The Mystery the Greeks Deride

My wife suggested reading through Athanasius’s On the Incarnation as a family read-aloud this Advent Season, and it is proving to be one of her finest suggestions yet.  I’d forgotten just how rich and profound this little book was!  (And I learned, paying careful attention to the introduction this time, that Athanasius was probably only twenty years old when he wrote it!) A couple gems from the first chapter: 

“That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride, but we adore; and your own love and devotion to the Word also will be the greater, because in His Manhood He seems so little worth.  For it is a fact that the more unbelievers pour scorn on Him, so much the more does He make His Godhead evident.  The things which they, as men, rule out as impossible, He plainly shows to be possible; that which they deride as unfitting, His goodness makes most fit; and things which these wiseacres laugh at as ‘human’ He by HIs inherent might declares divine.  Thus by what seems His utter poverty and weakness on the cross He overturns the pomp and parade of idols, and quietly and hiddenly wins over the mockers and unbelievers to recognise Him as God.”

“We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning.  There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.”

“Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in the process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion.  For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again.  The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.  By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing; but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt.  So is it affirmed in Wisdom: ‘The keeping of His laws is the assurance of incorruption.’  And being incorrupt, he would be henceforth as God, as Holy Scripture says, ‘I have said, Ye are gods and sons of the Highest all of you: but ye die as men and fall as one of the princes.'”

 

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