Athanasius on God as Creator and Recreator

in Church History and Religious Culture
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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.

Church History and Religious Culture

Formerly: Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis

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2

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 4. 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.

4

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 56.

5

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 1.

6

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 2–34.

10

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 2.

11

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 2.

13

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 2.

16

Irenaeus, Demonstratio 12.

17

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 3.

18

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 4–29.

19

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 30.

20

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 32–33.

22

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 33.

28

Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 2, 56.

30

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 2.

32

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 36. 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.

33

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 37.

34

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 38. For this harmony he uses the common images of the city, the choir, and the lyre.

36

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 40.

37

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 40–41.

38

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 41. In this context Athanasius alludes to Plato, Politicus 273D/E, a text which he will quote in De Incarnatione verbi 43, see infra, 190.

39

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 42–43.

40

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 46. Athanasius refers to Deut. 6:4, 13, Psalm 118:90–91, 146:7–9, 32:9 and to Genesis 1.

41

Athanasius, Contra Gentes 46.

42

See, e.g., Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1, 18; 1, 25; 1, 28; 2, 82; 3, 60.

43

Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses3, 16.

45

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 3.

47

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 4.

48

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 5.

49

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 6.

50

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 7.

53

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 7. Origen leaves open the possibility that God for the sake of bringing salvation to man could have lied about the not-real body of Christ, see Contra Celsum 4, 19.

54

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 7.

56

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 7. So, only He who can create from nothing can also recreate from the status of mortality, cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 5, 3, 2.

57

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 7.

58

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 8.

60

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 8.

62

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 2, 7.

63

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 8.

64

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 9.

65

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 9–10.

66

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 13.

67

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 13.

68

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 15–16.

69

Origen, Contra Celsum 4, 5; 4, 23; 4, 28.

70

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 17.

71

Origen, Contra Celsum 6, 73.

73

Origen, Contra Celsum 2, 31.

74

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 21.

75

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 21–22.

76

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 22.

77

Origen, Contra Celsum 2, 17.

78

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 22.

79

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 24. 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.

80

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 24. 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.

81

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 25. Athanasius does not discuss the objection that the Incarnation should not have taken place so late in time—see, e.g., Celsus in Origen, Contra Celsum 4, 8.

82

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 25.

84

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae 3. qu. 53, 2.

85

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 26. 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.

86

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 27–29. 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.

87

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 30–32.

88

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 33.

89

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 33–40.

92

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 40.

93

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 41. Here, Athanasius will have in mind Epicure and his followers, who deny the creation and providence.

94

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 41. Athanasius here undoubtedly has in mind the Stoics and the Platonists.

96

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 42.

97

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 43.

98

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 43.

99

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 43. 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.

101

Origen, Contra Celsum 4, 3. As is well known, this was to become an important theme in the history of theology: why was the Incarnation necessary?

102

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 44.

103

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 44.

104

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 44.

105

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 44.

106

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 46.

110

Athanasius, Vita Antonii 30.

111

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 49.

112

Athanasius, Vita Antonii 7.

113

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 51–52.

114

Athanasius, De Incarnatione verbi 54.

116

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 2, 69.

117

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1, 11.

118

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1, 11.

119

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1, 11, 13.

120

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1, 12–14.

121

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1, 17.

122

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.

126

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 3, 59.

127

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 3, 60–61.

128

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 3, 62.

129

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 3, 62.

130

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 3, 62.

131

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 3, 66.

139

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1, 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).

140

Athanasius, Contra Arianos 3, 28.

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