Athanasius: The Incarnation of the Word of God – page 2

 

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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

 
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  In the introduction to The Incarnation, Lewis advises that, rather than read books about the great thinkers of the past, readers should go directly to the source and obtain “first-hand knowledge,” which is “usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”2 This is excellent advice, especially applied to Athanasius. At fewer than a hundred pages, The Incarnation is a short work that develops into a comprehensive and easy-to-understand Christology. It begins by detailing Christ’s role in the creation of the universe. Paralleling the first chapter of John, where we are told that in the beginning the Word was with God and that all things were made through the Word, Athanasius identifies Christ as the Word, and that “the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word who made it in the beginning.”3 Christ’s presence at the creation of the world is evidence for Athanasius of the inter-Trinitarian relationship between Jesus and the Father.
  From there, Athanasius begins to develop the reasons for the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. The “why” behind the incarnation is love. Christ was “manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of men.”4 God loves us and, as a consequence of His grace, made us in His image. Yet our sin marred that image; as a result, humanity “was unworthy of the goodness of God.”5 God’s response was to “renew His image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him.”6 This was done by Christ coming to earth to take the form of a human. Yet while He was a human, he was also fully God. Athanasius writes, “as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe.”7
  The proof that Christ rose from the dead and continues to live is found in His lasting impact, the most profound of which is that true followers of Christ have lost their fear of death in that they “tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than deny their faith in Christ.”8 Athanasius was a firsthand witness to Christian martyrdom, so his remarks regarding those willing to die for Christ have personal significance. Other proofs of Christ’s continuing impact cited by Athanasius include changes in the people’s behavior (“the living to cease from their activities, the adulterer from his adultery, the murderer from murdering”) and the growth in the number of Christians all over the world at that time. This is the work of One who still lives while the power of those who are dead “lasts only to the grave.”9

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