Who Am I?

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 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.