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.