Two Ancient Christologies Chapter 1 (parts)

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The Christological thought of the Alexandrine School of theology in the history of the Early Church finds its highest expression the the Council of Chalcedon (451) in the teaching of Cyril, who came to be venerated as the defender of orthodoxy against the peril of Nestorianism. But the faith which this theologian proclaimed was not his own creation. Central to the Alexandrine Christological tradition are both the great Athanasius and Apollinarius of Laodicea, whose doctrine (apart, that is, from the particular error of the latter) Cyril carried forward. But the principles upheld by Athanasius had been upheld before him by earlier Greek teachers, and in particular Origen. So it is that, if we are to appreciate the development of the Alexandrine doctrine concerning the Person of Jesus Christ, we must first consider the teaching of Athanasius as it is seen in the light of that of his predecessors.

Now behind any given Christology there must needs lie certain ideas concerning God and man and the relations between them. It follows then, that we cannot fully understand the Christological teaching of the Alexandrine theologians without first enquiring after their root ideas. Besides, an enquiry of this sort is necessary in view of the important consideration that if these ideas are not essentially Christian, it cannot but be that the doctrinal structure which is founded upon them is, correspondingly, faulty. So we begin with an investigation of the doctrine of God as this was expounded by Athanasius and those who had gone before.

Perhaps it will be well if, by way of introduction to our subject, we try to realise the difficulties that confronted the early exponents of Christianity as these set out to explain their faith to their neighbours. The Greeks had entered into the heritage bequeathed to them by Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics, and as in Neo-Platonism, were seeking to effect a closer fusion of traditional philosophical ideas with that essentially religious idea which is to be founded at the heart of the Hellenic genius, namely, is that blessedness is to be found as the human soul, liberated from all earthly bounds, mounts higher and higher in its contemplation of the Divine. So God was looked upon as the One, utterly transcendent and unknowable, the Father, the God, who, as Plato had said, stands “beyond knowledge and being.”1  But the Christian conception of God—a conception which has its roots in Hebraic Theism—is radically different from this. Christianity proclaims, not that God is the One who, highly exalted and shrouded in mystery, is banished from the world, but that He is the all-holy and all-loving Creator, who, yearning that man, made in His image, should enjoy perfect communion with Him, and rule his life in accordance with the divine will, again and again intervenes in history—”rising up early and sending”—as He works out His good purpose for His creation. Clearly, then, the task facing early Christian teachers was no light one. How were they to present their message to the world long accustomed to vastly different ideas? Can we blame them if they set out to discover what common ground there was between the Greek and the Christian, and, having discovered such common ground, at once made us of it? Indeed, it must be admitted that such perspicacity is greatly to their credit. Or, can we blame them if, when speaking of God, they adopt terms and phrases which have no ethical significance but are bound up with the Greek philosophical conception of the Divine? After all, they must have felt that it was only in this way that they could be sure of gaining a hearing.2 But this is far from saying that they were themselves taken captive by the very thought which they were attempting to overcome. As seems clear, they never surrender the fundamentals of their faith; at its core, their doctrine does not vary: that the God of the Christians, they proclaim is an ethical God.

And, especially at Alexandria, might we have expected Christian teachers to have been so strongly influenced by the spell of Hellas that in their hands the gospel came to be deprived of its essential character. For at this centre of Greek culture, with its Library and Museum, Eastern thought in its manifold forms was being mingled with the philosophy of Greece. Here, Philo, making use of Hellenic conceptions, had sought to present Judaism as a religious philosophy; here the leading Gnostics, Basilides and Valentinus, had flourished, It was here, too, that the first of the Neo-Platonists, Plotinus (204-270), had studied under the renowned Ammonius before he settled at Rome. The tradition of learning for which Alexandria was famed was continued among the Christians, who set up their catechetical school—a school which was given to Christendom teachers who could make their valuable contribution to Christian theology. But, even if the earliest and most influential heads of the school of Alexandria, Clement († before 215) and Origen (185-254), were Greeks by birth and outlook, they were never unmindful of their Christian calling. They were Christians living in an atmosphere of Greek thought—but Christians they remained.

Clement, intent upon attracting the educated Greeks to the Christian message, lay all stress on the thought that the supreme gift which Christianity has to offer to men is knowledge of the Divine, and makes use of their language. God, he says, is “above all speech, all conception, and all thought, being inexpressible even by His power”; He is “ranked as the All on account of His greatness”; He is “the One, invisible, without dimension and limit, without form and name”.3 Certainly, such expression viewed by themselves, are not consistent with the cardinal truth of the gospel that God can, and does, reveal Himself, but, while owing a debt to Greek philosophy, Clement is a Christian. Fundamental to his doctrine is the conception that God is Creator who loves all things which He has made who, a God of purpose, gave to the world as its instructors the Law of Moses and the philosophy of the Greeks, and who, to complete the process of education, has in these last days sent “Him from whom all instruction comes”, the Logos made man, that through Him man might possess that perfect knowledge, the attainment which spells his salvation.4

It is reasonable to conclude that the same ethical conception of God is to be found behind the theology of him who, an outstanding mind in his own and succeeding generations, was the first offer of the Church summa theologiae, and in it, greatly daring, to face, and to give answer to, doctrinal problems, the importance which had yet to be realised. Origen, indebted to Plato and Philo, the Alexandrian Jew, drew up a system which may well have appeared to thoughtful Greeks as simply another product of Hellenic erudition, and it is easy to understand why Porphyry, the disciple of Plotinus, should say of this great thinker that while his life was that of a Christian, his opinions concerning the Deity were those of the Greek.5 He affirms that God is “incorporeal, a simple intellectual nature”, incomprehensible, impassible, and uncircumscribed; he adopts the Pythagorean “Monad”—nay,, not satisfied with this, he would establish a new term Ἑνάς.6 Again, he speaks of God as Mind and Ousia; indeed, he goes farther and declares He is “Mind, or something transcending Mind and Ousia”7 Clearly, it is possible to argue that Origen pushes the idea of the divine transcendence to its farthest limit.8

But this doctrine has another, and, as it seems, a more fundamental aspect. The foundation of his system, he explicitly states, lies in the revelation given in Scripture and the truth of the apostolic tradition; nay, as himself confesses, it is in order to express the fundamentals that he makes use of sound philosophical teaching.9 So, building upon this foundation, he can establish the thought which is central to his system—the thought, that is, of God’s creative activity. With his view of an eternal act or process of creation we are not here concerned. What should be noticed is that for him this activity proceeds not from “God” regarded as a metaphysical abstraction, but form a self-conscious Being whose very essence, as it is made known to man, is goodness, and who, just because He is what He is, must reveal Himself,10 this divine self-revelation being seen first and foremost in the Incarnation itself.11

At the same time, it cannot be denied that with Origen the historical—and the Christian faith is, of course, bound up with history—recedes into the background: as a Platonist, he is concerned rather with the eternal, the only true reality, than with the temporal which is but the shadow of that reality—a characteristic which, we shall see, is reflected in his Christology. Moreover, it is not unlikely that those who succeeded him as heads of the catechetical school—notably, Theognostus12 and Pierius (whom Jerome calls “Origen Junior”13)—had the same point of view. But, if we take as our criterion the letter of Hymenaeus and the five other bishops14 who assembled at Antioch (c. 268) to pass judgment on the teaching of Paul of Samosata, it is clear that the thought of the intervention of the Divine in the temporal was given first place by churchmen who themselves looked upon Origen as their master. These may use philosophical terms when speaking of God and say that He is one, unoriginate, unseen, unchanging, incomprehensible to man except in so far as He is made known through the Son, but it does not appear justifiable to conclude from this that theirs is the Dues philosophorum. For, upholding against the Samosatene the doctrine of the individual being of the Logos, they proceed to show how “the begotten Son, the Only-begotten, and God”, who was “always with the Father fulfilling the paternal will towards all creation”, was God’s instrument in creation, in the revelation to the Patriarchs and in the giving of the Law, and how He was sent from heaven by the Father, and became incarnate, and was made man. Surely behind such statements we can trace the presence of the conception of the ethical God who has a purpose for mankind, and works for its fulfilment.15

We are now in a position to consider Athanasius’ Doctrine of God. As is often said, his is an interest which is not philosophical, but religious: he is rather the great religious reformer than the systematic theologian. In this respect he differs from his distinguished predecessors at Alexandria. For the ethical idea of God, which had at times, as it seems, been seriously overshadowed by the Greek idea of Him, is now crystal clear. From first to last Athanasius focuses attention upon the supreme truth expressed in the opening words of the Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people’; for central to his teaching is the Christian fundamental that God Himself has intervened in history in order to effect man’s redemption. His view of God, then, is not that in His transcendence He is utterly removed from the world of finite beings, but that He is the living and personal Creator who Himself draws nigh to His creation, as, of His goodness, He desires that man shall draw nigh to Him. This is not to say that Athanasius does not use the terms and expressions of the Greek philosophical schools—he certainly does; but, as we say, he is dominated by an interest which is altogether religious. Thus he uses the term “ousia”, the word that philosophers used in their classrooms, but, it should be observed, he uses it in its simple meaning of “being”: “When we hear ‘I am that I am’,” he says, “we understand the ousia of him that is”16 Again, he may adopt Plato’s words—words which, of course, sum up the thought of the Neo-Platonists concerning the super-essential One—that God is “beyond all being”17 but, as Robertson points out,18 it is significant that he inserts the word “created”, saying that God is “beyond all created being”, and is seen when one refers to the passages in the Contra Gentes19 in which the expression occurs, uppermost here is the thought of God’s “nearness” to man. Moreover, he adopts the celebrated saying in the Timaeus to suit his purpose: God is “good”, or rather He is “essentially the source of goodness”, who grudges existence to none, but desires all to exist as objects of His loving-kindness—a loving kindness which, he goes on to show, is seen in the presence of His Logos in creation and (here bringing the truth which ever separates the message of the Gospel from the ideas of Neo-Platonism20) in the coming of that Logos in a human body for our salvation.21

Again, one side of their Logos-doctrine plainly illustrates that the earlier Alexandrine teachers would uphold the Christian conception of God. For is the Christian fundamental that in Jesus Christ God Himself has come down as man among men is to be maintained, it must be asserted that the Logos who became man is co-eternal with the Father—and this is what they do assert. At the same time, a it has been put, “the doctrine of the Logos, great as was its importance for theology, harboured deadly perils in its bosom”.22 In confessing the Godhead of Jesus Christ, theologians were at once brought face to face with the problem as to how they were to express the distinction between the Father and the Son, and at the same time preserve the truth concerning the unity of God which they had inherited from ancient Israel. The Seballians had the answer, but this meant the denial of the Son’s personal existence. The answer which came from the other side, the answer of the Subordinationism, was unsatisfactory because it always carried with it the suggestion that God is transcendent, self-sufficient, and distinct Being, and that there must needs be a mediator, a “second God”, between Him and the world, if the world is to be accounted for. As is well known, the principle of the Son’s subordination to the Father is to be found side by side with that of His co-eternity with the Father in Clement and Origen. Neither is there any need for us to enlarge on the subject that it was Origen’s teaching on the subordination of the Son, at the expense of that on His eternal generation, which was developed by his followers, as these were intent upon resisting the Seballian doctrine, and that this teaching, being carried even farther by the Lucianists, had its outcome in the Arian scheme of logical deductions—itself a witness to what could be built on the foundation of Subordinationism, once the doctrine of the nature of the Son is the same as that of the Father had been cast aside.

But, now that Arianism was in the field, Athanasius sees full well that it is no longer possible for Christian teachers to hold together the two contradictory principles of the complete divinity of the Son and His inferiority to the Father; now, as he realises, if the fundamental Christian conviction that it is God Himself, and not a second and inferior God, Himself a creature, who has made the world and redeemed mankind is to be upheld, it must—and that with all boldness—be asserted that the being of the Son is identical with that of the Father. Let the Scriptures be set up as a light upon a candlestick, he declares, and it will be understood that it must be confessed that the Logos, the very Son of the Father, is no creature or work, but an offspring (γέννημα) proper to the Father’s ousia—and, therefore, very God and “homoousios” with the Father.23 What he teaches, then, is that whatever the Father is such is the Son—that, as he has it, “the fulness of the Father’s Godhead is the being of the Son, and the Son is whole God”,24 the Godhead of the Father and the Son being one.25 Moreover, he insists that there is all the difference in the world between “begetting” and “creating”. The Son is not a creature, but the offspring proper to the Father, as are the rays of light to the sun: the rays of the sun, but they are inseparable from it. So also, he goes on, is the Son of the Father’s ousia, while the ousia, the Godhead, is invisible; He is other as offspring, but the same as God, He and the Father being one “in identity of the one Godhead”.26

It is then, through this Logos who is “Whole God” that, Athanasius insists, God has created the world. To say—as, in effect, the Lucianists had said—that God made the Son alone and committed the rest to Him because He did not deign to make them Himself is, he exclaims, to say what creation itself will condemn as unworthy of God. There is no pride in God; as the Lord Himself has told us, this teacher affirms, God exercises His providence even down to things so small as a hair of the head, a sparrow, and the grass of the field—therefore it cannot be unworthy of Him, through a Logos who is proper to Him and no creature, to make all things.27 Thus is rejected the idea of an utterly transcendent and self-sufficient Being: God is indeed a transcendent Being, but His transcendence is not such that He is removed from His creation. In fact, this latter point is upheld again and again by Athanasius when he speaks of the function of the Logos. “It pleased God”, he says, “that His own wisdom should condescend to the creatures so as to introduce an impress and semblance on all common and on each, that what was made might be manifestly wise works and worthy of God.”28  so does God, “because He is good, guide and settle the whole creation by His own Logos who is Himself God, . . . that creation may have light and abide alway securely”—for “it would have come to nothingness but for the maintenance of it by the Logos”,29 According to Athanasius, then, it is no medium, inferior to the Supreme, but God Himself who, through a Logos who proper to Him, creates the world, and who, while transcendent, is also, through this same Logos, immanent in creation: not only “through Him” but also “in Him” all things consist.30 The cosmic relations of the Logos are still maintained, but no longer is the distinction between Him and the Father expressed in terms of creation; rather, the distinction is now lifted to its highest plane, and set with the divine ousia itself.

But the great Alexandrine is much more interested in the problem of redemption that in that of creation: for him, the chief function of the Logos is to become man in order to restore a fallen humanity. Clement and Origen had emphasised His function as the Revealer of the Divine: as Power, the Wisdom, the Knowledge, and the Truth of the Father, the former declares, the Logos has ever been the Instructor in the divine mysteries,31 and, to give men the fulness of light, has in these last days Himself become flesh; and Origen, while teaching that the Logos became man in order to take away sin, and that the redemption which He has wrought is visible to all, holds that for the more advanced Christ is the divine Teacher, whom these appreciate Wisdom that as Redeemer.32 But Athanasius, whose, as we have said, is not a philosophical but a supremely religious interest, proclaims that the Logos made man is essentially man’s Redeemer, redeeming him from his present sinful state—and, he insists, no depotentiated God, no creature, but only One who is very God could bring about the required restoration. He argues in this way: If the Logos who became God had been a creature, man would have remained what he was, not joined to God, for succour could not have come from like to like when one as well as the other needed it; a creature could have undone God’s sentence against man and remitted sin, for it is God alone who, as the prophet Micah says, “pardoneth iniquity and passeth transgression”; therefore, what was necessary has indeed taken place—the Lord, the Son, who is the proper Logos and image of the Father’s essence, even He who at the beginning sentenced man to death on account of sin, has Himself become man, and made him free.33 Clearly behind all this we mark both the presence of thought of an ethical God who, of His goodness, Himself intervenes in man’s history for man’s everlasting good, and, at the same time, the direct rejection of the conception of God is the Supreme who, far above the world, cannot thus “stoop down” in a desire to redeem it.

The Christian doctrine of man is that He is a reasonable being, endowed with freedom of choice, who, made in the image of God, is capable of communion with Him, it being his chief end, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. But it is also an essential part of this doctrine that man is sinful and guilty, and so stands in need of redemption—and that a redemption which must come from without, from God Himself, if man is to attain the end for which he was created.

Now there can be no doubt that the earlier Alexandrines upheld the former of these two ideas: theirs is the fundamental truth that man is so constituted that it is possible for him to be a partaker of the divine nature. Man, they teach, is a rational creature and the image of the Logos, who is Himself the Father’s image34—so can enter into fellowship with the Divine. “Man,” says Clement, “alone of all other living creatures, was in his creation endowed with an understanding of God”;35 he is “a God-loving being”,36 “a heavenly plant born for contemplation of heaven”; he is”constituted by nature for fellowship with the Divine”.37


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But no such evidence of the influence of the Greek spirit is to be found in Athanasius. He is at one with his predecessors in upholding the truth that man is a rational being, who, made in the image of the Logos, is capable of knowing God.38 Thus, he can say, all things were created in the Logos, and “everyone who directs his thoughts to the Lord . . . will go forward to the brightness of the light of truth”;39 “His impress (τύπος) is in us”, and it has been brought into being “that the world might recognise its own Creator, the Logos, and through Him the Father”;40 God “did not barely create men as He did all the irrational creatures on the earth, but made them after His own image, giving them a portion even of the power of His own Logos, and being made rational, that they might be able to abide ever in blessedness, and live the true life”.41 Now, however, all insistence is laid on those fundamentally Hebraic ideas concerning man to which special attention had been paid by the representatives of the Asiatic school of theology.42 Thus making use of the doctrine of Methodius of Olympus, of Irenaeus, and Melito of Sardis, and employing their categories, Athanasius takes as his starting point the conception of man is a fallen creature. Man’s first parent, he declares, had an inward grasp of knowledge as to the Father, since, besides being made in the image of the Logos, he possessed the gift of the Holy Spirit. But, he goes on, Adam fell, with the consequence that this gift was taken away, and man was disinherited.43 So having “altered”, did man cease to be “in God”. Though, still a rational creature, he had not completely robbed himself of the faculty of appreciating the good, his will gradually grew weaker, and the image which he was made became more and more defaced with the filth of sin;44 indeed, man would have gone from bad to worse in this state of “corruption”, and the world would have returned to nothingness out which it had been created, had not God of His goodness found for man the way of salvation.45

For this teacher, then, who so clearly upholds the doctrine of its universality and considers sin from a definitely moral point of view, redemption consists in the deliverance of the whole human race from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the children of God. What was necessary, he argues, was not repentance (which could not have sufficed), but the coming of a Second Adam who could sum up the human race in Himself, and so be the root of a new creation.46 But no mere man could have fulfilled what was required—for a mere man could have done nom more than heal himself.47 What was necessary was that God Himself should come down and assume a manhood altogether like ours, that, through such joining-together of God and man, man might be “in God” once more. Accordingly, this is Athanasius’ main assertion: in Jesus Christ God Himself has indeed come down as man for man’s salvation, for He is very God made man. So, he teaches, has the union of God and man been established. Moreover, since the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Son, the gift which man had lost since Adam transgressed the divine command is now restored to him.48 Therefore, as man is “in Christ”, he is redeemed: he is brought from death to life, from corruption to incorruption, from passibility and mutability to impassibility to immutability, and knit into the Godhead itself—in a word, He is “deified.”

But, it may be urged, does not this use of categories which are realistic rather than ethical seem to indicate that, according to Athanasius, the redemption is a quasi-physical process in which human nature is transfused into divine qualities? If this is the case, we are faced with the implication that he is building upon the conception that Godhead and manhood are antithetical ousiai, two substances, which come together only to result in the transformation of the latter into the former. But, as we look deeper, it seems Athanasius’ is a moral and spiritual view of man’s salvation, even if, as must be granted, he uses terms which are not in keeping with such a view.

Certainly the outstanding idea is that salvation wrought by Christ brings about man’s victory over death, but it may be said that Athanasius takes as granted the conception that death is due to sin, and that it is through Him who, as the Conquerer of death, is the Conquerer of sin that man has the victory and can enjoy eternal life.49 Again, he alludes to the blessings of incorruptibility, of impassibility, and of immutability, it seems clear that his is the moral point of view, and that his is the thought that as man is “knit into the Logos from heaven”, Who, “manifested to take away our sin”, has Himself destroyed passions, he, in his sinlessness, becomes free from them for ever.50 Moreover, it appears that even if it does not occupy a foremost position, the purely spiritual aspect of the redemption is always present in Athanasius’ teaching. The grace of the spirit, he says, which deserted fallen man “remains irrevocably” to those, the penitent, who, having received it through Christ, are again called Sons of God by adoption.51 Further, when he speaks of being “in Christ”, and through Him “in God”, he is apparently, thinking of an experience which is essentially spiritual: man still remains man, and God still remains God, he teaches,52 only the true relationship between them is now restored, since, being “in Christ”, man through Him “knows” the Father, and “is introduced into the Kingdom of Heaven after His likeness”.53 And does not the conception of man, having been redeemed, can enjoy perfect fellowship with God and, becoming like Him as he is thus “knit into the Godhead”, can be called divine, lie behind Athanasius’ use of the word “deification”? His, we man safely say, is simply the Scriptural view: he does not mean that in redemption the human ousia is transformed into the divine, and so “deified”. His great saying, “the Logos became man that we might be made God”, is based on Scripture:54 as men are in Christ, he teaches, they are again called “gods” and “sons of the Most High” (Psalm 82:6) ; through Him they “become partakers of His divine nature”  (2Peter 1:4). This it would seem that here—if, that is, we concentrate, not on his categories as they stand, but on the message which they are meant to convey—as in other aspects of his doctrine, this teacher is seeking to maintain what is fundamental to the Gospel.


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We can now discuss the Christology of Athanasius. Fundamental to it are the same two doctrinal principles that we seen in the teaching of the predecessors; consequently, we must expect to find here conceptions which have already made their appearance. But there is an important difference between Athanasius and his predecessors: it not merely that, unlike that of Clement and Origen, his doctrine contains no element which can be said to be inconsistent with his foundation principles, for, as we have tried to show, his soteriological thought is wholly derived from ideas essentially Hebraic, and, unlike their, betrays no evidence of the influence of Greek religious ideal; it is, rather, that from now onwards the two Christological principles of the Alexandrine school are seen in their soteriological bearing: now, most emphatically, is it being maintained that the doctrine of Christ’s work as Redeemer cannot be separated from that of His Person. Athanasius is principally interested in the problem of redemption, and, as has been pointed out, puts forward tow main conceptions in this connection: first, that only One who is very God, and, secondly, that only One whose manhood is like ours, can save a sinful race—ideas which are brought together in such a statement as this:

We had not been delivered from sin and the curse unless it had been by nature human flesh which the Logos put on, and man had not been deified unless the Logos who became flesh had been by nature from the Father, and true and proper to Him.55

These are now carried over in Christology to become the basis of the two Christological assertions that Jesus Christ is the divine Logos Himself, living a human life, and that He is at once God and man. Let us see how this is the case.

“Only the very God can save sinners”: we should note, in the first place, how Athanasius develops the principle that Jesus Christ is the Logos Himself who has become man. Like Origen and the Origenists, he asserts that this becoming man has not involved any change in respect of the eternal existence of the Logos: He has not become other than Himself, but remains the same (οὐκ ἄλλος γέγονε τὴν σάρκα λαβών, ἀλλ᾽αὐτὸς ὤν);56 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.”57 So he holds that, while quickening the body which He had put on, He is one and the same, walking as man, quickening all things as Logos, and as Son dwelling with the Father.58 As he says: “The Logos did not cease to God when He become man; neither, since He is God, does He shrink from what is man’s.”59 What has taken place is that He, the Logos who is eternal with the Father, has in these last days assumed flesh—but He is still the same Person both before and after the Incarnation. Aaron was still Aaron, he says, after he had put on the high priests vesture.60 Here, clearly, Athanasius is drawing near to the thought that the incarnate life of the Logos is an “addition to” the life which is His by nature—a thought which, as we shall see, is to be found in Cyril.61

But does Athanasius, who os firmly insists that the Logos become man as Jesus Christ, allow that He, while not undergoing any change in respect of His eternal being, has, in the Incarnation, limited Himself in order to meet human conditions? We think that He does, though we most expect anything like a clear expression of a doctrine of the divine self-emptying—the principle is there, but no more. To take an illustration: in respect of our Lord’s ignorance, he declares that the words “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, not even the Son” were spoken by the Logos “when He became man”, or “as man”, adding that He said this, “ignorance might be the Son’s when He was born of man” (ἵνα τοῦ ἔξ ἀνθρώπων γενομένου Υἱοῦ ἡ ἄγνοια ᾖ).62 The thought here would seem to be that since, as he says, “ignorance is proper to man”, and the Logos has become man, the Logos incarnate as ignorant—that is the Logos, while remaining omniscience in His divine being, has of His own free will withheld His power of omniscience in the Incarnation. Again, is it not possible to see behind his statements that the Logos “allowed” His own body to suffer (ἡνείχετο πάσχειν τὸ ἴδιον σῶμα),63 and that when the Logos came in His own body, He was conformed to our condition” (αὐτὸς γενόμενος τῷ ἡμῶν σώματι τὰ ἡμῶν μιμήσατο),64 the conception of that the Logos—to use Hilary’s word—”tempered”65 His powers that there might be a real incarnation? Yet, as we have said, even if Athanasius realises that his doctrine demands positing the kenosis of the Logos, he makes no attempt to develop the thought: indeed, as we shall see, it is not developed by any of the later upholders of the Alexandrine Christology.

We now come to the heart of his doctrine. In accordance with his fundamental assertion that in Jesus Christ the Logos Himself has become man, Athanasius lay all emphasis on the truth of the unity of His Person, and denounces the notion that in Him are two Persons side by side. In Jesus Christ, he declares, the Logos has taken to Himself a human body, and made it His own (ἵδιοποιεῖτο τὰ τοῦ σώματος ἴδια).66 So he insists that the body is not “that of another” (ἕτέρου τὸ σῶμα), but “the own” (τὸ ἴδιον) of the Logos.67 As is to be gathered from his important letter to Epictetus of Corinth (written c. 361), who sought his advice when he, the Bishop, found himself called upon to settle a dispute between two parties who were holding different Christological views, the one, as we think, standing for the doctrine of the Alexandrine school, the other for that of the school of Antioch68—as well as from his letters to Adelphius, an Egyptian bishop, and Maximus, presumably the Cynic philosopher who plays a part in the life of Gregory Nazianzen, which, written about the same time, have to do with this dispute at Corinth—Athanasius deliberately rejects the idea of “two Sons”. How can they be called Christians, he asks, who say that the Logos entered into a holy man, just as He entered into the prophets, and not that He became man, taking from the body of Mary, and dare to assert that one is Christ and another the divine Logos?69 He does not “divide the Son from the Logos”, but recognises that the Son—that is, He was so called at His baptism and Transfiguration—is the Logos Himself who has become man.70 For such a dividing, he argues, means the setting up of a mere man, whose death would have solely on his own behalf—no mere man can draw all men into himself;71 besides, Christians are not man-worshippers.72 Thus does he anticipate the attack that was soon to be launched by Apollinarius, and after him by Cyril, against Nestorian thought. His standpoint, like that of his successors, is that “the body” of Jesus Christ is that of God, who at the end of the ages came to put away sin;73 if it is separated form the Logos, and regarded as “that of another”, the conception of the reality of man’s redemption through Christ is altogether lost—a conception, which, as we have seen, governs the whole of his doctrinal outlook.

Athanasius’ teaching of the unity of Christ’s Person has another important aspect: for him, Jesus Christ is God Himself living an incarnate life, and it is to Him—to the incarnate Logos—that all that appertains to that life must be ascribed. All the actions and sayings of Jesus Christ which are recorded in Scripture, he teaches, are those of the Logos made man. It was He who performed the mighty works, and it was He, the same Person (ὁ αὐτός), who, having taken a passible body, wept and was hungry;74 it was “the Logos in the flesh” who uttered the prayer in Gethsemane and the bitter cry on Golgotha;75 it was “the Logos when He became flesh” who said that He was ignorant of the time of the Parousia.76 Let us be certain of this: Athanasius would not say that Logos who has become man does or says this as God and that as man. What he maintains is that whatever is done or said was done or said by one Person77—the Logos in His incarnate state.

But here, it should be noted, Athanasius makes the same careful distinction that is made by Origen and Malchion. Because the Logos has made His own things of the flesh, he affirms, it must be said that “God suffered”; for the same reason, as is clear, he uses the title “Theotokos” when speaking of the Virgin.78 But he carefully distinguishes between what must be said of the Logos His divine and eternal being, and what must be said of Him as He has become man. He would not have it thought that he attributes passibility to the Divine: in His divine being, the Logos remains what He was. So, explaining how the expression “God suffered” should be interpreted, he appeals to “that trustworthy witness, the blessed Peter”. The apostle, he points out,79 has declared that Christ suffered for us “in the flesh” that passibility can be ascribed. But ascribed it must be, Athanasius would say, since He who suffered was the God who assumed flesh for our salvation.

Such are the aspects of Athanasius’ teaching which may be grouped under what would call the first foundation principle of the Alexandrine Christology. This we now venture to summarise as follows: In Jesus Christ, the Logos, while remaining what He was, has, for our salvation, united manhood to Himself, thereby making it His own; He is not, therefore, two Persons, but one Person, the Logos Himself in His incarnate state.

Let us go back to the second idea fundamental to the soteriology of the great Alexandrine. As we have seen, he lays down, not only that the Redeemer must be: “true God by nature”, but also that that which the very God puts on must be “by nature human flesh”; for the redemption itself could not have been effected if a second Adam had not come into existence to be the root of a restored creation. Upon this he builds the Christological assertion that in Jesus Christ there is not only true Godhead but also true manhood: there are in Him, he says, two elements—δύο πράγματα, he calls them80—which remain, each with its properties. Here again the letters which he wrote in connection with the doctrinal controversy at Corinth are of real value for an appreciation of Athanasius’ point of view. As it seems to us, he misunderstands the doctrinal position of those  who were saying that the body of Christ is “homoousios” with the Logos; for these, we consider, were in all probability the forerunners of the Synousiasts, and were using this term in order to enforce the principle of the unity of Christ’s Person, without denying the reality of His body.81 Nevertheless, his reply to Epictetus is most significant: he denounces the notion that the body is “homoousios” with the Godhead of the Logos, and, believing that the party at Corinth thought in this way, classes them with the Valentinians, the Marcionists, and the Manichaeans.82 Such men, he declares, will not accept the truth of the Incarnation:83 they deny what is proper to Christ’s body—and he who denies Christ’s human properties “denies utterly also His sojourn among us”.84 Clearly, then, he takes a firm stand by the doctrine of the reality of the Lord’s manhood, and in anticipation condemns Eutychainism, just as in anticipation he condemns Nestorianism. 

But we can say more than this. Athanasius, like Origen before him, sees that any Christology, if it is to be sound, must include the principle of “recognising” in Christ the elements of Godhead and manhood, and, in accordance with their properties, seeing the difference between them. To quote what he says in this connection:

If we recognise what is proper to each—i.e., to the Logos and to “His own body”—and see and understand that both these things and those are performed by one Person, we believe aright, and shall never go astray [Ἑκάστοθ γὰρ τὸ ἴδιον γινώσκοντες, καὶ ἀμφότερα ἐξ ἑνὸς πραττόμενα βλέποντες καὶ νοοῦντες, ὀρθῶς πιστεύομεν . . .]. But if a man, looking into what was done by the Logos divinely, denies the body, or, the properties of the body, denies the coming of the Logos in the flesh, or, from what is human, entertains low ideas concerning the Logos, such a one, like a Jewish vintner [cf. Isaiah 1.22, LXX], mixing wine with water, will count the Cross a scandal, or, as the Greek, deem the preaching foolishness.85

First of all, as bearing out what has been said above concerning his doctrine of the unity of Christ’s Person, it should be noted that Athanasius maintains that all the actions and sayings of Jesus Christ, whether human or divine, proceed ἐξ ἑνός—that is, form the Logos made man. But he also maintains that in this one Person there is Godhead and there is manhood, each with its properties. So what he means in the passage which we have just quoted is that if anyone would hold a sound Christological belief, he must not only see Jesus Christ as one Person, the Logos Himself in His incarnate state, but he must also “recognise”—that is, see as real—the properties of His Godhead and those of His manhood. For, he argues, if one sees only human properties, one arrives at the position that it was not the Logos Himself who was present as man among men—indeed, on that basis, one can “entertain low ideas concerning the Logos”, and with the Arians think of Him as a creature; and if one sees only the divine properties, one arrives at the position that the body is not real; in the one case, as in the other, what is being denied is the reality of the Redemption and of the Incarnation which it has necessitated. Obviously, the enforcement of the principle of “recognising” the two natures of Jesus Christ, and seeing each with its properties, carries with it the rejection of the Eutychian error. As we shall see, this principle was carried forward by Apollinarius and Cyril; indeed, it would seem that in Cyril’s hands it becomes the ground of a particular Christological theory. Of this we shall speak later on. Now we can attempt to summarise what would call the second foundation principle of the teaching with which we are dealing: In Jesus Christ, the two elements of Godhead and manhood, each with its properties, are to be recognised; therefore, since these remain in their union in His Person, any idea of confusion or of change in respect of these elements must be eliminated. This and the first foundation principle, we contend, form the backbone of the Alexandrine Christology.

Before we leave Athanasius, another important question must be discussed. As we have noticed, he holds that the manhood of Jesus Christ is real, and that its properties remain in union. So we ask: Does he hold that the manhood still possesses the power of self-determination? Or, to put it another way: Is he, or is he not, to be set down as an Apollinarian? Undoubtedly there are many passages in his writings in which he refers to the Lord’s human nature as “flesh” or “body”,86 but, to our mind, it is possible to read too much into his frequent use of these terms. It is important to remember, we think, that Athanasius lived at a time when what was meant by the term “manhood” was still waiting careful definition—Apollinarius had not yet been condemned. Again it may seem that his description of the manhood as the “instrument”, or the “shrine”, of the Logos87 points to a latent Apollinarianism. But can we be sure? Later theologians spoke in the same way, and these, it is clear, deliberately rejected the Apollinarian error. On the other hand, it seems to be going too far to appeal to the statement in Tomus ad Antiochenos that “the Lord had a body which was not without a soul, neither was it without sense or intelligence” (ἄψθχον, οὐδ᾽ἀναίσθετον οὐδ᾽ἀνόητον),88 and to take this as evidence that Athanasius explicitly affirms the reality of Christ’s human rational soul. Certainly he presided over the Council of Alexandria (362) which issued this document, but we have to reckon with the possibility—perhaps we should call it the probability—that the statement which we just quoted proceeds from the Antiochenes who were present at the Council, these, presumably, being intent upon seeing in writing one of the main Christological assertions of the school of thought which they represented. Nevertheless, the fact that he accepts—and that without question—such carefully chosen words itself by no means without significance. Further, his doctrine that “the whole man must be saved”89 should be taken into consideration in this connection, for this clearly implies that he regards Jesus Christ as totus homo. Thus it is reasonable to suppose that, had he been alive at the time he would have held fast by the principle that “that which was taken was not redeemed”, and without hesitation would have laid bare the error of Apollinarius, even if he was his friend.

But the real test comes when we investigate his interpretation of those Scriptural passages which have direct bearing on the point at issue. Thus, in his comments on the texts “Now is my soul trouble . . .”, “Remove this cup from me”, and “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” we find that Athanasius, as he argues against the Arians, makes a special point of saying that these affections were “not proper to the nature of the Logos”—on the contrary, “the flesh was thus affected”,90 “these affections were proper to the flesh”,91 and, in Gethsemane, “the flesh was in terror”.92 May we not say, then, that in his view the “flesh”, as “flesh”, was at these times really moved to assert itself?—that, had he been pressed, he would have acknowledged that the “flesh” possessed the power of self-determination? What we mean is that the thought of the individual character of the Lord’s manhood would seem to be implicit in his teaching. But does he make use of this principle? It is apparent that he does not. For one sees in Athanasius the idea that the Logos so intervenes in the human life of Jesus Christ that it is robbed of the individual character which must belong to it if it is to be truly human. The Logos Himself, he says, “lightened” the sufferings of the flesh;93 the terror was “destroyed” by the Divine.94 But his does not mean no more than that a principle, implicit in his teaching, is not brought out.

That this would seems to be a justifiable conclusion is seen when we turn to his interpretation of the crucial text, St Luke 2:52. Does he allow that progress belongs to the “flesh”? he certainly does. Contending against the Arian use of the text in support of a mutable Logos, he asks: “What kind of progress would He have who was eternally equal with God?”—now could Wisdom advance in wisdom? Rather, he goes on, “the progress belongs to the body”—it was “Jesus” who advanced in wisdom and grace.95 Once again, it will be noted, the principle that Christ’s is a manhood which is individual in its qualities is implicit in Athanasius’ doctrine. But is it developed? It is clear that while he holds that Christ’s physical growth as “the [gradual] manifestation of the Godhead to those who saw it”: “as the Godhead was more and more revealed”, he says, “by so much more did His grace as man increase before all men”.96 We shall see that Cyril has exactly the same thought.97

What are we to say, then? Undoubtedly there is that in the language of this great Alexandrine which seems to point to the presence of Apollinarian thought, but, we consider, it is necessary to examine the roots of his teaching in order to arrive at a true estimate of his position. Then, as it seems, it becomes clear that he builds on the soteriological idea that Jesus Christ is the second Adam, and that, carrying forward this thought, he upholds the truth that He is totos homothough the did not live long enough to perceive that it was necessary for him to put forward an explicit declaration concerning the constituent parts of the totus homo. Nevertheless, Athanasius’ Christology cannot be said to be wholly satisfactory. His failure, presumably, lies in this: while he maintains the representative and, in theory, the individual character of Christ’s manhood, this second conception he does not work out in practice; for, as his scriptural exegesis plainly reveals, he is unable to posit a relationship between the Godhead and the manhood in the one Person of Jesus Christ in which the manhood really possesses it own individuating characteristics. but, as we go farther in our study, we shall see that this failing does not belong to Athanasius alone: it is common to all Greek theologians.