G.K. Chesterton was once asked to contribute to a newspaper article entitled, “What is Wrong with the World?” He responded with, “Dear Sirs, I am.” Witty, but true. We all contribute to the state of the world, but how did it get to be such a mess in the first place? And what exactly is the problem? How did we get where we are and how do we fix it?
In Chapter two of Saint Athanasius’ On the Incarnation he delves into God and creation. He calls into question those who say that the world was created by spontaneous chance and notes that a cause preceded creation. Through this we can see that there is a God who created and ordered all things.
Athanasius then says that diversity proves creation and its providential care by God. This is interesting because, essentially, science’s proof for evolution is the same thing. Diversity, especially in the same type of animal, proves natural selection and mutation. He then deals with Plato’s idea that God made everything from pre-existent matter but then this begs the question how could Plato’s god be a creator? If God is using uncreated matter to create what underlies matter then he could only be a craftsman working with raw materials, thus making Plato’s god weak (and not God).
He concludes with a comment on the heretic’s notion of God. Some heretics say that the god that created all things is a different god then God the Father of Jesus. He quotes from the Gospel of Matthew in answering this and notes that there could not possibly be another creator. He then in chapter three immediately says that God brought everything into existence through the Word, the pre-incarnate Jesus.
He notes that God creates man in his own image, makes them to live in blessedness, and gives them free choice as well as “law and a set place.” In other words, God’s command to not eat of the tree and Eden. They then had a choice: to live in paradise without sorrow or pain or to break the law and be corrupted by death. He writes, “What else might it be except not merely to die, but to remain in the corruption of death?”
Two things interest me about the last part of chapter three. The first is that St. Athanasius does not say that man’s sin transmitted sin nature to us and that we are all guilty of the sin of Adam. The problem he lays out is that sin introduces corruption. The problem is not inherited sin nature, it is corruption and death. This is very different from a traditional Protestant reading of the Fall in Genesis. The second area of interest is his firm belief in the free choice of humanity. Later on Augustine will set the stage for the Reformers 1200 years later to deny the free will of humanity due to sinful nature, but we see belief in it here. Of course one could say, “Well St. Athanasius is wrong about that issue” but this book is the seminal work of Christian theology on Christ’s Incarnation so his view deserves serious consideration.