Today while driving home from class I saw a bumper sticker that stated, “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.” Later on in the evening I reflected on a chapter I had just read in St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation.
He wrote, “Come now blessed one and true lover of Christ, let us with the faith of our religion relate also the things concerning the Incarnation of the Word.” I understand why people use the well worn relationship vs religion cliche but personally I do not use it. St. Athanasius doesn’t have a problem with not using it either. He links the true lover of Christ with one who will use the faith of their religion to learn more about the work of Christ. Quite a different point of view from the bumper sticker. I have seen many people online with “Christ follower” or “walking in the way of Jesus” as their religion status on Facebook because to them the idea of religion is equivalent to dead legalistic fundamentalism.
St. Athanasius though seems to link true love with religion, so maybe calling Christianity a religion isn’t such a terrible thing after all.
He then goes on to talk about how people mock and scorn Christ’s Incarnation. He says the more people mock and scorn, the more it witnesses to Christ’s divinity because humans cannot understand how the things we think are impossible, God sees as possible. He gets into some very important territory towards the end of the chapter when he states that Christ does not have a body by nature, because by nature he is bodiless.
Christ out of his love for humankind and the goodness of the Father takes on an a human body to save humanity. He concludes the chapter by noting that God through Christ made the universe and that God re-creates the universe through the same person who created it. My friend Father Andrew Stephen Damick said about this, “This is a pretty critical point Athanasius is making here, because it sets the stage for what salvation actually is – the “re-creation” of all things to return them back to the path of deepening communion, and in the case of man, deification/divinization/theosis.” We’ll get more into what that means as we continue to work our way through On the Incarnation.