Who Am I?

On the Incarnation of the Word 36 – Who Reigned Before He Could Call For Father Or Mother?

Posted: October 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 36 – Who Reigned Before He Could Call For Father Or Mother?

This brief section of Athanasius’ treatise references another prophecy with which I was not familiar.

But what king that ever was, before he had strength to call father or mother, reigned and gained triumphs over his enemies?

In the Orthodox Church, the passage of Isaiah which includes the above (Isaiah 8:4) is read at Vespers of the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord. We tend to call that “Christmas” I believe. And it’s appropriate.

Who, then, it is on whom the nations are to set their hope, it is worth while to see. For there must be such an one, as it is impossible for the prophet to have spoken falsely. But which of the holy prophets or of the early patriarchs has died on the Cross for the salvation of all? Or who was wounded and destroyed for the healing of all? Or which of the righteous men, or kings, went down to Egypt, so that at his coming the idols of Egypt fell?

We do see the magi representing the nations giving Jesus tribute not too many months after his birth. We see Jesus eluding Herod’s judgment, thus in an ancient sense demonstrating that he was not subject to Herod. And we see all this when he was still an infant.

It’s interesting. When I was reading, but not writing about them, I think I tended to skim over some of these sections without paying close attention. Writing as I go forces me to read more closely.

On the Incarnation of the Word 35 – Prophecies Satisfied in Christ Alone

Posted: October 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 35 – Prophecies Satisfied in Christ Alone

In this section, Athanasius continues to expound the prophecies in Scripture of Christ and how they were fulfilled in him alone.

But all Scripture teems with refutations of the disbelief of the Jews. For which of the righteous men and holy prophets, and patriarchs, recorded in the divine Scriptures, ever had his corporal birth of a virgin only? Or what woman has sufficed without man for the conception of human kind? Was not Abel born of Adam, Enoch of Jared, Noe of Lamech, and Abraham of Tharra, Isaac of Abraham, Jacob of Isaac? Was not Judas born of Jacob, and Moses and Aaron of Ameram? Was not Samuel born of Elkana, was not David of Jesse, was not Solomon of David, was not Ezechias of Achaz, was not Josias of Amos, was not Esaias of Amos, was not Jeremy of Chelchias, was not Ezechiel of Buzi? Had not each a father as author of his existence? Who then is he that is born of a virgin only? For the prophet made exceeding much of this sign. Or whose birth did a star in the skies forerun, to announce to the world him that was born? For when Moses was born, he was hid by his parents: David was not heard of, even by those of his neighbourhood, inasmuch as even the great Samuel knew him not, but asked, had Jesse yet another son? Abraham again became known to his neighbours as a great man only subsequently to his birth. But of Christ’s birth the witness was not man, but a star in that heaven whence He was descending.

However, I was actually intrigued by a note from those who translated the version of On The Incarnation available on CCEL discussing the mistranslation of the LXX and all Latin translations. Given that the Greek LXX in one form or another was pretty much the undisputed Old Testament scripture of the whole church (either in Greek or in translation) until the time of the Protestant Reformation I’m intrigued when specific differences are pointed out. This note is on Athanasius quote from Jeremiah 11. Of course, I take the statement that the LXX mistranslates the Hebrew with a grain of salt since we don’t actually have the text from which the LXX was translated. And, if I recall correctly, Jeremiah is one of the texts we know had several variations in existence in and around the time the LXX was translated (roughly 200 BCE off the top of my head). And I also keep in mind the surviving complaints of, for instance, Justin Martyr that as the rabbis were putting together what we now call the Masoretic text, they were making changes designed to weaken the effectiveness of the Christian proclamation among the Jewish people.

So I looked at the verse in numerous translations. The only English translation of the LXX I own is the one in the OSB. One of the first things I noticed is that this is not merely a matter of the translation of one word or phrase. Jeremiah 11 in the LXX, while similar to the Masoretic text, is different enough that this verse is actually verse 18, not 19. Here is Jeremiah 11:18 from the OSB.

For I did not know I was like an innocent lamb led to be sacrificed. They plotted an evil device against me, saying, “Come, let us put wood in his bread, and destroy him root and branch from the land of the living, so his name might not be remembered any longer.”

The OSB also notes that Jeremiah 11:17-12:5, 9-11, 14, 15 is read in Church on both Holy Thursday and Holy Friday every year. Clearly it’s considered an important passage, yet it’s one I can’t recall ever hearing in the context of a Protestant Church. Following are several different translations of Jeremiah 11:19 as rendered (I imagine) from the Masoretic text.

But I was like a docile lamb brought to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised schemes against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be remembered no more.” (NKJV)

I was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. I had no idea that they were planning to kill me! “Let’s destroy this man and all his words,” they said. “Let’s cut him down, so his name will be forgotten forever.” (NLT)

But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter;
And I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
And let us cut him off from the land of the living,
That his name be remembered no more.” (NASB)

I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree and its fruit;
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
that his name be remembered no more.” (NIV)

Before this, I was like a gentle lamb waiting to be butchered. I did not know they had made plans against me, saying:
“Let us destroy the tree and its fruit.
Let’s kill him so people will forget him.” (NCV)

I don’t have any great insights, but I don’t believe this can be reduced to a mistranslation. Even ignoring the earlier differences in this one chapter, the structure of the LXX translation feels markedly different from the rest. I think it’s more likely that the LXX translators were working from a different Hebrew text of Jeremiah than the one used in the Masoretic Jewish canon. There’s definitely more going on than a simple mistranslation.

On the Incarnation of the Word 34 – Prophecies of His Passion and Death

Posted: October 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 34 – Prophecies of His Passion and Death

Athanasius continues today with the prophecies from Scripture of Christ’s passion and death.

Nor is even His death passed over in silence: on the contrary, it is referred to in the divine Scriptures, even exceeding clearly. For to the end that none should err for want of instruction in the actual events, they feared not to mention even the cause of His death,—that He suffers it not for His own sake, but for the immortality and salvation of all, and the counsels of the Jews against Him and the indignities offered Him at their hands.

Once again, even if you’re familiar with the prophecies and the way Christians see them fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, take a few minutes to read and reflect on that entire section of the treatise.

On the Incarnation of the Word 33 – Incarnation Foretold in Jewish Scriptures

Posted: October 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 33 – Incarnation Foretold in Jewish Scriptures

Athanasius next addresses the unbelief of the Jews and the scoffing of the Greeks. If you hear echoes of St. Paul, that’s hardly surprising. The Incarnation and the Resurrection were always unbelievable proclamations. They aren’t things that our more credulous and “primitive” ancestors believed which we, in our more “rational” and enlightened state, have somehow grown beyond. I like the blunt way Bishop N.T. Wright put it when criticizing the Jesus Seminar on this point. He said that everyone in the ancient world, from Plato to a field slave, knew that dead people stayed dead. That’s not a truth we’ve only recently learned through the illumination of modern science.

These things being so, and the Resurrection of His body and the victory gained over death by the Saviour being clearly proved, come now let us put to rebuke both the disbelief of the Jews and the scoffing of the Gentiles. 2. For these, perhaps, are the points where Jews express incredulity, while Gentiles laugh, finding fault with the unseemliness of the Cross, and of the Word of God becoming man. But our argument shall not delay to grapple with both especially as the proofs at our command against them are clear as day.

In this section, Athanasius goes on to list some of the specific prophecies from the Jewish Scripture, which came to be called the Old Testament among Christians. Most Christians, especially if they’ve read or listened to the Acts of the Apostles, are probably familiar with these, but they are still worth reading. Take a moment to read the whole section.

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 28 – Test the Claim of Victory Over Death

Posted: September 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments »

In his next section, Athanasius exhorts those who do not believe the claims of Christ’s victory over death to become Christian and see for themselves. It strikes me that this perspective on what it means to be Christian stands somewhat at odds with the present Western view. See for yourself.

But just as he who has got the asbestos knows that fire has no burning power over it, and as he who would see the tyrant bound goes over to the empire of his conqueror, so too let him who is incredulous about the victory over death receive the faith of Christ, and pass over to His teaching, and he shall see the weakness of death, and the triumph over it. For many who were formerly incredulous and scoffers have afterwards believed and so despised death as even to become martyrs for Christ Himself.

Become Christian (rather than whatever else you presently might be) and then you will believe in the same way that someone will believe that asbestos protects you from fire after testing it. The experience proves the point and many of the martyrs experienced exactly that. There are many stories of those putting the martyrs to death converting themselves in the middle of the process. They went from persecutor to Christian to martyr in the space sometimes of moments.

Become Christian and then you will believe. I think I experienced some of that myself.

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.