Saint Athanasius On the Incarnation

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His epitaph is Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world.” We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world. Athanasius did the same. He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, “whole and undefiled,” when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius—into one of those “sensible” synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory 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.

                                                                                        CS Lewis

Something for the weekend.  O Holy Night sung by Celtic Woman.  I can think of nothing more appropriate for Christmas Eve than this passage from On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius:

 

For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father’s Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead 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, having 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. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.

10 Responses to Saint Athanasius On the Incarnation

  • Mary@42 says:

    Wow!!! Thanks, Donald. For the Message and the Ladies oh, so melodious voices. And a Very, Very Merry and Blessings-filled Christmas to you, and all our Commentators and Respondents of this Website and their Loved Ones. Donald, say a Prayer for us here in Kenya. We escaped by God’s Mercy a bombing to our Holy Family Minor Basilica – the Seat of the Head of the Catholic Church in Kenya, His Grace, John Cardinal Njue which is located in the Central of the Nairobi City. The Basilica had celebrated the first two Holy Masses at 6.15 a.m. and 9.00 a.m. During the 10.00 a.m. Holy Mass, just as we started to sing the Gloria, the Basilica had to be evacuated immediately as the Bomb Sensors indicated there was a bomb or some other explosive within the Basilica. The Contingent of Bomb Experts was called in and they came in with the sniffer dogs to locate where the gadget had been placed within the Cathedral. Consequently, we were all asked to leave the Basilica premises and its environs. We went to other Parishes for the Christmas Holy Mass. Both the main 11.30 a.m. Holy Mass – which the Cardinal was the main Celebrant – and the 6.00 p.m. Holy Mass – had to be cancelled. We are waiting for the evening News to learn what transpired. Incidentally, the 11.30 Holy Mass during Christmas and Easter is customarily attended by our President who is a practicing Catholic. We do not know whether this time, he was expected to attend that Holy Mass. Bomb attack threats during this Season have been made by the Al Shabaab Islamist Terrorists from the neighbouring Somalia where our Military Personnel are deployed in trying to quell the violence and also to protect our borders.

  • PM says:

    Dear Mary@42, my sympathy to you faithful in a place where bombs explode and blood is shed from a place where words and culture kill souls. O Holy Night helps to remind that our Lord is omniscient, has promised eternal life, inspired Psalm 23 to comfort us, and is Emmanuel.

  • Mary@42 says:

    Thank you, Donald and PM. Your Prayers will certainly be heard. May Baby Jesus touch the hearts of all people of goodwill so that we can continue to pray for the world and challenge the enemies of Peace, Love, Compassion and Mercy which Christ purchased for us through His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection.

  • Expert on the Life of St Athanasious the Great and Spokesperson on popular culture writes:

    Jesus Christ is God the eternal Son, born of a virgin. Wow! To contemplate the truth behind oft spoken words is itself a revelation. Young Athanasios served as a deacon under the Bishopric of Alexandrian Patriarch Alexander in the era when the first ecumenical council was held early in the fourth century. He was in fact the authorized scribe who recorded the names and the number of the 27 books to be included in the cannonical record of what we call the new testament. It was during his lifetime that remarkable figures abounded like St Anthony, father of all monks and St Paul of Thebes, the desert solitary.

    During his lifetime one of the greatest heresies of Christian history was threatening to overtake the burgeoning Christian church. I speak of the Arian heresy, based on another Bishop of note, Arius of Alexandria. By challenging the teaching that Jesus of Nazareth had a preincarnate life he dimenished two vitally important doctrines. 1.) – Jesus was a created being, a demi god 2.) – Mary the virgin mother was not bearer (the one who carried and enfleshed) of deity. A key word in the debate was the term “Theotokis”, which literally means “God bearer”.

    Perhaps the best explanation of who Christ is and why Christians believe He is God in the flesh are the very words of Athanasios himself as quoted in this piece. His book, ON THE INCARNATION is an elequent defence of the doctrine of Jesus Christ upon which all Christian truth may stand or fall. It is indeed a sad reality today that so many anti trinitarian heresies have resurfaced. Popular religious groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the renegade members and splinter sects of the Seventh Day Adventist church proclaim some form of the Arian heresy so aptly defeated by St Athanasios.

    Surely the legacy of Athanasios lives on within the heart of our Christian faith. It seems to me that earnest believers must better equip themselves to counter those who deny that Jesus is both God and man or that the trinitarian doctrine is not necessary for one to be identified as a Christian. They are very wrong! We must champion the essential truths of Christianity that reveal the nature of God and the nature of man. It seems to me that both religious and social problems within the church could be more easily corrected if we get it right on who God is and what He has done through the doing and dying of the God/Man Jesus on the cross.

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