Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, Chapter 7, “Refutation of Gentiles (Part 1)”

A Disclaimer on Book Synopses

41. Athanasius turns to Gentile critics. He asks, “[W]hat is there in our belief that is unfitting or ridiculous? Is it only that we say that the Word has been manifested in a body?” Greek philosophers argue that the universe is a body. If the Logos (Word) is present in this ‘body’ governing and sustaining it, “what is there surprising or unfitting in our saying that He has entered also into human nature? If it were unfitting for Him to have embodied Himself at all, then it would be unfitting for Him to have entered into the universe, and to be giving light and movement by His providence to all things in it, because the universe, as we have seen, is itself a body.”

42. Similarly, “A man’s personality actuates and quickens his whole body.” If someone were to argue that it is unfitting for the man’s power to be used in his toe, they would be mocked, because “while granting that a man penetrates and actuates the whole of his body, he denied his presence in the part.” It is similar to the Word’s presence and power in the incarnate body of our Lord. His special presence in a human body is perfectly in line with the fact that the Word is present throughout creation. Nor is man’s createdness out of nothing a hindrance to the Word’s incarnation, because creation (which the Word is present in) was also created out of nothing; Athanasius puts forward the proposition, “the reasoning which applies to [creation, broadly] applies to [human nature, specifically].”

43. Athanasius answers an objection: why did not the Word manifest himself by other means– the sun, moon, fire? Why incarnation? “The Lord did not come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering men.” Because of this mission, He came in a manner “according as they could bear it, not vititating the value of the Divine appearing by exceeding their capacity to receive it.” Further, the sun and moon have not turned away from their created design, but man has; he has turned to worship creation as though it were God. Because of this, “the Divine goodness” took for himself a part of creation (a human body) and employed it so as to gain the attention of idolatrous-humans and turn their minds from creation back to the Creator. Athanasius makes two additional points in this section. First, the Word’s dwelling in creation does not mean that he “shares its nature; on the contrary, all created things partake of His power. Similarly, though He used the body as His instrument, He shared nothing of its defect, but rather sanctified it by His indwelling.” Secondly, this activity of the Word is not out of line with Plato’s view of the Author of the universe, that if the Author saw the universe “sinking into the state of dissolution” He would take “his seat at the helm of the Life-force of the universe, and [come] to the rescue and [put] everything to rights…” This is what the Word has done in the incarnation.

44. But why did not God simply recreate man after the fall? This is how he accomplished his will in man originally, why not again? Because the circumstances were “quite different.” God’s creative act of will brought man from a state of non-existence to a state of existence, “but once man was in existence, and things that were, not things that were not, demanded to be healed, it followed as a matter of course that the Healer and Saviour should align Himself with those things that existed already, in order to heal the existing evil.” He did this through the “instrument” of a human body, because the evil of corruption and death had been “woven” into the nature of the body, and had to be healed through the body.

45. Thus, the Word’s incarnation is entirely fitting with his being and work. Further, by accomplishing salvation through the instrumentation of a human body, he has filled “all things everywhere with the knowledge of Himself…” The various idolatries of man when filled with the knowledge of the incarnate Word, lead fallen man back to the Father.

Chapter 1          Chapter 2          Chapter 3          Chapter 4          Chapter 5          Chapter 6          Chapter 8          Chapter 9

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