Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: On the Incarnation (Page 1 of 2)

August 9, 2020 – The Glory of Christ’s Work

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

For ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’—Acts 17:28

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.—Isaiah 2:4

More thoughts for meditation

“But if it beseems Him to unite Himself with the universe, and to be made known in the whole, it must beseem Him also to appear in a human body, and that by Him it should be illumined and work.”

“Inasmuch as He holds in one all things at once, and is in fact not only in all but also in the part in question, and there invisibly manifests Himself.”

“Christ alone is worshipped as one and the same among all peoples; and what the weakness of the idols could not do — to persuade, namely, even those dwelling close at hand — this Christ has done, persuading not only those close at hand, but simply the entire world, to worship one and the same Lord, and through Him God, even His Father.”

“Who then is He that has done this, or who is He that has united in peace men that hated one another, save the beloved Son of the Father, the common Saviour of all, even Jesus Christ, Who by His own love underwent all things for our salvation?”

In the final two sections of the treatise, Athanasius confronts the refutation of the Gentiles, and offers an exhortation to look forward to the Second Advent and Judgment of God.

He begins his argument positing that Greek theology does not preclude the possibility of the Word, the Logos, becoming flesh. That because God is in the universe at all, God can also be within the bounds of a human being. Being in the universe is as much of a condescension for an infinite God as it is to be in the flesh. He even uses Plato, “who is in such repute among the Greeks,” saying he allows for the incarnation. The finality and completeness of worshipping Christ elevates him above pagan idols and Gods.

Athanasius then turns to make a moral argument, suggesting that the moral impact of Christianity, including “lulling wars,” is evidence of the reality of the incarnation. What other God can make this claim? This is a charge for Christians today to ensure that we also lull wars, and do not provoke them, that we are known as people of peace and not conflict. For Athanasius, that witness encourages and breeds faith, even among the Gentiles.

Suggestions for action

“And you will also learn about His second glorious and truly divine appearing to us, when no longer in lowliness, but in His own glory — no longer in humble guise, but in His own magnificence — He is to come, no more to suffer, but thenceforth to render to all the fruit of His own Cross, that is, the resurrection and incorruption; and no longer to be judged, but to judge all.”

Athanasius ends his influential treatise with a warning of the coming judgment, but also the Second Advent, where Christ will return, this time in glory instead of humiliation. We are still in the in-between time as we await Christ to return again. May we await the return of Christ and the good things that are being prepared for those who “live a virtuous life, and love the God and Father, in Christ Jesus our Lord: through Whom and with Whom be to the Father Himself, with the Son Himself, in the Holy Spirit, honour and might and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

August 8, 2020 – If this man were not from God, He could do nothing

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

See, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud
and comes to Egypt;
the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.—Isaiah 19:1

But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me
that they devised schemes, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!”—Jeremiah 11:19

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”—Matthew 11:4-5

More thoughts for meditation

“He it is that was crucified before the sun and all creation as witnesses, and before those who put Him to death: and by His death has salvation come to all, and all creation been ransomed. He is the Life of all, and He it is that as a sheep yielded His body to death as a substitute, for the salvation of all.”

“When, then, have they taken place, save when the Word of God Himself came in the body? Or when did He come, if not when lame people walked, and stammerers were made to speak plain, and deaf people heard, and people blind from birth regained their sight?”

In the last two sections of the treatise, Athanasius confronts the refutation of the incarnation by Jews and Gentiles. He calls it the “unbelief of Jews and the scoffing of Gentiles.” The Jewish people are awaiting a messiah, but disbelieve it is the one named Jesus. Athanasius’ main proofs lie in the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies specifically surrounding the passion, the cross, Jesus’ sovereignty, his death and birth, as well as unprecedented miracles. For a Jewish audience or for those with a high view of scripture, a second fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies may be convincing. Although, it should be noted that Athanasius offers a “polemical” argument here, that’s mainly intended on proving his point and encouraging believers, more than it is to convince skeptical Jews. His goal is to make ludicrous the opponents of the incarnation.

Despite that, the miracles of Christ are perhaps the most noteworthy evidence of Jesus as God’s incarnate may be the best evidence to convince someone who doubts. When John’s disciples ask Jesus’ disciples if the Messiah had arrived, Jesus responded with his works as evidence of his arrival.

Suggestions for action

What kind of miracles can we perform through the power of Jesus and in the name of God to showcase that the Word has become flesh? I think that’s the project for the church today; our works can demonstrate that God is alive and can encourage faith. Maybe it is just the possibility of maintain community during a disparate time, such as this? Maybe it’s organizing people to love their neighbor in a time of scarcity? Imagining that your good works in the name of God can build someone’s faith may be the best thing we can learn today from Athanasius.

August 7, 2020 – Victory Over Death

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.—Acts 2:24

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.—Hebrews 4:12

More thoughts for meditation

“For He could, even immediately on death, have raised His body and shown it alive; but this also the Saviour, in wise foresight, did not do.”

“Let those who are incredulous about the victory over death receive the faith of Christ, and pass over to His teaching, and they shall see the weakness of death, and the triumph over it.”

“For he that sees the serpent trodden under foot, especially knowing his former fierceness no longer doubts that he is dead and has quite lost his strength.”

“For where Christ is named, and His faith, there all idolatry is deposed and all imposture of evil spirits is exposed.”

“For it is plain that if Christ be dead, He could not be expelling demons and spoiling idols; for a dead man the spirits would not have obeyed.”

Athanasius sets out to explain and prove the resurrection of Jesus in sections 26 to 32 of his treatise. Similar to how he argues for the specific necessity of the cross in the previous section, here he names why it was on the “third day” that Christ was raised. He says, if it was sooner than that, his death might be denied. A later resurrection would allow the identity of his body to be denied, or kept “His disciples too long in suspense,” or would perhaps even lead to a faded.

He the moves his argument to prove the resurrection. And he points to the Christian witness as primary evidence. First, to the Christian confidence over death. “For as when a tyrant has been defeated by a real king, and bound hand and foot, then all that pass by laugh him to scorn, buffeting and reviling him, no longer fearing his fury and barbarity, because of the king who has conquered him.”

And then he invites the doubters of the resurrection to become Christians themselves and see if they don’t feel a similar confidence over death. And finally, he names the resurrection as true because of the power of the Word’s name causes demons and spirits to obey. They would never obey a dead man.

Suggestions for action

The argument itself as its written has poetic and rhetorical merit, but it works primarily within its context. Athanasius is evidencing the resurrection based on the intensity of the Christian witness and the efficaciousness of it. Christians are bold in the face of death, and the name of Christ exorcises demons. I wonder what it would look like today for Christians to be bold in the face of death? What are the demons we need to exorcise today? What would a Christian witness look like today that proved the resurrection? Consider that today and if you feel moved, write a comment that answers one of these questions.

August 6, 2020 – Especially in His Death

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.—1 Cor. 15:53-56

More thoughts for meditation

“The Word, since it was not possible for Him to die, as He was immortal, took to Himself a body such as could die, that He might offer it as His own in the stead of all, and as suffering, through His union with it, on behalf of all.”

“He was not subject to natural death, but had to die at the hands of others.”

“How could the end of death, and the victory over it be proved, unless challenging it before the eyes of all He had shown it to be dead.”

“So also the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, even Christ, did not devise a death for His own body, so as not to appear to be fearing some other death; but He accepted on the Cross, and endured, a death inflicted by others, and above all by His enemies, which they thought dreadful and ignominious and not to be faced.”

“For it is only on the cross that a human dies with their hands spread out… For only he that is perfected on the cross dies in the air.”

Athanasius moves to his argument to the death of Jesus in the next section of the treatise. First, he argues that Jesus needed to die—that the incorruptible Word needed to become mortal flesh, so as to incur the punishment that satisfied the debt owed to God. But this death couldn’t be just any death. It couldn’t be a natural death, because the Lord demonstrates power over sickness. His life needed to be taken from him by others. And it needed to happen in public so that it might not be challenged and the resurrection would be glorified too. Furthermore, it needed to be a public, humiliating (“ignominious”) death, by his enemies. He needed to die the worst death and suffer the worse humiliation in order to showcase that he was not interested in selecting a “better” option. And not only that, but the worst death could offer magnifies the power of the resurrection—because it defeated even the darkest forms of death. This is why the death of Jesus today remains meaningful even for victims of modern-day lynchings. It matches that humiliation, which not only allows for a shared experience, but a shared triumph over it. Finally, Athanasius points out that the image of the cross—arms spread out, and high on a hill—shows both the embrace of God, uniting people with Christ’s widespread arms, and the height of God’s conquest, as our Lord dies in the air.

Suggestions for action

It can be tempting to overlook the shame of the cross in order to fast-forward to the triumph of the resurrection, but the specifics about Christ’s death both matter to us as individuals and also as a whole community. Christ died for us, in our stead and on our behalf, and the public shame of his death allows us to reject any shame that we may be experience for what he has wiped away. Additionally, the image of this death, in high, arms spread out, both elevates the conquest of the death that occurs on the cross, but includes all of us in it. The public humiliation that the Lord went through bonds God to the people that go through the same public deaths: we see this most evidently in the police killings of black and brown people. Try to hold all of that together right now: that Christ died for you, for all of us, and with the least of us at heart. Contemplate that as you observe this icon.

An Atonement of Shame - Orthodoxy and the Cross - Glory to God for ...

« Older posts