Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, Chapter 3, “The Divine Dilemma and its Solution in the Incarnation (Part 2)”


A Disclaimer on Book Synopses

 11. In creation, humans as creatures could not “of themselves” know God, but only earthly things. But God had “pity” on them, gifting them with a share in His image: the Lord Jesus Christ. This made them “reasonable” and “able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father.” In the fall, mankind belittled this grace and turned away from God, losing the apprehension of God and becoming idolators.

12. God provided fallen mankind with “safeguards” to help them gain knowledge of the Word and the Father: the works of creation which reveal their Maker, prophets to teach them about God and the impiety of idolatry, and the Law by which they could “cease from lukewarmness and lead a good life.” Nevertheless, men did not lift up their eyes to the truth, like those “reflecting the very Likeness of the Word” should do, but became like “brute beasts.”

13. If God left humankind in this state, it would defeat his purpose in giving the Image and knowledge of the Word to them—as if God made man “for others and not for Himself.” So, God sought to reclaim man and renew his Image in them. The Father sent his Son, “the very Image Himself” to “recreate man made after the Image.” To do this, he had to destroy death and corruption in a human body.

14. Athanasius gives the illustration of a portrait painted on a panel, stained beyond recognition. The artist does not throw away the panel, but has the person come and sit again so his likeness can be re-painted on the same material. Likewise, the Son of God dwelt among humankind so that the image might be renewed in them. Not only this, but the Word dwelt among men, ruined by the “madness of idolatry,” to give them knowledge of the Father, again.

15. The Word dealt with sinful man the way a good teacher deals with his students, he came “down to their level” and used “simple means.” Man had turned from contemplating God to worship creaturely things; so the Word of God “in His great love” became man, moved as men do, and spoke as men spoke “so that those who were seeking God in sensible things might apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God, did in the body.” Through the works he performed in a human body, he ‘eclipsed’ all other human deeds, that “He might recall men from all the paths of error to know the Father.”

16. The Word of God became Man that sinners might “center their senses” on Him and, through Him and His acts, become convinced that He is God. This is why the Word did not immediately offer his body on the cross; “he stayed in His body and let Himself be seen in it, doing acts and giving signs which showed Him to be not only man, but also God the Word.” In sum, the Savior became Man in order to “[banish] death from us and [make] us anew” and “become visible through His works and [reveal] Himself as the Word of the Father, the Ruler and King of the whole creation.”

17. The incarnation is a paradox. “The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well.” “At one and the same time– this is the wonder– as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father.”

18. Athanasius reflects on the paradox. In eating, drinking, and being born the [ancient] writers speak of the actions of the Word as a Man.  Meanwhile, the actions of the Word as God consisted in sustaining creation and revealing his divinity through the miraculous works he performed as a Man. Though invisible, the Word has always been known through creation. Analogously, now his divinity is veiled by a human nature, but known through miraculous works performed in a human, creaturely body.

Chapter 1          Chapter 2          Chapter 4          Chapter 5          Chapter 6          Chapter 7          Chapter 8          Chapter 9