Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sunday Reading: Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word Part 3

Ikone_Athanasius_von_AlexandriaThis Sunday, I am concluding my reading through 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. In Part 2 (20-32) he has shown that the incarnation is shown and validated through 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.

In Part 3, Athanasius defends the truth of the incarnation against the objections to it by the Jews and Greeks. He focuses on scripture to defeat the Jewish arguments and philosophy to defeat the Greeks. He begins his defense against the Jews by showing that the Jewish Messianic prophecies are only completely fulfilled in one man – Jesus Christ. He especially focuses on the birth, death and resurrection prophecies that find their ultimate fulfillment only in Jesus. One prophecy that receives special attention is the 70 sevens prophecy of Daniel. Athanasius ties this to  the time of the coming of Christ and notes that the Jewish temple, king and nation were destroyed and are not rebuilt to this day, signifying that Christ was the subject of the prophecy. Finally, he points to the great signs and wonders that even the Jews acknowledged happened during Jesus’ ministry, along with the virgin birth and resurrection. He concludes the section by asking “What then has not come to pass, that the Christ must do? What is left unfulfilled, that the Jews should now disbelieve with impunity?” (58)

He that is declared in Scripture to suffer on behalf of all is called not merely man, but the Life of all, albeit He was in fact like men in nature. 56

For the prophecy not only indicates that God is to sojourn here, but it announces the signs and the time of His coming. For they connect the blind recovering their sight, and the lame walking, and the deaf hearing, and the tongue of the stammerers being made plain, with the Divine Coming which is to take place. Let them say, then, when such signs have come to pass in Israel, or where in Jewry anything of the sort has occurred. 56–57

For when He that was signified was come, what need was there any longer of any to signify Him? When the truth was there, what need any more of the shadow? For this was the reason of their prophesying at all,—namely, till the true Righteousness should come, and He that was to ransom the sins of all. And this was why Jerusalem stood till then—namely, that there they might be exercised in the types as a preparation for the reality. 57

In the next section he refutes the objections of pantheistic Greek philosophy. If the Universal mind (Logos) shows itself in the physical universe, why not in a human body? If the Logos inhabits the universe why not a human body?

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. 58

It cannot be absurd if, ordering as He does the whole, and giving life to all things, and having willed to make Himself known through men, He has used as His instrument a human body to manifest the truth and knowledge of the Father. For humanity, too, is an actual part of the whole. 59

But the Greek philosophers object that the Logos should have revealed himself “by means of other and nobler parts of creation.” Athansius argues that the prupose of the incarnation was to deal with the results of sin, with healing and resurrection from the dead. It was human beings that were in need of this and thus, he became a human being. To heal death in the body, he had to take on a body.

The Lord came not to make a display, but to heal and teach those who were suffering…mankind being in error, the Word lighted down upon it and appeared as man, that He might save it in its tempest by His guidance and goodness?  59-60

Death likewise could not, from its very nature, appear, save in the body. Therefore He put on a body, that He might find death in the body, and blot it out. 60

Athanasius argues that because humans subjected the world to idolatry, sin and death, Jesus took on a body to bring the whole world knowledge of God and heal the mess starting with the human beings that messed it up. That this is so is seen by the worldwide response to the Christian message, its effects on society and the demise of idolatry and demonic influence.

The Word of God took a body and has made use of a human instrument, in order to quicken the body also, and as He is known in creation by His works so to work in man as well, and to shew Himself everywhere, leaving nothing void of His own divinity, and of the knowledge of Him. 61

Christ alone, by ordinary language, and by men not clever with the tongue, has throughout all the world persuaded whole churches full of men to despise death, and to mind the things of immortality; to overlook what is temporal and to turn their eyes to what is eternal; to think nothing of earthly glory and to strive only for the heavenly.  62

Who then is He that has done this, or who is He that has united in peace men that hated one another, save the beloved Son of the Father, the common Saviour of all, even Jesus Christ. 64

Athanasius concludes with the reason that God became man…

For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality. 65

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