Athanasius: The Incarnation of the Word of God – page 1

 

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From the Winter 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:

Athanasius: The Incarnation of the Word of God

by Joseph Kohm, Jr.
City Director, C.S. Lewis Institute
Virginia Beach

 
 

hen considering the best way to avoid theological error, C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”1 While this may be a familiar quote to Lewis readers, its source may not be. It comes from his introduction to a translation of Athanasius’s The Incarnation of the Word of God, by Lewis’s friend Sister Penelope Lawson, a nun in the order of the Convent of the Community of St. Mary the Virgin. At that time, nuns from this order were not permitted to write books under their own names, so readers looking for this translation will find the translator listed as “A Religious of C.S.M.V.”
  To understand the importance of The Incarnation, it is important to put Athanasius in his historical context. Twenty-first-century Christians might be tempted to think that the doctrine of the Trinity was universally accepted in the early church. But much of the general body of theology we now take for granted, especially regarding the Trinity, had to be developed and worked out. Athanasius played an important role in this theological process. He was born in A.D. 298 to a wealthy family near Alexandria, Egypt, and became the bishop of Alexandria before he was thirty years old. There was a popular belief around that time that Jesus, though divine, was less than God. This belief was promulgated by Arius, a presbyter, also from Alexandria. Arius taught that because Jesus was “begotten” by the Father, Jesus was a creature made by God; therefore, there must have been a point in time in which Jesus did not exist. The implications for this view were grave; if accepted, it would have meant that ultimately Christ’s sacrifice on the cross would not have been sufficient payment for the sin of humankind. Athanasius was the prominent voice advocating for the divinity of Jesus. Not only was Athanasius a strong voice regarding the divinity of Jesus; he was also an important advocate for the doctrine of the Trinity over the course of his entire life.

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