Who Am I?

On the Incarnation of the Word 47 – Christ Persuades All

Posted: October 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 47 – Christ Persuades All

As you read this part of Athanasius’ treatise, it helps if you understand something of the divine madness of the Delphic oracle or something both of Greek philosophy and the worship of the Greek gods. I’ll move straight to his conclusion.

But as to Gentile wisdom, and the sounding pretensions of the philosophers, I think none can need our argument, since the wonder is before the eyes of all, that while the wise among the Greeks had written so much, and were unable to persuade even a few from their own neighbourhood, concerning immortality and a virtuous life, Christ alone, by ordinary language, and by men not clever with the tongue, has throughout all the world persuaded whole churches full of men to despise death, and to mind the things of immortality; to overlook what is temporal and to turn their eyes to what is eternal; to think nothing of earthly glory and to strive only for the heavenly.

Even Plato convinced only a very few. Christ, on the other hand, used men who were not clever to persuade churches full of those who despise death.


On the Incarnation of the Word 45 – The Whole Earth Filled With the Knowledge of the Lord

Posted: October 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 45 – The Whole Earth Filled With the Knowledge of the Lord

This section invokes one of my favorite quotes from Isaiah 11 ( especially as held in tension with Isaiah 6). It’s something affirmed again in Habakkuk. One day the whole earth, already filled with God’s glory, will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. There is no place that is not so filled. There is no place of eternal separation from God as many Protestants like to proclaim.

But if a man is gone down even to Hades, and stands in awe of the heroes who have descended thither, regarding them as gods, yet he may see the fact of Christ’s Resurrection and victory over death, and infer that among them also Christ alone is true God and Lord.

Not even Hades, or death, is a place that is not filled with Christ’s victory and presence.

By these arguments, then, on grounds of reason, the Gentiles in their turn will fairly be put to shame by us. But if they deem the arguments insufficient to shame them, let them be assured of what we are saying at any rate by facts obvious to the sight of all.

Christ is revealed in all. There is no other reality.


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 43 – Not to Impress, But to Heal

Posted: October 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 43 – Not to Impress, But to Heal

Athanasius is circling his target and moving closer in his treatise. He is responding to those who might criticize the Incarnation as something humble rather than an impressive display of divine power and might.

Now, if they ask, Why then did He not appear by means of other and nobler parts of creation, and use some nobler instrument, as the sun, or moon, or stars, or fire, or air, instead of man merely? let them know that the Lord came not to make a display, but to heal and teach those who were suffering. For the way for one aiming at display would be, just to appear, and to dazzle the beholders; but for one seeking to heal and teach the way is, not simply to sojourn here, but to give himself to the aid of those in want, and to appear as they who need him can bear it; that he may not, by exceeding the requirements of the sufferers, trouble the very persons that need him, rendering God’s appearance useless to them.

The Son did not come to impress us with his glory. He became one of us so that he might heal us, and in healing us, truly save us. I would say that if you do not understand that about Jesus, then you don’t understand him at all.

Athanasius goes on to point out that the rest of creation had never of its own volition turned from its created purpose. Man had. We were the ones in need of rescue.


On the Incarnation of the Word 42 – Union with Man Related to His Union with Creation

Posted: October 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 42 – Union with Man Related to His Union with Creation

Athanasius continues his argument against the Greek neo-platonists of his day in this section of his treatise. As I read this section, it struck me again how our situations are largely reversed today from that of Athanasius. Unlike the Jews, the pagan believers had relatively little difficulty with the idea of the Logos or Word as a divine being. Rather, they had a problem with the divine also being truly human. That’s what Athanasius is struggling against in his arguments. They sound a little strange to us, because the “secular” non-believers today have little issue with the reality of Jesus as a man. It’s his divinity that seems impossible to them.

In truth, that attitude and its opposite have both infiltrated the Church today to some extent as well. It’s not hard to find significant segments within Christianity today that on the one hand try to reduce Jesus to nothing but a man and on the other so elevate his divinity that it’s hard to see a real man at all. I appreciate the fictional work Anne Rice has done lately to perhaps heal and restore something of a proper Christian perspective about Jesus.

Let’s look at the heart of Athanasius’ argument in this section.

For just as, while the whole body is quickened and illumined by man, supposing one said it were absurd that man’s power should also be in the toe, he would be thought foolish; because, while granting that he pervades and works in the whole, he demurs to his being in the part also; thus he who grants and believes that the Word of God is in the whole Universe, and that the whole is illumined and moved by Him, should not think it absurd that a single human body also should receive movement and light from Him.

And as Mind, pervading man all through, is interpreted by a part of the body, I mean the tongue, without any one saying, I suppose, that the essence of the mind is on that account lowered, so if the Word, pervading all things, has used a human instrument, this cannot appear unseemly. For, as I have said previously, if it be unseemly to have used a body as an instrument, it is unseemly also for Him to be in the Whole.

In other words, if there’s anything wrong with the Word being fully incarnate within a particular human being, then there’s something wrong with saying the Word suffuses and sustains all of reality. Given the perspective of the platonists of his era, his argument is well-woven, even though it is not strictly the challenge we face today in most quarters.


On the Incarnation of the Word 41 – The Logos Refutes the Pagan Greeks

Posted: October 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 41 – The Logos Refutes the Pagan Greeks

In this section, Athanasius turns from refuting the arguments against the Incarnation by the Jews to those offered by the pagan Greeks. He is specifically attacking the schools of Plato, whether influenced by Philo or not. Platonism had issues with embodied spirituality. Within that perspective, the material was something to be escaped. Plato envisioned the spiritual, disembodied Happy Philosophers. Obviously, the Incarnation is a problem within that perspective. I find Athanasius’ approach intriguing.

But if they confess that there is a Word of God, and He ruler of the universe, and that in Him the Father has produced the creation, and that by His Providence the whole receives light and life and being, and that He reigns over all, so that from the works of His providence He is known, and through Him the Father,—consider, I pray you, whether they be not unwittingly raising the jest against themselves. The philosophers of the Greeks say that the universe is a great body; and rightly so. For we see it and its parts as objects of our senses. If, then, the Word of God is in the Universe, which is a body, and has united Himself with the whole and with all its parts, what is there surprising or absurd if we say that He has united Himself with man also. For if it were absurd for Him to have been in a body at all, it would be absurd for Him to be united with the whole either, and to be giving light and movement to all things by His providence. For the whole also is a body. But if it beseems Him to unite Himself with the universe, and to be made known in the whole, it must beseem Him also to appear in a human body, and that by Him it should be illumined and work. For mankind is part of the whole as well as the rest. And if it be unseemly for a part to have been adopted as His instrument to teach men of His Godhead, it must be most absurd that He should be made known even by the whole universe.

In other words, if the Logos is united with and sustains the whole universe, it can hardly be called unreasonable for the Logos to be united to a specific human body.

I’ll also note that this is a good example of Athanasius finding something true within their beliefs that he could build upon. At their best, Christians have always done exactly that, rather than dismissing all that a people believe or have experienced of reality. There are few places we go where people have not received at least glimpses and shadows of the truth. If we do not believe that, we do not believe that God is who we proclaim him to be. And we do not believe that the cosmos changed when Jesus came out of that tomb.

Or so it seems to me.


On the Incarnation of the Word 40 – No More Kings, Prophets, or Visions

Posted: October 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 40 – No More Kings, Prophets, or Visions

In today’s section of Athanasius’ treatise, he continues to make his point that the time has passed for the Messiah. There cannot yet be a future one. I recommend meditating on the entire section (as I always do), but wanted to highlight this statement.

If then there is now among the Jews king or prophet or vision, they do well to deny the Christ that is come.

But there isn’t. And there hasn’t been. And it does not appear that there will be.

If I weren’t posting on Athanasius’ treatise, I would say little about Judaism beyond noting how many attributes Christian worship shared with Jewish synagogue worship, how clearly Christianity extends and is built upon Judaism. As I was growing up I remember Jewish families who were friends of our family. My cousin married into a Jewish family. And I did not join Christianity unaware of our collective poor history of treatment of the Jews, especially in the West and in Russia. I think that in the ways we have wronged them, we have lost the right to say much of anything at all. Until we can prove by our actions over the course of generations that we, as Christians, love them and perhaps earn some small measure of forgiveness, we have no real room to speak at all. There are no excuses for the things we have done in the past. None.

But Athanasius lived at a different time under different circumstances. And he certainly speaks. And, since this lies pretty much at the core of Christianity, I do agree with him. If I did not, I would not be Christian. But read his words. I find I have nothing to add.


On the Incarnation of the Word 39 – There Cannot Be Another

Posted: October 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 39 – There Cannot Be Another

I had to read this section of On The Incarnation several times before I really grasped his point. Basically he is refuting the Jews who say the Messiah or the Christ or the Anointed is yet to come. There are two key sentences.

But on this one point, above all, they shall be all the more refuted, not at our hands, but at those of the most wise Daniel, who marks both the actual date, and the divine sojourn of the Saviour, saying: “Seventy weeks are cut short upon thy people, and upon the holy city, for a full end to be made of sin, and for sins to be sealed up, and to blot out iniquities, and to make atonement for iniquities, and to bring everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint a Holy of Holies; and thou shalt know and understand from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Christ the Prince”.

In other words, Daniel predicts the time and that time was the time of Christ. Moreover, there are other particulars.

Perhaps with regard to the other (prophecies) they may be able even to find excuses and to put off what is written to a future time. But what can they say to this, or can they face it at all? Where not only is the Christ referred to, but He that is to be anointed is declared to be not man simply, but Holy of Holies; and Jerusalem is to stand till His coming, and thenceforth, prophet and vision cease in Israel.

Jerusalem was to stand until the coming of the Anointed. But Jerusalem fell and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. So that can no longer happen.

I’m struck most, though, by Athanasius’ point that Jesus was not anointed as a man only, but also declared the Holy of Holies, that is the place where God dwelt among his people. Of course, that’s what Christians have always proclaimed, but I never thought of it in precisely those terms before.


On the Incarnation of the Word 38 – Eyes of the Blind Opened

Posted: October 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 38 – Eyes of the Blind Opened

In this section, Athanasius takes an interesting look at Jesus’ miracles as fulfillment of prophecy.

Behold, our God recompenseth judgment; He shall come and save us. Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear; then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be plain.

Though Namaan the leper was cleansed and the dead were raised, the particular combination of miracles had never happened before. And, nobody had heard of a man blind from birth receiving sight. Athanasius quotes from John.

Since the world began it was never heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.


On the Incarnation of the Word 37 – All Creation Ransomed

Posted: October 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 37 – All Creation Ransomed

Athanasius examines more prophecies fulfilled in Christ, but I want to reflect on his closing sentence today.

He it is that was crucified before the sun and all creation as witnesses, and before those who put Him to death: and by His death has salvation come to all, and all creation been ransomed. He is the Life of all, and He it is that as a sheep yielded His body to death as a substitute, for the salvation of all, even though the Jews believe it not.

Salvation has come to all, though not all choose to receive it. Note the emphasis (straight out of Romans and Colossians) on the ransom of all creation. Note also that the ransom was not paid to God (or to the devil, for that matter). Christ was our substitute in death, freeing us from death. It’s one sentence with a world of theology within it.