Who Am I?

On the Incarnation of the Word 9 – The Word Ends Death

Posted: September 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

For the Word, perceiving that no otherwise could the corruption of men be undone save by death as a necessary condition, while it was impossible for the Word to suffer death, being immortal, and Son of the Father; to this end He takes to Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word Who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all, and might, because of the Word which was come to dwell in it, remain incorruptible, and that thenceforth corruption might be stayed from all by the Grace of the Resurrection. Whence, by offering unto death the body He Himself had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from any stain, straightway He put away death from all His peers by the offering of an equivalent.

This section of Athanasius’ treatise is compelling. Our corruption could only be undone by defeating death through death, but the Word could not die. So the Son joined himself to man through a human mother. He was fully human, thus he inherited all of our nature, including death. And since he was also fully divine, that death could encompass all humanity.

However, Jesus was divine and incorruptible as well. Here we see a reference to a different interpretation of the Holy Scriptures that we call the Old Testament that must have been taught by Jesus and which we see repeatedly in the New Testament. The first time is in Acts 2 when Peter quotes this from the Psalms to refer to Jesus.

Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

Death could not corrupt the body of Jesus, which was held to begin on the fourth day. And just as his death was in the stead of all humanity, so his incorruption stayed corruption from us all. By him we are freed from death.

For being over all, the Word of God naturally by offering His own temple and corporeal instrument for the life of all satisfied the debt by His death. And thus He, the incorruptible Son of God, being conjoined with all by a like nature, naturally clothed all with incorruption, by the promise of the resurrection. For the actual corruption in death has no longer holding-ground against men, by reason of the Word, which by His one body has come to dwell among them.

It is no longer our nature to die.


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.