The Relation of Space to the Incarnation in Nicene Theology p. 61ff

We thus come to the fourth (4) of Athanasius‘ principles, namely, that ‘terms must be taken in one way through their reference to God and understood in another way in their reference to men (ἄλλως ἐπὶ θεοΰ τὰς λέξεις λαυβάνομεν, καἰ ἐτέρως ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνθρὡπον ταúτας διανοούμεθα).102 God is nor as man and man is not God. Thus even if the same terms in the Holy Scriptures are used of God and of man, nevertheless we must learn to in interpret then differently in accordance with the nature of


(NB.the footnotes make references to the texts in their original languages.  I will provide links to the translated texts on our website)

102. De Decretis 11


each of the subjects indicated (κατὰ τὴν ὲκάστου τῶν σημαινομένων φύσιν).103  Or as Athanasius puts it elsewhere, For terms do not take away from his nature, but rather that Nature changes the terms while attracting them to itself (οὐ γὰρ  αἶ λέξεις  τὴν φύσιν παραιροῡνται, ἀλλὰ μᾱλλον ἡ φύσις τὰς λέξεις εἰς ἑαυτὴν ἓλκουσα μεταβάλλει). For terms are not prior to essences but essences are first and terms are second.’ 104

In accordance with this principle, we have to take into account the difference between the activity of that which is by nature self-existent and that which by nature is contingent and derivative.  If, then, men do not create as God creates, we have to think differently of divine and human occupants of space. ‘Men who are not capable of self-existence are enclosed in place as contingent things (ἐν τόπῳ τυγχἁνοντές εἰσι περιεχóμενοι) and consist in the Word of God. But God is Self-existent, enclosing all things and enclosed by none (ὁ δὲ θεὸς ὢν ἐστί καθ’ ἑαυτὸν, περιέχων τὰ πάντα καὶ ὑπ ‘ οὐδενὸς περιεχὁμενος), and he is “in” all things according to his goodness and power, but “without” all things in accordance with his proper nature.’105 Now since the Son of God cannot be divided from the Father, it follows that even though he became incarnate among us, he remains at the right hand of the Father, for where the Father is, there also is his Word (ἔνθα γάρ ἐστιν ὁ πατἠρ ἐκεῖ καί ὁ τούτου λόγος ἐστιν).106 This cannot but affect the space-relations of Christ, for it is in accordance with his proper nature and substance.

Finally (5), Christ is ‘in’ us through sharing with us our bodily existence, but he is also ‘in’ the Father through his oneness with him. 107 But how are we to think of the relation between this ‘in’ and ‘in?’ It is evident that in each case we have to respect the divine nature and the human nature. ‘As we, while receiving the Spirit do not lose the nature proper to us, so the Lord while becoming man for our sakes, and putting on a body, was no less God (οὐδὲν ἧττον ἧν Θεός), for he was not diminished by the development of the body, but rather “deified” it and


103 De Decretis 10; De Sententia Dionysii, 9;

104. Contra Arianos 2.3;

105. De Decretis 11 ; Cf Sermo major de fide, 29 (N/A) πάντα δὲ χορεῑ ὁ Θεὸς, ὑπ’ οὐδενὀς δὲ οὐ χωρεῑται

106. De Decretis 11

107. De Decretis 31; Contra Arianos 3.22


rendered it immortal.’108 ‘Deification’ did not mean of course, any change in the nature of human essence, but that without being less human we are by grace made to participate in divine Sonship.109 The Son is of the Father and in the Father in an absolute sense, which can never be.110 

Athanasius then offers and analogical account of this relation through a discussion of Christ’s prayer to the Father that as the Father was in him and he was in the Father so the disciples might be one in him.  Everything turns upon the precise meaning of as. It cannot mean that we are to be sons of God as the Father is by nature in the Son and the Son is by nature in the Father, but it must mean according to our own nature.  Therefore a distance (διάστασισ) and a difference (διαφορά) are involved.111

The as signifies not identity, but an image of or a pointer to what it spoken of (ό δὲ λέγων καθὼς οὐ ταυτὁτητα δείκνυσιν, ἀλλ’ εἰκόνα καὶ παράδειγμα τοῡ λεγομένου).112 . . . . Again in using the word as he significs those who become distantly (πὁρρωθεν) as he is in the Father – distantly, that is, not in place but in nature (πὁρρωθεν δὲ ἐστιν οὐ τόπῳ άλλἀ τῆ φύσει), for in place nothing is far from God. but only in nature are all things far from him (άλλἀ νὸνῃ τῇ φύσει πὰντα μακράν ἐστιν αὐτοῡ). As I have already said, he who uses the particle as  signifies not identity nor equality, but a pointer to what is said in the light of what is perceived.113

Athanasius goes on to show through an illustration that as implies one thing and another (ἄλλο καὶ ἂλλο), that where a difference exist there is a certain parallel relation.114

We shall not be as the Son, nor equal to him for we and he are different (οὐκ ἐσόμεθα ὤσπερ ὁ υἱός οὐδὲ ἲσοι αὐτῷ, ἄλλο γάρ καὶ ἄλλο ἐσμέν). The word as is applied to us inasmuch as things differing from others in nature become as they, in view of a certain reference beyond them (ἐπεὶ τὰ μὴ κατὰ φύσιν ὃντα πρός ἄλ λο τι βλέποντα γίνεται ὤσπερ ἐκεῑνα).


108. De Decretis 14

109. Contra Arianos 3.19.20

110. Contra Arianos 1.56

111 Contra Arianos 3.20-21

112. Contra Arianos 3.21-22

113. Contra Arianos 3.22

114. ibid., 3.23


Wherefore the Son is simply and without reservation in the Father for that belongs essentially to him by nature, but so far as we who are not like that by nature are concerned, an image and a pointer is needed (ἡμεῖς δὲ οὐκ ἔχοντες τὸ κατἀ φύσιν δεόμεθα εἰκὀνος καἰ παραδειγματος) in order that he may say ‘As you are in me and I am in you.’115

Παραδειγμα has been translated here not as ‘model’ or ‘representation’ or ‘illustration’ but as ‘pointer’, for it is essentially an operational term in which some idea or relation is taken from our this-worldly experience and made to point beyond itself to what is quite new in order to help us get some kind of grasp upon it.  The idea or relation only approaches what it indicates  and does not claim to represent it. By relating Παραδειγμα τὸ εἰκὀν, i.e., image or likeness, Athanasius shows that he does not use it in the Platonic sense of an archetype or exemplar, nor does he equate it with the copy (or μίμημα) of the archetype. So far as the notion of imitation (μίμησις) come into his thought, it is to speak of following Christ in the light of the pattern he has given to us.116 But Παραδειγμα refers to an image which under the impact of the divine revelation is made to point beyond its creaturely form and content to the intended reality, without however transgressing the distance or rubbing out the difference between them.  It has an objective and transcendental reference, but still is more than an instrument enabling us to get some hold on the reality revealed and not one through which we capture this reality by conceiving of it.  The image fulfils its function while making clear its inadequacy, and by pointing intelligibly to what is really apprehensible although ultimately beyond our comprehension.  It succeeds in that function only insofar as we can understand the Παραδειγμα itself in the light of the reality it serves.117

In the nature of the case the Παραδειγμα that we employ in theology are not those that we choose, but those that are forced upon us through the divine revelation, and which have their ultimate ground, correction and validity in the interrelation between the Father and the Incarnate Son, that is, the interrelation that bridges the χωρισμός between God and man.


115. Ibid 3.23

116. See Contra Arianos 3.19ff  There can be no imitation apart from the Spirit, for without him we are strange and distant from God – imitation is a reproduction through the likeness of Christ in us.

117. For  fuller discussion of the Athanasian concept of Παραδειγμα, see Theology in Reconstruction, London 1965, chs, 2 (reprinted here as Chapter 11) and 3.

and supplies the epistemological context and basis for all theological concepts, and therefore for our understanding of the relation between their creaturely content and the reality of God himself.  It i in Christ that the objective reality of God is intelligibly linked with the creaturely and physical forms of thought, so that these forms may be adapted and given an orientation which will enable them to point out or direct our minds to what God really makes known of himself, although in view of his infinite nature they will be able to seize hold of hims as he is himself. The relation of transcendental reference must remain if they are to be successful in pointing us in the direction they intend, but that relation must also have intelligible or conceptual content if it is not to be blind.

(From T F Torrance’s The Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics, T & T Clark Edinburgh, 1995, pp. 367-371).