This “must read” Christian classic is perfect reading for advent season. Writing in the 4th century, Athanasius, one of the greatest thinkers of the early church, argues why the Son of God became human (i.e., the incarnation) — namely to rescue us from our corruption and raise us to restoration with the risen Christ.
Sharing Our Flesh; Tasting Our Death (Hebrews 2:5-18)
CrossWay Community Church
December 22nd, 2019
The following sermon was preached at South City Church on January 1, 2017. It is a Christmas sermon exploring the theme of Christ’s incarnation utilizing the work of the Athanasius (296-373).
At the very end of his book, On the Incarnation, Athanasius makes a very interesting comment that has always stuck out to me.
But for the searching and right understanding of the Scriptures there is need of a good life and a pure soul, and for Christian virtue to guide the mind to grasp, so far as human nature can, the truth concerning God the Word. One cannot possibly understand the teaching of the saints unless one has a pure mind and is trying to imitate their life. Anyone who wants to look at sunlight naturally wipes his eye clear first, in order to make, at any rate, some approximation to the purity of that on which he looks; and a person wishing to see a city or country goes to the place in order to do so. Similarly, anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds. Thus united to them in the fellowship of life, he will both understand the things revealed to them by God….
~ Athanasius, On the Incarnation, chapter 9, section 57.
Grant Osborne has popularized an idea known as the ‘hermeneutical spiral’ according to which various elements like exegesis of the text, biblical theology, systematic theology, historic theology, etc. create a ‘hermeneutical spiral’ something like the following admittedly simplistic explanation:
I previously wrote a review On the Incarnation by Athanasius (c. 297-373). Well, I read the book again and wrote another review that I thought I’d share with you here. Hopefully this second review, which covers a lot of the same things as the first one, has greater insight and clarity. Enjoy!
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In his work, On the Incarnation, Athanasius seeks to present “a brief statement of the faith of Christ and of the manifestation of His Godhead to us” (IX.56). Acknowledging that “such and so many are the Savior’s achievements that follow from His incarnation” (X.54) such that one is unable to present them satisfactorily, he nonetheless determines to set forth his understanding of “why it is that the Word of the Father . . . has been made manifest in bodily form” (I.1); his answer in short: “for the salvation of us men” (I.1). What follows is less a systematic doctrinal treatise and more an explanation and defense of the incarnation against its 4th century misconceptions and critiques.
Athanasius begins his account with creation and the fall. Of all His creatures, God bestowed upon mankind a special grace, the Image of God. For Athanasius this Image means a sharing in the divine being (“though in a limited degree”; I.3; III.11) and a unique incorruptibility because of this intimate knowledge of and union with the Incorruptible One (I.4-5; II.6-7; III.13). In such a state, man would have continued forever (I.3). But by “turning from eternal things to things corruptible” man embraced corruption—death—by forsaking union with the eternal (I.5; cf. I.4). Such is the setting for “the divine dilemma and its solution in the incarnation” (II).