This article considers the ideas of Athanasius of Alexandria with regard to the relation between creation and recreation. Attention is given to the intention of his apologetic, and internally coherent, work Contra Gentes/De Incarnatione Verbi. This work provides evidence of Athanasius’s conviction that the Recreator is no other God than the Creator. In coherence with this fundamental ideas, Athanasius voices four manners of revelation, which are all analyzed in this article: the first manner of revelation appears in the fact that man was created in God’s image and likeness, as a result of which man is able to know God. The second manner of revelation is found in the harmony of creation. However, since his Fall, man did not respond to that in the right way either. The third manner is the revelation through the Holy Scriptures of the Jews, the Old Testament. According to Athanasius, these Scriptures were meant for all of mankind. The fourth and final manner of revelation to be discussed, is Athanasius’s view of Incarnation.
Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi4. We shall see that Athanasius responds to objections made by pagans against the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. One of Celsus’ objections is that the doctrine of the Incarnation implies that God must have felt underestimated by men, and therefore appeared on earth in a man in order to make Himself known—see Origen, Contra Celsum 4, 6. That is why in this context Athanasius explicitly says that the reason for the Incarnation was man’s salvation.
Athanasius, Contra Gentes36. This is originally a Stoic tenet, which was well-known among pagan and Christian authors, see e.g., (Ps.-?) Aristoteles, De mundo 396a 33ff., Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 2, 11, 1; Tertullian, De anima 8, 1. For more examples see Tertullian, De anima. ed. J.H. Waszink (Amsterdam, 1947; 2nd edition Leiden, 2010), pp. 155f.
Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi24. This practice is not attested in other sources. It was customary that opponents were determined by lot, but applause by the public played an important part. On the other hand it is difficult to imagine that Athanasius should refer to something which does not actually occur, since that could undermine his reasoning.
Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi24. This need not be a hidden attack on the Arians, because it was usual to reproach the heretics with wanting to divide the unity of the Church, the body of Christ; see, e.g., Clement of Rome, Ad Corinthios 46, 7, Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 4, 53, 1.
Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi26. In critical biblical research the hypothesis is sometimes put forward that the earliest notions about Christ’s resurrection implied an exaltation directly from the cross. Athanasius, of course, knew nothing about that. His exclusion of a later resurrection can be connected with the fact that he wants to distinguish Christ’s resurrection from pagan myths about reincarnations, in which the dead do not reappear until after a long time.
Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi27–29. Certainly not all Pagans were impressed by this argument. Right from the beginning some took this as a proof of the stupidity, obstinacy, and fanaticism of the Christians—see Marcus Aurelius, Meditationes 11, 3, Epictetus, Dissertationes 4, 7, 6, Lucianus, De morte Peregrini 13.
Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi43. The reference is to Plato, Politicus 273D/E. (This is the only explicit quotation from an author in Athanasius’s apologetic text.) This passage was often quoted by Christians, see D. Wyrwa, Christliche Platonaneignung in den Stromateis des Clemens von Alexandrien (Berlin/New York, 1983), pp. 213ff.
Cf. for the following: G.C. Stead, ‘The Platonism of Arius,’The Journal of Theological Studies(15) 1964, pp. 16ff.; E.P. Meijering, God Being History. Studies in Patristic Philosophy (Amsterdam e.e., 1975), pp. 81ff.
Athanasius, Contra Arianos1, 54. For Athanasius’s exegesis and its background in Greek rhetoric see P.F. Bouter, Athanasius van Alexandrië en zijn uitleg van de Psalmen. Een onderzoek naar de hermeneutiek en theologie van een psalmverklaring uit de vroege kerk (Zoetermeer, 2001).