While church father Athanasius of Alexandria is probably best known for his “contra mundum” stance against Arianism, for his defense of the doctrine of the Trinity (“whole and undefiled”), and for the “Athanasian Creed” (which he didn’t actually write), he was also an eloquent writer of great clarity and precision. CS Lewis called him a “master mind”; a meaningful sentiment, it seems, considering the source. Here’s more from Lewis:
“It is the glory of St. Athanasius that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.”
One of his most famous works, On the Incarnation, is a book I like to dive into during Advent. It’s a small book– about 90 pages, not counting the introduction and the appendices–made up of fixty-six short, abundantly readable chapters. But don’t let that length fool you. On the Incarnation is a deeply contemplative book, the kind best taken in small doses so you can let it do it’s work. Too much at one time might indeed be too much.
In light of Wednesday’s celebration of the Word becoming flesh, here are a few key passages worth contemplating:
1. It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon his word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once shared the nature of the Word shold perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption.
2. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, when He had fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection.
3. . . . Through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the ressurection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all . . . the designs of the enemy against manking have been foiled.
4. He restored the whole nature of man.
5. Now, therefore, when we die we no longer do so as men condemned to death, but as those who are even now in process fo rising we await the general resurrection of all, ‘which in its own times He shall show,’ even God who wrought it and bestowed it on us.
6. What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it men might once more to know Him? And how coul this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our saviour Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it for they not the images of God. The Word of God came in his own Person, because it was He alone, the image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image.