Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sunday Reading: Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word Part 2

Ikone_Athanasius_von_AlexandriaThis Sunday, I am readings through Part 2 of Athanasius’ On The Incarnation of the Word of God. In Part 1 (1-19) he has already shown that it was necessary for the Creator of all to become a human being to restore the universe and his people who bore his image, from within the corrupted universe. The second part deals with the necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I am reading the Logos version from Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church.

The main point would be that God shows Himself through his works within the universe he created, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was God’s greatest work in this world…

For it is God’s peculiar property at once to be invisible and yet to be known from His works… 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…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. 53

Athanasius has already shown that only the creator could restore His creation from the corruption of sin. In this section he shows that only the death of Christ could pay the debt that all creation owes and provide the victory over sin, death and the demonic world that was needed. This needed to be a public death because it was on behalf of and as a witness to the whole creation, and it had to be “at others’ hands” because he was dying to pay for those very sins. The murder of Jesus became the means of forgiving all murderers, including us as participants in it through our sin. He endures the “curse of the cross” to to remove the curse from us.

So it was that two marvels came to pass at once, that the death of all was accomplished in the Lord’s body, and that death and corruption were wholly done away by reason of the Word that was united with it. For there was need of death, and death must needs be suffered on behalf of all, that the debt owing from all might be paid.  47

So death came to His body, not from Himself, but from hostile counsels, in order that whatever death they offered to the Saviour, this He might utterly do away. 49

For it is only on the cross that a man dies with his hands spread out. Whence it was fitting for the Lord to bear this also and to spread out His hands, that with the one He might draw the ancient people, and with the other those from the Gentiles, and unite both in Himself.  49

The resurrection is the evidence that all of the above happened. It was a public, bodily resurrection with many witnesses. The effect of the resurrection is that death has been made powerless and people no longer need to fear it because death is now the gateway to resurrection and God’s kingdom. Christian martyrs were (and are) a very visible witness to this truth. The defeat of death and the demonic world is also seen in the power of the name of Christ over the demonic as the church extended into the Gentile world. Only a living God working through his Spirit would have this kind of power.

For not even thus—not even on the Cross—did He leave Himself concealed; but far otherwise, while He made creation witness to the presence of its Maker, He suffered not the temple of His body to remain long, but having merely shewn it to be dead, by the contact of death with it, He straightway raised it up on the third day, bearing away, as the mark of victory and the triumph over death, the incorruptibility and impassibility which resulted to His body. 50

But now that the Saviour has raised His body, death is no longer terrible; for all who believe in Christ tread him under as nought, and choose rather to die than to deny their faith in Christ. For they verily know that when they die they are not destroyed, but actually [begin to] live, and become incorruptible through the Resurrection. 51

Death is daily proved to have lost all his power, and idols and spirits are proved to be dead rather than Christ, so that henceforth no man can any longer doubt of the Resurrection of His body. 53

Christ died and rose again and thus, we can live today in the power of his resurrection.

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