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Saint Athanasius on the incarnation of Christ

Icon of St Athanasius. Source: Wikimedia.
Icon of St. Athanasius. Source: Wikimedia.

This holiday season my wife and I have been fortunate to have been gifted a small book by one of the early Church Fathers, On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius. While only a little over 100 pages in length, it's yet dense enough that I've gotten through a paltry 40+ pages in the week and a half since we've had it—it's one of those books you have to chew on every few sentences.

St. Athanasius of Alexandria is considered one of the four great Doctors of the Eastern (Orthodox) Church, as well as being held in high regard as a premier theologian of the Western churches, and was active during the fourth century A.D. On the Incarnation is considered to be among the earliest works of developed Christian theology, second only to the New Testament itself in some readers' minds, and was presented in part as a refutation to the growing popularity of the doctrines of Arius, which taught that Christ was a lesser deity subordinate to the Father, and that there was a time when He did not exist. Needless to say, this is itself a refutation of the Trinity, an admission of polytheism, and flatly refuted by John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

On the Incarnation is presented as an extended syllogism showing how the act of redemption of Christ could only have come about by the same Divine Person who created the World: the Word of God, "Pantocrator" or "All-Powerful" as the title is given in the Orthodox tradition (walk into almost any Orthodox Church and you'll see an icon of Christ Pantocrator in the central dome). Since the world was created by God through the agency of the Word, the "Logos," it was up to the Word (Christ) to redeem a humanity fallen away from the promise given to it in the Garden of Eden. Thus does Athanasius explain Christ's mission in assuming a human body and thereby sanctifying it before offering Himself up to die on the cross:

We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. ... What—or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required? Who, save the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing? His part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father. For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world.

I will be writing more on this terrific little book as I progress through it. You may read it online here or buy it from here.

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  • Glenn Borken, Fort lauderdale New Age Examiner 5 years ago

    Athanasius was also one of the strongest opponents of Arius. Arianism dwindled after the fourth-century Church councils, althoug it did survive to this day as a small Order within the Catholic Church, having slightly different beliefs and practices from the main RRC.

  • Amy R. Johnson 5 years ago

    Enjoyed this tremendously! Thank you, Michael, I enjoy all your articles here, & looking forward to more!

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