamo Village not too long after it opened when the original downtown location and it were the only Alamo Drafthouse cinemas to be found. Recent years have seen a lot of growth with franchises and new owners. Today, the Ritz (downtown), Lamar, and Village cinemas are owned and operated by the founders. The also have their own, Original Alamo, site. I have visited some of the other Alamo Drafthouses and while you will have a similar experience at any of them, the ones operated by the founders continue to have a somewhat different quality to them.

I haven’t been to Alamo Drafthouse since I was diagnosed with celiac disease because the thought of trying to navigate the process of locating safe foods in the more chaotic theater environment intimidated me. However, when my wife said she wanted to see Inglourious Basterds this past week, I decided it was time to investigate. I easily and quickly found comments online about gluten free menus at the original Alamo theaters, but not much about any of the others. So I sent an email to Alamo Village explaining that I had recently been diagnosed with celiac disease and asking about their gluten free options. Jay Nolan quickly responded and attached a PDF of their current gluten free menu. (Note that this is the menu in August, 2009 and may not reflect the current menu. Ask for the current one when you get to the theater.) When I had questions about the menu, he referred me to the Alamo Village executive chef for answers.

We arrived at the theater early and ordered the Nachos Libre for an appetizer. For dinner, I had the Once Upon a Time in Mexico salad and it was spicy and delicious. (My wife had one of their amazing, but decidedly not gluten free pizzas.) The waitress understood that I was ordering gluten free and passed that information on to the kitchen so they could be aware as they prepared my food. For dessert, we shared the Creme Brulee. All in all, it was a great experience. Have I mentioned before that I love living in the Austin metropolitan area? 😀

Inglourious Basterds As I already mentioned, my wife and I watched Inglourious Basterds. It’s definitely a Quentin Tarantino film. Don’t expect any sort of correlation in the movie with actual history. It’s more a reimagining of the WWII war movie genre. And it’s a lot of fun in a rollicking, gory, tongue in cheek way. Every character in the movie has at least one screw loose and often more than one.

This film is not as good as Pulp Fiction, the standard against which every Quentin Tarantino film is judged these days. But it is a great deal of fun. If you liked Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, you will enjoy Inglourious Basterds. If you find the Quentin Tarantino style too gory or vulgar, you probably won’t much like this movie either. It’s very much in the same vein.

And, of course, if you live where you can watch the movie at an Alamo Drafthouse, so much the better!


On the Incarnation of the Word 6 – God’s Goodness

Posted: August 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 6 – God’s Goodness

God’s goodness is the phrase I hear echoing in this chapter of Athanasius’ treatise.

For it were not worthy of God’s goodness that the things He had made should waste away, because of the deceit practised on men by the devil. Especially it was unseemly to the last degree that God’s handicraft among men should be done away, either because of their own carelessness, or because of the deceitfulness of evil spirits.

I wonder at the strength of the text in the original that led this translator to the awkward phrase, unseemly to the last degree. I sense the strand of the idea that true goodness compels action on behalf of others. Athanasius continues in this vein.

So, as the rational creatures were wasting and such works in course of ruin, what was God in His goodness to do? Suffer corruption to prevail against them and death to hold them fast? And where were the profit of their having been made, to begin with? For better were they not made, than once made, left to neglect and ruin. For neglect reveals weakness, and not goodness on God’s part—if, that is, He allows His own work to be ruined when once He had made it—more so than if He had never made man at all. For if He had not made them, none could impute weakness; but once He had made them, and created them out of nothing, it were most monstrous for the work to be ruined, and that before the eyes of the Maker. It was, then, out of the question to leave men to the current of corruption; because this would be unseemly, and unworthy of God’s goodness.

Our God is good. We say it, but then we often describe God in ways that make him seem something other than good. I think we often cannot grasp what it means to be unfailingly good. We chase after angry or neglectful gods for we understand those gods. We are often angry. We are often neglectful. But the Christian points to Christ as the fullness of the revelation of the true God who is not angry, who is not capricious, who is unswervingly faithful, and who is unfailingly good. This is the God who begrudge any of his creation, the just or the unjust, existence. This is the God who saves.


On the Incarnation of the Word 5 – God Gives Life, Man Seeks the Corruption of Death

Posted: August 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

In the next chapter, Athanasius emphasize that God not only created us from nothing, but freely gives us life.

For God has not only made us out of nothing; but He gave us freely, by the Grace of the Word, a life in correspondence with God. … “God made man for incorruption, and as an image of His own eternity; but by envy of the devil death came into the world.” But when this was come to pass, men began to die, while corruption thence-forward prevailed against them, gaining even more than its natural power over the whole race, inasmuch as it had, owing to the transgression of the commandment, the threat of the Deity as a further advantage against them.

As we embrace death and corruption in place of life, our appetite knows no bounds.  And as our passions grow, so does our slavery to death and sin, not just individually, but corporately.

And as to corruption and wrong, no heed was paid to law, but all crimes were being practised everywhere, both individually and jointly. Cities were at war with cities, and nations were rising up against nations; and the whole earth was rent with civil commotions and battles; each man vying with his fellows in lawless deeds.

Our problem is a human problem, not some private, individual matter. I think sometimes we forget that.


On the Incarnation of the Word 4 – Intimately Connected With Our Creation

Posted: August 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

In this next section of Athanasius’ treatise, we begin to encounter an idea that seems to have largely been lost in modern, Western Christianity. Namely, it is the central idea that it is entirely within God that we live and move and have our being. God is. Evil is not.

For transgression of the commandment was turning them back to their natural state, so that just as they have had their being out of nothing, so also, as might be expected, they might look for corruption into nothing in the course of time. For if, out of a former normal state of non-existence, they were called into being by the Presence and loving-kindness of the Word, it followed naturally that when men were bereft of the knowledge of God and were turned back to what was not (for what is evil is not, but what is good is), they should, since they derive their being from God who IS, be everlastingly bereft even of being; in other words, that they should be disintegrated and abide in death and corruption. For man is by nature mortal, inasmuch as he is made out of what is not; but by reason of his likeness to Him that is (and if he still preserved this likeness by keeping Him in his knowledge) he would stay his natural corruption, and remain incorrupt; as Wisdom says: “The taking heed to His laws is the assurance of immortality;” but being incorrupt, he would live henceforth as God, to which I suppose the divine Scripture refers, when it says: “I have said ye are gods, and ye are all sons of the most Highest; but ye die like men, and fall as one of the princes.”

By turning from God, who is our life, we face non-existence and become slaves to death. We do not turn from one god to a different god. There is no other source. When we turn from our life, we actively seek the non-existence of death. The only reason we do not immediately dissipate is because, as we have already seen, God does not begrudge existence to any of his creation. Indeed, he loves it with a love that passes all understanding.

The Incarnation, then, is not about making us good.The Incarnation  unites humanity with God, which is to say that it unites us with life itself. The Word must free us from the mastery of death and all the other powers to which we have subjected ourselves. God’s response to fallen man?

…that the Lord should both make haste to help us and appear among men. For of His becoming Incarnate we were the object, and for our salvation He dealt so lovingly as to appear and be born even in a human body.

The Lord makes haste. God rushes to help us. The Word pours himself into humanity. If you’ve not heard the Christian God proclaimed in those terms, I daresay you’ve not heard the Christian God proclaimed at all. It’s overwhelming and humbling when you begin to not just have eyes, but to see.


On the Incarnation of the Word 3 – Man in the Image of God

Posted: August 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 3 – Man in the Image of God

In the third section of his treatise, Athanasius emphasizes that God created everything through the Word and that he does not begrudge existence to any of it. That’s important to always keep in mind. Yes, God created and sustains everything from moment to moment. But that contingency is not a matter of concern. The uncreated God does not begrudge the existence of creation.

For God is good, or rather is essentially the source of goodness: nor could one that is good be niggardly of anything: whence, grudging existence to none, He has made all things out of nothing by His own Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. And among these, having taken especial pity, above all things on earth, upon the race of men, and having perceived its inability, by virtue of the condition of its origin, to continue in one stay, He gave them a further gift, and He did not barely create man, as He did all the irrational creatures on the earth, but made them after His own image, giving them a portion even of the power of His own Word; so that having as it were a kind of reflexion of the Word, and being made rational, they might be able to abide ever in blessedness, living the true life which belongs to the saints in paradise.

Mankind was alone created in the image or as the eikon of the uncreated God. Mankind is not an afterthought, not an accident, not unwanted. Man is created to proclaim God into creation. It’s a different sort of story of creation and man’s place within it.

Athanasius wraps up this section with an important point. Man was not created in a state of absolute perfection from which we fell and to which we are being restored. Rather, man was created immature, with the potential to choose God and life and grow in communion with God and the potential to turn from God instead; to seek non-existence and find the corruption of death.

There is no going back to the garden. Instead we’re moving forward to something new.


On the Incarnation of the Word 2 – Erroneous Views of Creation Rejected

Posted: August 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 2 – Erroneous Views of Creation Rejected

In the next section, Athanasius briefly considers and rejects erroneous views of Creation. Two examples follow that always catch my eye.

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.

But others, including Plato, who is in such repute among the Greeks, argue that God has made the world out of matter previously existing and without beginning. For God could have made nothing had not the material existed already; just as the wood must exist ready at hand for the carpenter, to enable him to work at all.

While neither view precisely translates to the present, similar ideas are easy to find. The view of the Epicureans about creation is not dissimilar to that of the modern sort of atheist. They share the view that things came into being and still come into being by chance. And the idea of the eternal, uncreated nature of the fundamental stuff of reality or of spirit certainly permeates parts of the conglomeration often labeled New Age. A variation of that idea exists within Hinduism.

Athanasius is taking the time to briefly reject these erroneous views because until you understand God as the only one uncreated can you begin to grasp some shadow of the sort of God about which we are talking and what it means for the Logos to become human.


On the Incarnation of the Word 1 – Creation and Renewal

Posted: August 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

There are few works to which I return time and again as I do with Athanasius’ classic, On the Incarnation of the Word. I think sometimes Christians seem to forget just how strange a story the Incarnation actually is or how central it is to our faith. In this series I will reflect on each section of the work in turn. I will quote only segments of each section most weeks, so you might want to read the whole section first yourself in the opening link.

Today we begin with the Introduction. Athanasius is tying this work to his earlier one, Against the Heathen. I want to focus on this theme in particular.

It is, then, proper for us to begin the treatment of this subject by speaking of the creation of the universe, and of God its Artificer, that so it may be duly perceived that the renewal of creation has been the work of the self-same Word that made it at the beginning. For it will appear not inconsonant for the Father to have wrought its salvation in Him by Whose means He made it.

As it was through the Word that all things were created, it is through the Word that all things are made new. Thus Paul writes to Corinth:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

I’ve heard others describe the emphatic nature of Paul’s writing in Greek. Something like, “Anyone in Christ, new creation!” In Revelation, we see at the end the Alpha and Omega on the throne proclaiming, “Behold, I make all things new!” The Incarnation then begins as the story of the creator God entering his creation, becoming part of his creation, in order to save and renew it.

This is important. It sometimes seems to me that Christians often start with the Fall in Genesis 3, not with creation itself in Genesis 1 and 2. Yet the theological gospel of John opens with the declaration that this is a gospel of creation and recreation.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

The proclamation of Jesus begins with the proclamation of him not just as lord, but as creator. It is that eternal Word who became flesh and ‘pitched his tents’ (tabernacled) among us.