Gems from Athanasius

I’m in the process of reading Athanasius’ Orations Against the Arians. I have been deeply moved by Athanasius’ strategy, which avoids proof-texting to focus instead on the greater context of creation, fall, and redemption. The Arian Christ corresponds neither to the Word’s exaltation in creation nor his accomplishment of salvation, for no creature, regardless of status, could bring us to God. Here are some gems from the Second Oration, where Athanasius explicitly develops his soteriological refutation of Arianism. Even where I might dispute a case of exegesis or a particular theological point, the brilliance of the method remains intact:

“It is much to be doubted, whether the Baptism administered by our adversaries is valid. There are, indeed, the names of the Father and the Son in it; but this is such a Father, as according to them is really no Father, as having no Son of His substance who is equal to Him in nature; and the Son they mean is really no Son, but only a mere creature made out of nothing. Can it be supposed that the Blessed Trinity should ratify such a Baptism as this, in which the Holy Name is not invoked, but mocked?” (42)

“This, then, was the reason why the Saviour came among men, to bear witness to the truth of God, to die upon the Cross for our redemption, to raise us up from the dead, and to defeat all the machinations of the devil. Had it not been for these ends, He had never assumed our flesh; had not the resurrection of His Body been necessary for ours He had not died; and He could not have died unless He had taken upon Himself a mortal body…. It was, then, entirely for our sake and advantage, and not at all for His own, that He came down from heaven. The purpose that brought Him here was that of destroying death, condemning sin, giving sight to the blind, and life to the dead.” (55)

“If He was not created [Athanasius means “incarnated”] for our sake, the consequence will be that we are not created in Him. And if we are not created in Him, then He is not in us, but wholly without us; that is to say, He leaves our nature as He found it, and has concerned Himself no more about us than as a teacher with his scholars. And if this is all He has done for us, then the dominion of sin is still in our flesh, and was never purged out of it.” (56)

“He is declared to be, and is, the First-born of us in this respect, because all men being lost by the sin of Adam, the human nature of Christ was first regenerated, redeemed, and sanctified, and so became the means of our regeneration, redemption, and sanctification, in consequence of the union between our nature and His.” (61)

“Had He been only one sort of creature at first, and was afterwards made another, our case had been hopeless; and we must have remained as much excluded, and at as great a distance, from the mercy of God as ever. One created being could not presume to exalt another into a state of union with God. All created beings are equally dependent and helpless, and no one is more capable of diverting the purposes of the Creator than another, and, therefore, the best of them cannot be serviceable to any other of them in this respect. It had not been possible for the Word or Son of God, had He been only a creature, to reverse the sentence of God, and to forgive sin.” (67)

“But here we shall be told, that whether our Saviour had been created or not, God, if He had pleased, might have pardoned us, as He inflicted our punishment, by only pronouncing the words. And to this I make reply, that although it were granted that God could do this without sending down His Son hither; yet we are not here considering what belongs to the power of God, but what is most suitable for mankind…. Suppose, then, that God could by His own immediate voice have uttered the declaration of pardon to mankind, even as He uttered the curse; yet it is certain that it was much more agreeable to His infinite purpose, that He should transact this affair by His Son. Had His Omnipotence spoken the word, and so the curse had been undone; this, no doubt, would have manifested His power, and had rendered our nature the same as it was before the fall; that is to say, we should have received grace from without, as Adam then did, but we should not have had it as we have now, within our hearts.” (68)

Published in: on May 4, 2010 at 7:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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