A quick update before we get into On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius. I finally turned in my final assignments and my theology comprehensive exam and graduated from seminary two weeks ago with a Master of Divinity. Going to seminary was one of the best things I have ever done and I’m better for going even if I will be poorer financially as I pay off my loans. It was worth it. I made some good friends and appreciate the time I spent there. My parents flew over from South Africa and were there at my graduation ceremony which made it incredibly special. I’m grateful to God for his good gifts to me.
Back to St. Athanasius, and we turn to the next few chapters from On the Incarnation. In chapter 11 St. Athanasius notes that God made humanity in the image of Jesus Christ and that they would be able to know God the Father through the divine image of the Word of God (Jesus). This results in humanity living a blessed and happy life. Unfortunately this is short lived and he points out that our ancestors despised God’s grace and turned away from him. They made false gods and fabricated idols and honored beings who do not exist, going to far to even sacrifice animals and other humans to these idols and false gods. He ends chapter 11 by saying that even though humanity no longer recognized God he still left methods by which they could know of him.
In chapter 12, St. Athanasius says that God was not surprised by what his creation had done and anticipated their carelessness. If they could not recognize God through themselves in the divine image they were created in they could still “see” God through the works of creation. Not only that but God also sends the law and the prophets so even if they did not see God in creation they still had instruction from other humans about the true God. Expanding on this he makes two points:
- The greatness of the heavens testifies not just to God’s existence but also to God’s providential goodness.
- God sends holy ones to testify of himself and that humanity needs to turn away from the false gods and idols they have made for themselves.
Sadly, even though God had anticipated the carelessness of humanity and had performed actions to show his goodness, humanity “beaten by the pleasures of the moment and the illusions and deceits of the demons were not able to raise their gaze to the truth but sated themselves with even more evils and sins, so that they no longer appeared rational…”
What I find interesting in chapter 12 and 13 is that St. Athanasius does not just tie in rationality with the general ability humans have to think and reason. For him the height of irrationality is not someone who cannot think, but someone, who because of sin, has not recognized God through his creation or through his messengers and has persisted in sating themselves with evil. This is a far cry from how rationality is commonly understood in our own context. For modern peoples, rationality is marked by the ability to think through ideas and to form arguments, hypotheses, and conclusions. But for St. Athanasius the height of irrationality is the one who has rejected the true God.
He goes on in chapter 13 to note that since humanity was made in the image of Jesus Christ it would not be right for humanity to be destroyed. God’s response to all of this is the enfleshment of the Word of God (Jesus). So God the Word takes on humanity so that the divine image present in humanity could be recreated.
This is heavy stuff but it is basic for how Christianity views the world and the Incarnation of God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Athanasius provides, to this day, a better anthropology of humanity and the necessity of Christ’s Incarnation, and what the Incarnation means for the totality of our salvation, then anything thought up by modern theologians. The Incarnation matters more than just as a device by which God the Father sends Jesus into the world. It has a significant effect on the world and our relation to God.
(The icon used of the creation of Adam was found at http://wp.me/pYVj0-6H from a general image search)