Author’s note: The following essay is from the same by T F Torrance in Theology in Reconciliation. There are no footnotes. My intention here is to try and simplify this beautiful essay so it becomes a bridge for those endeavouring to enter his work. I have worked through this essay paragraph by paragraph and put my own spin on what T F Torrance is saying. My hope is people will be able to grasp the beauty of his work and begin to engage with him directly.
It is particularly noted by Patristic scholars the theology of Athanasius is one that has departed from the teachings of Clement and Origen often associated with Catechetical School in Alexandria. Their teaching, especially Origen, must be taken into consideration when we explore the theology of Athanasius. He had a tremendous impact upon the Church. We must take into account the serious problems that arose during the second century with Alexandrian Christianity. They never really expelled the Gnostics and never dealt with the teaching tradition of Basileides and Valentinus in the very manner that Irenaeus addressed in his Against Heresies. As far as Torrance understands it Athanasius sits in the same square as in the tradition of Irenaeus. They share the same method of biblical-theological understanding of the Gospel which is plainly seen in their works. There are unique characteristics in the works of Irenaeus that have much in common with the works of Athanasius. There are the works of others who share the same school of thought such as Melito of Sardis.
Torrance wants to highlight two streams of thought which are extremely helpful and very important in understanding the theology of Athanasius. He makes reference to the Episcopal tradition and its school in Alexandria. Together with the Catechetical School these two components had an enormous influence on Athanasius’ mind and is the main factor that provided enormous shape to his theology. A line can be traced from his mentor Alexander, to Peter, Dionysius, and Demetrius and possibly to St Mark. It is believed the Christian Jews flooded into Alexandria before and after the fall of Jerusalem in the first century bringing their unique Hebrew understanding of the Gospel and the Scriptures into the local Christian community. R. V. Sellers (Two Ancient Christologies Ch. 1) has shown that, as a result, this unique community presented itself in Athanasius Hebraic characteristics where there was very little, if any, Hellenistic philosophical kind of thinking to be found. This is not to say that Athanasius was ignorant of Hellenism. His deep knowledge of the premises from which they operated made him acutely aware of the issues at stake when he attempted to communicate and articulate the Judaeo-Christian Religion within a Greco-Roman culture. Athanasius adopted his predecessor and patron’s style of theologising philosophy (φιλοσοφῶν ἐθεολόγει). Thus the premise for Christian truth begins in God Himself and all other belief systems were assessed according to this truth. In our modern Christian culture there is a strong tendency and habit of trying to philosophise theology. There is the habit of protecting ones’ own ‘take’ according to ones’ own point of view regarding the ways and works of God. Traditions play an enormous role of imposing their own rules of interpretation of Scripture. We see the very same method in the days of the Alexandrian church, where the heretics also established their own rules for interpretation outside the truth of God revealed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. They began with their own truth and tried to make Christianity fit into it. Modern scholars also have this tendency of establishing their own foundation of truth and attempt to make Christianity fit into it. This is what is meant by philosophising theology.
We must ask ourselves in our theological endeavour whether or not we are allowing the truth of God to come out of God’s true self. It is only when God makes Himself known to us that we are in a position to hear and learn from God as Teacher. In modern theological courses a foundation has to be laid down before we can engage with God Himself in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. In this foundational courses, we find characteristics of the definitions of God that can only be traced back to Greek Philosophy in the likes of Plato and Aristotle.
Even today we find there has been a great turning away from the method of Athanasius of theologising philosophy, usually on the ground that it is no longer relevant to our modern culture. This could not be further from the truth. It is making a claim the heretics were right all along and Athanasius was wrong. The heretics did everything they could to dismiss Jesus Christ as the one true God and only point of contact between Him and humanity. The heretics wanted to push Jesus Christ aside as the one and only God, who truly knows God, who is the only one who can teach the ways and works of God and turn towards those with a Greco-Roman mind. In our modern environment we swim so much in this Greco-Roman soup that we hardly notice how much this can impact us as we attempt to engage with the theology of the great Athanasius. As we entered into this period of Christian history, we first have to acknowledge that the problem lies in our own mind which is counter-cultural to the mind of Athanasius. We have to undergo a radical change in our cosmological ground of knowledge before we can start to see the enormous benefits of what Athanasius had to offer us today. Here we had a genius in the midst of turmoil whose thought and method were groundbreaking for his time. Considering we are confronted with the very same problems that Athanasius and the ancient church were confronted with, his writings are an invaluable resource that are enormously beneficial for reshaping the Gospel back to its original form, the very same the Apostles taught. T F Torrance has done us a tremendous service by giving us such clarity on the teaching of Athanasius. It is well worth one’s time to engage with his thoughts on this giant in our church history.
It is well known and characteristic of Alexandria for its scientific tradition which is the second important stream of thought that must be discussed if we are to fully appreciate the theological method of Athanasius. In this part of the world, Greek scientific development was advanced and was at its greatest, especially in the direction as we recognise today as empirical science through the discoveries of men like Heron and his successors. The mechanists and the dogmatics (those who asked the scientific questions that yielded positive answers) came under attack by Sextus Empiricus. He questioned the common approach of many of the philosophies of the day to judge whether or not something was true, especially from subjective experience. That is to say, “if something makes sense to me, then it must be true.” He basically laid out the principles for a critical approach to investigation. The school of Alexandria were influenced by the scientific method of Origen and Clement. The writings of Athanasius were not the product of a void but of influences as a direct result of the culture he lived in. In them we find a remarkable grasp of this scientific approach with the problem solving method of finding practical solutions to problems they may be confronted with. Athanasius is in the unique position of having the Person of Christ as his touchstone and guide. (ἡ μέθοδος τῆς εὑρέσεως operating through εὑρετικὴ ἐπιστήμη).
This careful analysis of scientific question and scientific proof goes as far back to the concluding book of Clement’s Stromateis. In it he analyses and defines what scientific questioning and proof look like. He highlighted the difference in methods adopted in geometry and other like sciences. In these sciences their operations were from fixed premises, which were assumed to be true, and followed a train of thought leading to certain conclusions. The other more suitable method is to ask questions and to allow our minds to fall under the compelling evidence of the Reality we encounter. We assent to this truth of the evidence that shows forth from the Reality which is the decisive factor. We try to the best of our ability through the sheer fidelity of the mind to be obedient and faithful to the nature of what we are investigating. This is what is understood in today’s terms as ‘scientific conscience’ in certain applications.
Because the city of Alexandria had adopted such methods requiring a specific kind of investigation of assenting to the truth disclosed, it led to the need to find appropriate scientific terms that best described their findings. We find this is one of the characteristics in Athanasius’ writings in the East and for Hilary in the West. Language in this kind of scientific investigation had to be flexible and undergo change if they were to properly and appropriately respect the kind of service of knowledge and speech about God. Though the knowledge of God could be apprehended, it had to respect the fact that our capacity to fully comprehend God was limited by our created ‘circumscribed’ minds. Care was taken to ensure the terms that were chosen did not close off God into human boundaries of understanding. These terms had to make allowances for the fact that God is beyond our ability to fully comprehend.
With this in mind we can examine the early work of Athanasius, Contra Gentes. In this work we find there has been a profound change in method from the previous century that dominated the Catechetical school. During this time there was a cosmological and epistemological division because the school was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, the Gnostics, as well as Origen. Origen in particular had laid out a method in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John that placed a wedge (χωρισμός) between the universe that we can see and perceive (κόσμος αἰσθητός), and the intelligible universe, that we can only perceive in the mind (κοσμός νοητός). Athanasius outrightly rejected Origen’s teaching. He also placed aside the Stoic idea of the λόγοι σπερματικοί which was a ‘seed power’ philosophy. Most of all he rejected the Platonic knowledge of God as ‘beyond all knowledge and being’ pushing Him beyond reach making Him unknowable. The tendency by transcendentalist Judaism to the ‘namelessness of God’ and the intellectual mysticism of Neoplatonism were also rejected.
Nevertheless there were some positive contributions made by Origen that were modified in the 4th century as they battled against the Arians. He laid some very important foundations for those who followed after him to build upon. These notable events in his thought were as a result of his attack on the Greeks especially the Aristotelian and Stoic ideas of God. Greek philosophy stated that what we know is only limited and what is unlimited is beyond our rational grasp and must be considered irrational. As a result, the knowledge of God must be finite, limited and only what is derived within our created world. Origen turned this thinking on its head but at the same time accepting that what we know is limited. He taught the infinite, eternal God has created all things out of nothing. He created space and time within the creation of the universe, and gave it beginning and end. He imparted to it its own natural order and, as he said, distributed to it number to souls and logos to things. This made it accessible to rational knowledge and inquiry while making God, He who He is, maintaining His Godness and Lordship over all. However, Origen worked with his division between the sensible and intelligible worlds forcing him to adopt the Platonic doctrine of God as One who is beyond all being and knowing and thus out of our reach. The concept of God as beyond being (ὑπερέκεινα οὐσίας – ‘beyond being,’ ὑπερούσιος – ‘above being’) had a damaging impact on the progress of Greek theology. Even though it was modified by John of Damascus into οὐσία ὑπερούσιος (‘being above all being’) it still had damaging implications on the development of theology. Though on the face of it, it appeared to be an insignificant modification. Unlike the method of Athanasius who tightened his language to leave no room for the heretics to move, οὐσία ὑπερούσιος left the door open for erroneous ideas to creep in.
Athanasius came in at a time where the current language in theology opened the door for ideas inconsistent with the Apostolic faith. The controversy he was faced with through a presbyter, Arius, and the subsequent heresy of Arianism in all its forms, developed on the back of parts of the work of Origen. Athanasius stood on the opposite side of Origen’s Aristotelian-Stoic relation of human reason to God as outlined above. Through articulating the Hebraic-Christian understanding of God, Athanasius task was to bring theology back to its faithful expression as was handed down to him through the Apostles.
Firstly, Athanasius qualified the Aristotelian beyond all being by adding ‘beyond all created being,’ and beyond all human attempts at inventing theoretical ideas about God through their thoughts (ἐπίνοια). He nevertheless insisted that the Being of God remains in His own way and His nature transcendent over all other being as Creator. He is the One who really and truly is God (ὁ ὄντως ὠν θεός). The definition Athanasius gives for being is taken in its most simplest form which is One who is and subsists by itself. This most important feature of Athanasius allowed this Being to be determined by the very nature of God Himself. Athanasius defined the οὐσία of God as being and presence. Rather than God who is out of our reach, Athanasius understood Him to be present in being as well as being in activity, and activity in being. This dynamic approach turned the transcendent Creator held at a distance to one who is creatively and actively present in everything He created, upholding it by the Word of His power and by His Spirit. By creating all things through the Logos, His own eternal Son, He continuously holds them together in Him, preserving their existence so they do not fall back into nothing. It is only through the grace and pleasure of God that all created existence is brought into being. It is by His power and His will, as an existence that is entirely distinct from God, it is continuously dependent upon this gift of His grace. Whatever the existence of visible phenomena and the invisible realm of rational souls is believed to exist, it is all held together and it all consists in Him. This is not to say that the rationality of created beings, in whatever manner of existence they have, can contain the transcendent Rationality of God. The Rationality of God is still beyond all created being. Creatures do not have the capacity to undertake a mimesis (imitation) of the Rationality of God, even through some kind of Platonic participation (μέθεξις). Even in their contingent manner of existence where creatures are naturally fickle, corruptible, shrouded in their blindness and liable to death, because of the continuous creative action of the Logos who is above and beyond all created existence, their existence and intelligibility is still united to and sustained in Him. Athanasius was clear to say and stood firm on the Logos remaining utterly transcendent over all creation. However, this was coupled with a clear assertion that creation not only had taken place through the Logos but is also sustained in the Logos.
Here we can see the manner in which Athanasius had theologised philosophy. Now Torrance endeavours to single out certain parts in Athanasius’ theology for special discussion. He is very selective on what parts he is going to discuss. In this essay he chooses to pay attention to Athanasius’ Doctrine of God, his doctrine of the Incarnate Son or Logos, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and then he will discuss at greater length his theological language and method.
The Doctrine of God
As previously discussed, we must take into consideration the kind of world Athanasius was living in. He was pressed from all sides from the philosophical and scientific viewpoint of Graeco-Roman culture. Within this world, Athanasius had to establish his doctrine of God on the foundation of Hebrew/Christian frame of mind. Athanasius had to work from these Hellenic foundations of knowledge of God that were foreign to the Hebraic-Christian view of Scripture and reconstruct this knowledge from a Biblical foundation. The problem can be traced back to Origen in the previous century. George Florovsky says Origen failed to distinguish between ontological and cosmological dimensions regarding the eternal generation of the Son and the creation of the world. It was at this point there was a split among these ancient theologians who took different views on the ambiguity of some of Origen’s work. In his debates with the Arians, Athanasius picked up this problem where this work of Origen actually undermined the nature and status of the Son. Furthermore, it implied that along with the eternal generation of the Son there also arose a doctrine of the eternity of the world. The background to these ideas may have been attributed to De aeternitate mundi which Torrance believes is wrongly attribute to Philo of Alexandria. Athanasius had to demolish both errors. He did so by going straight to the heart of the problem and carving away the confusion between the generation of the Son or Logos and the creation of the universe. The generation of the Son belongs to the inner being of God (φύσιε). The creation of the universe as having to do with God’s activity (βουλήσει) is ‘outside of’ Himself (ἔξωθεν). What this means is the doctrine of God as always God the Father of the Son, and the Son as coeternal with the Father is intrinsic to the Being of God as God. Yet they were set apart from the creation of the universe meaning they were set apart from God as Creator. Unlike Athanasius who theologised philosophy, Origen philosophised theology by taking the Christian doctrine of God as Father and exchanging it for Plato’s Timaeus. This resulted in a doctrine of God logically devised from παντοκράτωρ linking God with πάντα, the universe. They belonged necessarily and logically together. For God to be Creator or Pantocrator, according to Origen, meant there was an eternal coexistence of the creation at least in the mind of God.
With Athanasius it was entirely different. Firstly, the sharp distinction between generation and creation were two separate things. Generation takes place timelessly and eternally within the being or ousia of God. Creation is the free act of God’s will. He brings it into existence out of nothing something beyond and outside the being of God yet wholly and contingently dependant upon the Being of God. George Florovsky has expressed it this way: In generation there is an identity of nature (φύσις) but in creation there is a disparity of natures (φύσεις). According to Athanasius, if we are not careful to draw a distinction between the nature in generation and the nature in creation then there would be no distinction between theology and cosmology. He wanted to clear up the confusion that was commonly found in Aristotelian and Stoic thought. This was compounded by the thought of Basilides of Alexandria who put forward the fatal and fateful principle: We cannot know what God is, but only know what He is not.’ This statement has had such damaging effects on theologians in the East and West who misused this method of trying to understand God through negative means. That is, if we can figure out what God is not then this will make clearer what He is.
If we look closely at the theology of Athanasius we find in it a clearly defined difference between God and creation, that is, the Being of God and the being of those who are created by God. There are two definite groups that are never allowed to overlap and be confused with one another. There is the φύσις (the nature) of the Uncreated and the Unoriginate and the φύσις (nature) of the created and the originate. By defining these two groups, the errors of Origen’s theology were corrected and it laid down the foundation for which theology could move forward. Athanasius established the world as created out of nothing and the built-in means of understanding it and its dependent existence. He unequivocally insisted that creation is entirely dependent upon the creative power and presence of God for its creaturely being and its continuity. For this reason, its dependence on God is to be respected for its dependent creaturely existence and its dependent creaturely rationality. His doctrine is clearly defined and simple in its formulation in the statement: there is no likeness between the eternal Being of God and the being of created reality: οὐδὲν ὅμοιον κατ᾽ οὐσίαν ἔχει πρὸς τὰ πεποιηκότα. This is not to make the same mistake as Origen where he held a cosmological dualism between God and the world. God is always ever and creatively present in the universe continuing its existence by grace, granting it creative order and function and always ever interacting with what He has made. This is in contrast to Western tendency to separate the supernatural and the natural and forming a bridge between the two only through some causal grace. This is not apparent in Athanasius’ theology.
The later Western distinction between supernatural and natural theology which tends to separate cosmology from epistemology have been completely cut away. The truth of the matter is we are in the orderly world of space and time which God created and to which we are placed. It is in our world of space and time where His on-going and out-going interaction with the universe is revealed through His Word and Spirit. This is because it was God Himself who personally entered in our space and time, as the Word who made Himself flesh, in the Incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ. This was picked up very early by Athanasius with the assertion God is not cut off from His relation to our world in such a way this is not His creation and this is not God’s activity towards us. In addition, this is not to say we can start in this world and logically work our way to God by inference. It is only through His Personal Self-revealing and Self-communication to humanity, taking into consideration this is His creation and He is its Creator, who Himself transcends over all of it, where we can correlate our knowing of Him in this world only through Him. Our knowledge of Him would go severely off course if we were to confuse the creaturely reality of this world and mistake it for the reality of God. In addition it would also go wrong if the contingency of our rationality were cut off from the Rationality of God.
There are a number of considerable implications for this for Athanasius’ doctrine of God which need to be taken into account. First and foremost, because we are entering into God in His own internal relations, the understanding of God disclosed in the Person of Jesus Christ is simply and utterly breathtaking where our language is barely able to describe it. This is because we can only consider the Logos is within the eternal being of God. He is essentially and eternally enousios in God. By entering God in and through the Logos we enter into Him in the inner reality of God’s own Being. All our knowledge of God has its centrality in the Incarnation of the Word. In Him the knowledge of God has opened Himself up from within Himself deep within the interior relations of His own Being. As we look into the Being of Jesus Christ we enter into the doctrine of the Holy Trinity providing to us what is the foundation, the one and only starting point, and what is essential in our understanding of the Christian God. This is also true for understanding Athanasius’ doctrine of the Spirit.
For Athanasius this provided the epistemology, the guiding light for our knowledge of God. Therefore, the Incarnation meant two things for Athanasius.
(i) This meant for us physical and creaturely beings that we may actually know God without losing who we are as created human beings whose existence is dependent upon God. In Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, it did not matter that He was divine in His own nature. Athanasius says it so well in his On the Incarnation 54: ‘Through the Inhomination (the assumption of the human body) of the Word the universal Providence has been made known, and the Leader and Maker of all things, the Word of God Himself. For He was made Man (ἐνανθρώπησεν) that we might be made god (θεοποιηθῶμεν) and He manifested Himself through a body (δὶα σώματος) that we might receive a conception (ἔνοιαν) of the invisible Father.’
(ii) By knowing the Father through the Son means that what we know of the Son, without the input of any human centred bias, is directly correlated with the mutual knowing and Being of God Himself and therefore in Him is the precise knowledge of the Father. We find the verses Matthew 11.27 and Luke 10.22 was of great importance to Athanasius. We come to the knowledge of God in His own Being by means of what has been given to us in and through Jesus Christ. This comes by the expression ‘gods’ (θεοί) and ‘deification’ (θεοποίησις) made with particular reference back to the teaching of the Lord in John 10.34f.
It was noted by John of Damascus, in his reference to the teaching of Athanasius, the breathtakingly strong implication that in the creation of the world and, in particular, the Incarnation of the Son, something new had taken place in God. This was taken for granted that in God Himself there remained His unchangeableness, His constant reliability, His eternal steadfastness as the transcendent objective ground of being and salvation and revelation. God’s eternal ousia remains the same and never changes. It does mean that before He was made flesh, God was not man, but only God in God. But after the Incarnation He was made man, just like we are, and even shares in the very same sufferings. The Incarnation is something we may speak only with awe and reverence. It is this same attitude that Athanasius spoke about in his Letters to Serapion: of the Cherubim who cover their faces before the ineffable majesty of God. Creation was not eternal. The Incarnation is not to be interpreted in mythological ways as some timeless event in God. The Incarnation is something that happened in the fullness of time, which had not happened before, even for God. God in His own Being did not think it a strange thing for him to do. Rather it expressed how truly, wonderfully and transcendently free He really is in His own eternal Being. It shows that by undertaking such an act He does something new without any change in His ousia and can, in a sense, go outside of Himself in the Incarnation without ceasing to be what He eternally is in Himself in His own ineffable Being. In the Incarnation we see the energeia (His activity and operation) inheres in His ousia (the One Being of God). This is quite a contrast to the kind of God we may have been led to believe where His Being and activity have been pulled apart. If we incorporate the Aristotelian theory into the immutability of God as the Unmoved Mover then what is taken out of the equation is God who interprets Himself in the Incarnation. Thus the Being of God is also interpreted through Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian substance, as we find in Porphyry and Boethius, where mediaeval theology took their cue.
2.The Doctrine of the Son of God
Athanasius full doctrine of the Son goes straight to the heart of the radical dualisms in Arianism. Here we see the same dualism at the heart of Origen’s theology is also in Arian theology. This very same wedge between what we can see and perceive κόσμος αἰσθητός and the intelligible universe κόσμος νοητός as well as a wedge placed between God and creation is also at the heart of Arian theology. They had established a great line of separation (χωρισμός) or division between God and creation. The eternal unknowable Being of the Father was on one side in eternity while the Logos or the Son was in creation. Their doctrine regarding the Logos or the Son began in the doctrine of creation. God first created the Logos or the Son as the principle by which he created the rest of the universe. They understood Christ to be the cosmological source which interpreted everything. Athanasius had no choice but to entirely reject this and this is why: The position they took in regard to their doctrine of revelation is the Son or Logos belong to the Creation side of the separation that exists between God and the universe. He does not exist within the eternal Being of God. He is detached from Him and therefore only represents a changeable image of God.
From the Arians point of view, God ultimately remains unknowable. This Athanasius quickly discerned and subsequently denounced their ideas as a form of atheism. He did not hold back in his assessment accusing the Arians as having some sort of madness (μανία) because they left themselves completely in the dark about God. They were thrown back on themselves with only their subjective means of working out their doctrine of God and the Son. This radical detachment or pulling apart of the Son from the Father gave them no clear point of reference. Instead they were left to establish their own ideas retrieved from their own darkened, sinful minds as they tried to form a self-understanding of God. Their resulting doctrine was entirely irrational and deprived of its own Logos (ἀλογον). Athanasius, through the doctrine of the Incarnation, consistently established his own thoughts on the matter. He regarded the Incarnation of the Son as the divine Logos becoming man in this world. His doctrine of God was focused on this event as God in dynamic relation to the world which He had made and continues to uphold in Jesus Christ. Athanasius put forward a doctrine of the saving parousia of God in the flesh. This entailed the activity of God and the Being of God as in inseparable unity in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Quite important for Athanasius in his thinking and what remained central was the way he thought through the hypostatic existence (actual existence) of the Son and the Logos as in interpenetrating union with one another. In addition he was always of the view that the being and act of the Son remained inseparable from the Father. This meant the cosmological and epistemological division that the Arians held regarding the doctrine of the Christ and the doctrine of God were completely rejected and demolished. He continued with the same theme as Irenaeus (and even of Origen) that salvation included the redemption of the whole man. The modern distorting understanding of the Logos-sarx and the Logos-anthropos held by some scholars used to form a framework for Patristic theology is no longer relevant. The emphasis on the body (σῶμα) and flesh (σάρξ) in the Incarnation had the specific purpose to eliminate any kind of dualism or docetism. The divine economy of the reality of the Incarnate Word or Son in full united, interpenetrating relation living in our world in our creaturely existence of space and time, correlates with God in the world in the whole economy (Activity) of His creation and providence. This is a doctrine of Christ that goes way beyond the monophysite and diophysite contrapositions, which came on the scene the following century and contained the same monist dualists modes of thought which Athanasius so strongly fought against.
The are several features of Athanasius’ understanding of Christ, the Incarnate Son of God which Torrance would like to emphasise.
(i) The Logos is internal to the Being of God. God was never without what is properly His own Word. It is clear the Logos belongs in His own Being on the Divine side of the Creator/creature boundary. He is properly called enousios (the security of one’s property) Logos. He Himself is uncreated, unoriginated, coessential and coeternal with the Creator. The generation of the Son is as the Son of the Father and He is of the Being of God the Father. He is God of God. He shares with the Father an identity of nature. Through eternal generation He is eternally the Son of the Father. He is proper to the Father as the Father is proper to the Son. While the Father is the Father and not the Son, the Son is the Son and not the Father: ‘He and the Father are one in propriety and peculiarity of nature and in the identity of the one Godhead.’ In precisely as He has been defined in His relationship to the Father in His oneness with God, the eternal Son became man taking upon Himself our human being and nature and making them His own. To put it from our perspective as human beings, it is Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God that we must confess is of the same Being and the same nature, as God the Father—This is affirmed by Athanasius in his term homoousion (of the same being). This term homoousion is used to precisely express the identity in nature and the equality of Being between the Son and the Father. In the same way we say the Godhead is one we also say the Father and the Son are one. The same things are said of the Son in the one Godhead which are also said of the Father who also is in the one Godhead. With this in mind, one can understand why Athanasius taught that he could say of Christ the Son what he also says of the Father, that He is μία φύσις. This will be explained later. There is a twofold way of understanding the Incarnation of the Son. On the one hand He shares with us our created being and nature. On the hand, and at the same time, He shares with the Father the eternal Being and nature.
(ii) The decisive point for Athanasius’ Christology regarding the Incarnation of God the Son is He did not simply come in man but He came as man. He clearly says, with no room for confusion on this vitally important matter, he brings together the ‘become flesh’ with the ‘become man,’ that is the flesh and body. Jesus Christ was not just a physical entity. He was man, a true human being in His wholeness and fullness in integrity and defined in precisely the same way all human beings are defined. Athanasius says, ‘He did not take a body without a soul, nor without sense and intelligence.’ What one finds even in the early writings of Athanasius is his particular care in choices of his words so as not to use expressions that would undermine the Incarnation. You will find him avoiding anything that would divide the one reality of the Son. He would also be careful to avoid any expression that would give any hint of dividing the Being of the Son from the Being of the Father. His terms, the Logos in man were clear and concise laying down the rule that, ‘He became man and did not just come into man (Ἄνθρωπος δὲ γέγονε, καὶ οὐκ εἰς ἄνθρωπος ἔλθε). What Athanasius is saying is the Incarnation (ἐνανθρώπησις) means the Word of God really and truly becomes man—σὰρξ ἐγένετο, ἄνθρωπος ἐγένετο. This is why Athanasius could speak of the man, Jesus Christ: is God’s Son and is the eternal Logos in the Being of God.
If we look into the future, Athanasius’ ideas can be contrasted against the problem of Western Mediaeval theology. The formulation put forward by Peter Lombard: Deus non factus est aliquid (no change can take place in the divine nature). This implied that God is not free to go outside of Himself and is a vastly different doctrine of God to Athanasius. The implication for Peter Lombard is God could not become what He is not without ceasing to be what He eternally is. Whereas Athanasius was the opposite where he said God becomes what He is not without ceasing to be what He eternally is. By contrast Athanasius doctrine of the Incarnation and his doctrine of God worked hand in hand. He focussed on the Incarnation to establish his doctrine of God. His doctrine of God also affected his doctrine of the Incarnation. There is a twofold understanding for Athanasius on the ousia of God. It is the coming and presence of God from out of eternity and in the flesh, His parousia, that gave him a window into the ousia of God in His own Being within creation. It is no coincidence that in the Nicene Creed, the cause for which he fought throughout his life, immediately after the homoousion of the Son clause, it says ‘by whom the worlds were made.’
(iii) It was through the thoroughly and deeply vicarious (or empathic) manner of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ that Athanasius would insist Jesus Christ’s humanity in terms of God as man and not God in man. The Arians searched through the Scriptures to find support for their claim to the creaturely status of Jesus Christ that showed His humanity as subject to death, His weakness, His obedience, servility showing the difference in His Being to the Father. Because Athanasius had such a keen and sharp interpretive method of Jesus Christ being the Word of God coming as man, he did not waver when confronted with their Scripture proofs. He seized upon these passages turning the tables and showed the significance in the true context of the Incarnation of God. He met these Scriptures with clear and concise responses to show the kind of humanity the eternal Son assumed and took possession from us. Athanasius went even further. He went on to explain the kind of humanity He assumed and took possession of was the very same flesh of our sin, our body of corruption which was subject to slavery and condemnation. He took upon Himself the curse of our sin and guilt along with its darkness and ignorance to which we have fallen, all for our sake. To make sure there was no misunderstanding about the clarity, fullness and depth of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, Athanasius gathered all the various Greek prepositions to make this very clear. He insisted that in the Incarnation the Son of God ministered not only the things of God to man but ministered of the things of man to God. The twofold function of the humanity of Jesus Christ is one of Apostle from God and at the same time the High Priest taken from among men. Athanasius considered the saving work of Jesus Christ to be of both human and divine agency in the one Person. What Athanasius found so significant is the unity of the saving mediatorship of Jesus Christ in unity with His role as human priesthood through His human kinship and unity with the whole human race. One can find this major emphasis in his major works Contra Arianos as well as many of his other works. In these writings he explains in detail the doctrine of the saving humanity of Jesus Christ in such as way as to show that His self-obedience and self-sanctification was carried out on our behalf. This vital ingredient of the Church fathers is so often absent in modern Patristic scholarship as one will find in A. Grillmeier Christ in Christian Tradition. Without the core understanding of Athanasius’ work on the doctrine of Jesus Christ is to seriously misrepresent it and to bring into it solution to problems that don’t even exist. This is nowhere more true than in the discussions of Athanasius in regard to Apollinarian thought! To be clear about this, if anyone claims the teaching of Athanasius asserts the humanity of Jesus Christ was somehow incomplete, He lacked a rational soul or the saving work of Jesus Christ was not sufficient in respect to His human agency are placing aside and ignoring the bulk of his work. Athanasius teaches at length, in particular his Contra Arianos, and explains in detail His life and death as the obedient Servant and faithful High Priest acting in our name and on our behalf before the Father. In this way, our humanity is renewed and sanctified in Jesus Christ Himself.
(iv) We must now consider, according to Athanasius, redemption as taking place within the mediatorial life and Person of the Incarnate Son. In Athanasius thinking, there is a consistent unified approach to the Divine/Human action undertaken in the Person of Jesus Christ. As the Logos is internal to the Being of God, he unifies it with our salvation as taken place in the inner relations of the Mediator (μεσίτης – mediator). Our salvation is unified within the inner relations of the Mediator where the Being of Jesus Christ is internal to the Being of God. This is not something that occurs outside of Jesus Christ between God and sinners, what is known as external relations. Humanity is internal in Jesus Christ as He works out our salvation. When the Son of God became Incarnate (Inhomination – ἐνανθρώπησις) He took from us our body and soul and made it His own. Therefore, Athanasius could claim ‘the salvation of the soul and body were worked out in the Logos Himself.’ So Athanasius says: ‘The Saviour having in very truth become man, the salvation of the whole man was brought about . . . Truly our salvation is not merely apparent, nor does it extend to the body only, but the whole body and soul alike has truly obtained salvation in the Word Himself.’ Our human affections and our mind were included in the redeeming and sanctifying work of Jesus Christ and have been renewed in Him for our sakes. The central and fundamental role in Athanasius’ doctrine of salvation, as well as the principal patristic teaching, also taught by Irenaeus and Origen in different forms, that it is: what the Incarnate Son of God has taken up into Himself is saved. When Apollinarianism began to emerge later in the century the patristic teaching had to be stressed more explicitly. This is especially done through Gregory of Nazianzus and Cyril of Alexandria.
From this point on we begin to see a parting of the ways emerge between the Eastern and Western Churches. This helps to explain why it is that Western scholars are often found to be operating with a foundation that breaks up the unity of the body/soul in their anthropology as they interpret the theology of the Greek Fathers. Their rule for interpretation has shifted from the Hebraic/Christian framework back to the Greco-Roman Pagan/philosophical premise to interpret the patristic era. There were two main things that happened to Western theology that caused its gradual break up from unity concepts to dualists concepts. Firstly, this in part was the introduction of dualism into theology by Augustine. Secondly, Tertullian, through his anthropocentric and forensic cast of mind, pushed what happened in the internal relations of Jesus Christ and His internal unity of Being with the Father to something that happened outside of Him between God and sinful humanity. The judicial element (according to law or judge), characteristic of Tertullian, became the central role in God’s atonement. These ideas of Augustine and Tertullian were reintroduced in Protestant theology post the Reformation and became much more prominent. This reintroduction of Augustine dualisms in the post-Reformation era gave rise to many different theories of atonement. Because there was a non-dualist method in patristic theology the Incarnation and Redemption were inseparably one. For Athanasius, this unity of Incarnation and Redemption is maintained throughout his writings and embedded in his thought process. When the Word of God assumed our fallen Adamic humanity from the Virgin Mary, it was seen as, fundamentally, a sanctifying and redeeming event. In the Incarnation Christ took up into Himself the whole of our humanity. In doing so, Jesus Christ healed and renewed it through His own Holy life of obedient Sonship in the flesh and His vicarious death and resurrection. The very thing that is missing from much of modern mainstream Christianity is the fact that what is central to the teaching of Athanasius is in the Incarnation our mind is sanctified and renewed in Christ. Apollinarianism has no place in Apostolic Christianity.
What is clear in the thought of Athanasius is measure and extent of the condescension is complete and goes far beyond what our minds can conceive. Our ability in our frail and darkened, creaturely minds will never fully comprehend nor find the depths of what it is that Jesus Christ assumed in the Incarnation. His condescension into human form was full and complete in becoming man for our sakes. That is, while Jesus Christ condescended in His humanity, through our union with Him, we have been exalted to the heights with and in the Son of God who remains in and with the Father. This Incarnation event makes us Sons of God by grace which Athanasius calls theosis or theopoiesis. This thought at the heart of Athanasius’ teaching on redemption and sanctification of our humanity is found only in the whole sphere of what Western theology calls ‘atonement.’ The acts of God toward us, on our behalf, and in us, are one and indivisible through the Son and in the Spirit. This is the main characteristic of Athanasius’ work in Contra Arianos. It also can be traced back to his work On the Incarnation where his ideas of salvation by sanctifying exaltation and theosis through the Incarnation of the Word is woven together with his ideas of atoning expiation, priestly propitiation, substitutionary sacrifice and victory over the forces of evil. All of these ideas of salvation together combined to form what he means by redemption. Nonetheless, the whole manner of his teaching on salvation is understood to have taken place within the Incarnate life of Jesus Christ as Mediator. It is through whom and in whose saving work on our behalf we are given by grace to participate in the Spirit, who is to be considered as co-active with the Son and all his acts of redemption and sanctification and all acts of creation.
4. Doctrine of the Spirit
In his teaching of the Holy Spirit, Athanasius remained entirely within the very same approach to his teaching on the Son or Logos. We must continue with his teaching and turn our backs on anything to do with any concepts of the Logos that is foreign to the Hebraic/Christian frame of mind. We abandon Logos defined as a cosmological principle or of ‘seminal reasons‘ i.e logos spermatikoi immanent in the universe that lies somewhere between God and creation. He would have nothing to do with attempts to determine concepts of the Spirit beginning in His appearance or His works in creaturely existence in man or in the world. The Holy Spirit belonged squarely on the divine side of the line that divides between the Creator and the creature where His true nature lies in the very Being of God. The Holy Spirit is precisely the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. Therefore, Athanasius worked through the doctrine of the Spirit from His indwelling relation to the one God and His unity of activity as God and precisely from His co-inherence in the Being of the eternal Son. ‘The Spirit is not outside the Word, but, being in the Word, is God through Him’ (οὐ γὰρ ἐκτός ἐστι τοῦ λόγου τὸ πνεῦμα ἀλλὰ ἐν τῷ λόγῳ ὂν ἐν τῷ θεῷ δι᾽αὐτοῦ ἐστιν). The work of the Spirit is co-equal with the work of the Son. He is not on a lower level to us and is not bound by whatever happens in us. The right way to understand the gifts and the work of the Spirit is to begin with His place in the Trinity, that is, from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. It is from the Trinitarian ground that we are able to obtain the true perspective of the Spirit. It is one God who works all things in all. According to Athanasius the order of the development of the doctrine to all our knowledge of the Spirit is to be controlled by the knowledge we obtain from the Son and of the Father through the Son.
If one was to examine Athanasius’ Contra Arianos then we should not be surprised to find the foundation for his teaching on the Holy Spirit. In this writing he has already laid out all the vital points. He establishes his teaching of the Spirit in His mutual relation with the Son and the Father as containing the ground for everything we need to know about God. We start from the ground of the Trinity and include the Spirit in that mutual relation with the Son and to the Father where He is inseparably placed in the Triune God. The vitally important points to be noted are:
- The Spirit is sent from the Son and is His very own from whom the Spirit takes from all that the Son has, which is everything the Father has given to Him (John 16.12-15).
- The Spirit is equal to the Son in giving and participation.
- The Spirit is in mutual relation with the Son in God’s gifts of the Spirit in which it is clear that the Spirit shares the same divinity.
- In the Spirit the one God is ever present and ever active as He is in the Son. For the one Godhead consists in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- As the Father Son and Holy Spirit mutually indwell one another so it is the whole of God who is in us by the indwelling of the Spirit. By participation of the Spirit we are in God. Therefore, our being in the Father is not ours but it is the Spirit who is in us and dwells in us.
‘For since the world is in the Father, and His Spirit is given from the Word, He wills that we should receive the Spirit of the Word who is in the Father, we too may be found on account of the Spirit to become one in the Word, and through Him in the Father . . . . For what the Word has by nature in the Father, he wishes to be given to us through the Spirit irrevocably . . . . It is the Spirit then who is in God, and not we, viewed in ourselves; and we are sons (and daughters) and ‘gods’ because of the Word in us, so we shall be accounted to have become one in the Son and in the Father.’ Athanasius repeatedly stressed these points over and over again and argued it out in some detail in his Letters to Serapion by showing the semi-Arian belief that the Holy Spirit is not divine was entirely wrong. The Holy Spirit shares in and with the Son the same relation in Being and act to God in homoousion with the Father. Not only is the Son of the same being with the Father, the Holy Spirit, too, is of the same being with the Father. The Holy Spirit is Himself God. Therefore what He bestows on us is from God. This means the Holy Spirit is Himself God and in God and we confess Him to be God along with the Word. The Spirit shares in unbroken unity with the presence and activity both of the Father and of the Son in all acts of the Godhead. Therefore, He belongs inherently to the Divine Trinity through an identity of ousia. We confess to be one God in Father, Son and Holy Spirit making holy and complete the Trinity. There is nothing foreign nor external that is mixed in with it. All are creative and with no conflict in their nature but united in their nature and united in their activity. The Father does all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit in perfect unison. The unity of the Holy Trinity is preserved.
This one Triune God is preached throughout the whole church ‘who is over all’ and ‘through all and in all’—’over all’ as Father, who is beginning and fountain; ‘through all’ through the Word; ‘in all’ in the Holy Spirit. The Triad is real existence (ὑπάρχει) not just in name and form of speech. Both the Son and the Father are understood to be is who He is and God over all. The Holy Spirit also shares in His very own Being, real existence with the Father and the Son. (He exists and his true being: οὐκ ἀνυπαρκτόν ἐστιν ἀλλ᾽ὑπάρχει καὶ ὑφέστηκεν ἀληθῶς – He is not without existence but His existence is real and grounded upon the Truth). What lies at the heart of the our effort to express the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is the fact that the knowledge of the Spirit is taken from the knowledge of the Son. In addition, the Spirit has the same coordination of unity and being and activity with the Son and through the Son with the Father as the Son has with the Father. There is a single united divine activity in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who acts in one and the same Godhead.
The following are some points that will offer clarity upon this doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
(i) We stress upon the fact that the Spirit is of, in and with the Son and the Son is always in God. For us to be in the Spirit is for us to understand we are actually in God. Therefore there is profound objectivity in this doctrine of the Spirit. What is so distinctive about Athanasius’ understanding of the Holy Spirit is that it does not contain a notion psychological inwardness in our experience of Him. Neither does it contain any idea of sacramental inwardness as we find in the teaching of St Cyril of Jerusalem or St Augustine. The mutual indwelling of the Spirit and the Son in the Godhead is at the same time a mutual indwelling of the Spirit and the Son in us and of us we indwell in them through the Father. This is what we understand as an ‘objective inwardness:’ ‘Our being in the Father is not ours, but is the Spirit’s who is in us and dwells in us;’ ‘It is the Spirit who is in God, and not we viewed in our own selves.’ Because we are in the Spirit or we have the Spirit dwelling within us means that are partakers of God Himself in His divine nature. So we dwell in Him, in God, who is beyond ourselves, in the inwardness of God. In the Spirit we are sanctified, renewed and enlightened through our adoption in the Incarnate Son to be children of God. This is the Athanasian doctrine of theosis or theopoiesis through the Spirit. It does not import an inner deification of our human nature. We are still creatures. Nevertheless, the assuming of us into the Incarnate Son means we are in the scope of the direct and immediate activity of God Himself. As a result, our humanity is brought to its fulfilment (teleiosis) in our relation to the Creator and our lives our now hid in Christ in God. What is of vital importance to this whole position is the mutual indwelling in Being and act between the Spirit and the Son. The Son is in the Spirit and the Spirit is in the Son. It is a mission of the Spirit from beside (παρὰ) the Son. It is a community of Being and Act between the Spirit and the Son. The mission of the Spirit corresponds with the Son and it is in communion with Him in Being and act in which He receives of (ἐκ – out from within) the Son. He is in genuine relation to the Son and it is through this relation that the Spirit is said to proceed from the Father. It is clear that Athanasius neither supports nor rejects double procession of the Spirit. What lies at the heart of his teaching, however, is his understanding of a far-reaching ontological relation between the Spirit and the Son. This in no way follows the later trend towards understanding the Spirit from a subjective point of view which was the tendency later in the Church, it still very much an ‘objective inwardness.’ The only way that Spirit is given to us, is through the Son and from the Son, through the Spirit’s eternal union of Being with Him. Therefore, Athanasius argues, it is in the Incarnation itself which is the ground for our ability to receive the Spirit. To put it another way, human beings are given the ability to receive the Spirit in and through the Incarnation of the Son because when He came into humanity, humanity Himself received the Son. Our source of receiving is from the self-sanctification of the Son through His own Spirit. It is the Son’s own Self-sanctification which is the objective ground for our receiving of the Spirit and does not differ to the His receiving of the Spirit.
(ii) The Spirit is in God and it is in the Spirit we are engaging with God who is Spirit. It is in the Spirit in the unity of His Being and His act in God. The view of Athanasius is the distinctions between the Father, Son and Spirit, though identical in Being, remain eternal distinctions. The Father is always only the Father, the Son is always only the Son and the Holy Spirit is always only the Holy Spirit. There is eternally one divine activity, one divine Being in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The knowledge of the Holy Spirit is imposed, from them, upon us where we know God in the Spirit through this unity of activity (ἐνέγεια), unity of Being (οὐσία) and unity of the Godhead (Θεότης). Our knowledge of the Holy Spirit is knowledge that corresponds with the knowledge of the Trinity. It is the one united activity of God where the Holy Spirit makes it real to us so that we see the power of the Godhead to be one with God in the identity of His eternal Being. What we find so distinct in the theology of Athanasius is when he moves from what he teaches on the Son to what he teaches on the Holy Spirit is the Being of God in His Acts and of His one Activity in His Being is central to his thought. It has to be said that Athanasius teaches from the foundation of the One Triune God. There is only one way to perceive the Trinity and that is God in His co-activity and His co-essentiality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This has to be held together with the Being of God in His Act and His Act in Being without drawing a distinction between the Being (οὐσία) and Ηis activities (ἐνέργεια) which developed in later thought. This dualism started in Cappadocian theology and became characteristic in Byzantine theology. For Athanasius, if there were differences in this kind of activity, this would raise serious questions about the unity of God. To maintain this unity in the Godhead there can be no separation between the Being and Activity of God, which is, the Activity of God is inherently united to His very Being (ἐνούσιος ενέργεια).
Again, if we maintain the unity of the Being and Activity, then the Acts of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the Acts that reliably and faithfully portray the very Being of God Himself. God is who He is Himself in the Person and work of the Son and the Holy Spirit. What is imparted to us in the Son and Holy Spirit, with the Father, discloses to us the very nature of God Himself. It is in accordance of the Spirit with the Son in His oneness of Being with the Son that is central to Athanasius thought. How he concludes this in his thought is the fact of the intrinsic oneness in Being and Activity is the activity of the Spirit is the activity (ἐνέργεια) of the Son. The Spirit is not outside of the Son but in Him as He is equally in the Father. The Spirit is in the Son, who is the one Form of the Godhead where we are able to perceive there is only One Godhead (ἓν εἶδος θεότητος). The Son is in the Father who is above all things, the Son who fills out all things and the Spirit who is active in all things through the Word. When we absorb into our own thinking the Athanasian teaching of the unity of the Being and Act of God, then everything God does from the Father through the Son and in the Spirit belongs to His eternal Being. So the activity of God towards us through the Son and in the Spirit belongs to the intrinsic nature of His eternal Being which actually moves and acts. Therefore the Incarnation of the Son of God or Logos is the outgoing action of the divine Being in condescension and love. The Incarnation of God is not to be regarded as something that happened by chance or by accident, which Athanasius rejects. It is His coming to us and being present (parousia) to us of His Being (ousia) as the Man Jesus Christ among us. God is immediately present and active to us in the Person and work of Jesus Christ and He is immediately present and active to us in the Spirit. The conclusive point we arrive at here is the intimate relation of the Spirit to Jesus Christ.
(iii) Even though God remains inexpressible beyond words and beyond all created being, it does not mean that He is out of reach of us. He has made Himself accessible to us so that we can know Him through His Word and His Spirit. We continue from what we have said before and reinforce the fact that His activity He directs towards us and is not separated from His Being. If it were so, and His Word and Spirit were cut of from His Being, then it would be impossible for us to understand Him. We understand Him because God graciously and lovingly has made Himself accessible to us by His activity through the Son. Thus the Son’s acts, in and with the Spirit, reside permanently within God’s own Being. So through Jesus Christ, in and with the Spirit, God really and actively discloses Himself to us. It is far more than telling us about Himself. Instead He communicates on His own behalf something of His very self in such a way that we able to engage with Him as we participate in Him. There is genuine reciprocity with God through the Word and the Spirit.
Even though God enables us to apprehend Him, in Him, we are unable to comprehend (καταλαβεῖν) Him because we are not able to get a mental hold of what He truly is (τὶ ἐστι θεός), or capture what His divine Being is with our minds. Finite creatures are in no position to get the upper hand on God’s Being and know Him exhaustively because to fully understand Him, one has to be God and that can never be. Though it is impossible to comprehend what God is, it is possible to know what God is not and we know God is not man. Our inability to fully apprehend God also applies to the Son. Even though we know Him, He remains God, while we are still creatures and He is still way beyond what we are able to comprehend. It is like the Being of God extends beyond the horizon of our capacity to know but we stand in the same Light as what extends beyond our horizon. For Athanasius, it is not a negative ineffability like we find in apophaticism. The kind of ineffability that we find in Athanasius is God who makes Himself known to us through the Son and reveals something that transcends far beyond what we can lay hold of with our minds. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the only place where we can secure the knowledge of God that is identical with God Himself. This is embedded in the mutual knowing and Being between the Father and the Son. No one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son, and He to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Matt. 11.27 cf. Luke 10.22). This is the true nature of the knowledge of God mediated to us through Christ. However it is knowledge we are made aware of that is only through the activity of the Holy Spirit and in the Spirit we actually participate in the Son and it is only through Him that we participate in God. What we are saying is that it is through the Son and in the Spirit the way is open for us to the Father. It is only in this way we come to know the Father as He is in Himself. This is because the Son and the Spirit are of the same Being with the Father and they dwell in Him. It is in the Spirit our knowing of God is real knowing because by participating in His Spirit (μετέχοντες τοῦ πνεύματος αὐτοῦ) we are made partakers of God. When we receive the Spirit it does not necessarily mean we lose what is proper to our being in the same way we do not say that when the Lord was made man for our sakes He became less God. In his Letters to Serapion concerning the Holy Spirit, Athanasius emphasis is while we have participation in God and therefore in the Spirit we do not lose anything of our creaturely status. Yet, we are lifted up to know God in His own Being as He makes Himself known He unveils Himself through His Word. This means we actually have access through the Spirit into His innate intelligibility and His own unique understanding. This inter-relation with God in the Spirit involves a two-fold openness:
(a) God by His own initiative opened His very own eternal Being to relate to those who are not Himself and has made Himself open to created realities beyond Himself and;
(b) God by His own initiative has opened up creation and through the Spirit has taken possession of His creatures and is present to them. He has lifted them up to the level of participation in God where they are opened out for union and communion with Him far beyond the capable limits of their creaturely existence—This is a way of describing theosis.
When we say we are in the Spirit, we say we are in God. The Spirit is internal in the Godhead and He is not external to the Godhead. Since it is the Spirit of God who has the internal knowledge of God, He is the one that joins us to the Logos in God. Moreover, through the Spirit of God and our union with the Logos in God, we are raised into the internal presence of God so we can share in the knowledge of Him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and actually know their internal intelligible relations. What remains is we are creatures and not the Creator so we keep within the bounds of our creaturely existence under the sheer holiness and majesty of God and endeavour not to transgress these bounds. We only address what has been given to us through the Son and received by the Spirit. We are then safe from thinking beyond our limits and make claims that betray the only revelation of God in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. We stand before the divine intelligibility that is far beyond our own created intelligibility. We stand before the Godhead that is so beautiful and powerful that we cannot find the words to express it. So we join the cherubim and we veil our faces and we use the faith of their disclosed existence with a deeply respectful use of reason and worship, wonder and even silence in astonishment and amazement at such a God we believe. It is this kind of attitude that informs the movement on our part to the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit in reciprocity of the movement on God’s part from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit.
5. Athanasius Theological language and method
There is no question that Athanasius’ method and material content go hand in hand. It is considered, as taken for granted by him, the Spirit and the Word are in intimate relation with one another and this is embedded in his thought. His central focus and linchpin for interpretation is the knowledge gleaned through the lens of the homoousion (of the same Being) which is applied to both the Son and the Spirit in their relation to each other eternally sharing their Being with the Father. What the Trinity communicates to us through the Son and in the Spirit is God Himself from themselves. Therefore the knowledge we obtain from them is the very knowledge of God who speaks on His own behalf, in Person. The means by which we know God and what we obtain through Him can never be separated from Him. Through the Word made flesh we human beings with our created minds have been given the ability by the Spirit to know and think of God in such a way that we can place trust in the knowledge we draw, which is divine knowledge, from God Himself towards us. It is in Jesus Christ by His Spirit, in His own divine reality which controls the means by which we obtain what we know and think of Him. The reason for this is in Jesus Christ the Word of God, who is internal to the Being of God, has become human, sharing His knowing of Himself and allowing it to interpenetrate our knowing. When He became human He assumed human nature into Himself without any reduction of any part of His humanity or any turning of His humanity into something else. Now humanity can reciprocally engage with God in a completely ordinary human way leaving the way open for any human being to embark in genuine, authentic and active knowing of God. This can be undertaken by anyone at any level. We have dwelling in us all the whole Triune God Himself. It is by the grace of this Triune God, that is, from the Father, through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit, and it is in Him alone we draw out anything we want to know of God from Himself.
In addition to this, why we say Jesus Christ the Logos personally has His hand in the creation of all human beings. He also allows them to continue as human beings while upholding their existence in Him fully grounding their human nature in His own Person. In addition to this their created, human understanding is upheld and maintained in Jesus Christ and is allowed to continue to freely develop, interpenetrate and participate in the divine mind. The Light of Jesus Christ does not swallow up created light but shines in it while allowing it to continue its existence. It is not as Grillmeier says who comments on Athanasian thought that ‘the bright Light of the Logos swallows up all created light.’ This is losing grip on the foundation of knowledge in the Person and work of Jesus Christ who is the Uncreated Logos who came as Man while continuing as Man, He remains the Uncreated Logos.
Now if we were to take the Arian position, pull apart God and the world and separate them where the cosmos noetos and the cosmos aisthetos are no longer joined to each other, then there would be no consistent starting point for theology. Trying to glean knowledge of God from God Himself would be entirely impossible. All we would have left is mythology broken down into all its various positions at loggerheads with each other. When we break down the union of God with the world then mythology takes over theology and we have to work out what kind of G-O-D we are dealing with and whether or not it likes us. It becomes probing around and guessing in the dark where our own solutions are then projected across this gulf and onto G-O-D. Yet when the One who is beyond all created Being crosses this gulf, stoops down and inserts Himself into our human existence in the most living and loving way and becomes Incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ then everything changes. Our groping around and guessing in the dark is over. We walk in His Light and we see His Light. As we live and engage in His Light, it is possible for us to have real dialogue allowing our thinking and knowing to fall upon the reality of God Himself, the very one we can trust. Our thinking and knowing is regulated by what God self-communicates to us in His Person, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh, as well as being the Truth and the Life, He is the one Way to the Father: ‘through Jesus Christ we have access to the Father in one Spirit.’ We are entering into heart of what Athanasius sees as the touchstone for his thought and the means through which he lays out his theological framework: It is the relation between the Incarnate Son and the Father that lies at the very heart of it. Athanasius always falls back on the very words that Jesus said, ‘No one knows the Son except the Father and no man knows the Father except the Son (Matt. 11.27; cf Luke 10.22). This shows the knowledge lies in this relation between the Father and the Son is mutual and exclusive. However, it is in the Spirit this relation is inserted into our human flesh. It is precisely in the Incarnation that through the same Spirit we have been enabled to participate in this relation of the Son to the Father and the Father to the Son. Even though God infinitely transcends our ability to conceive and speak of Him, it is in the Spirit we are given to know and love the Triune God as He is in Himself.
Athanasius reveals theologia of the scientific kind characteristic of Alexandria at this time in history. Jesus Christ Himself in His relation to the Father that has been inserted into our human flesh by the Spirit so that in this way we encounter God according to His inherent nature (κατὰ φύσιν – according to nature) and is the reality (of God) we investigate. We ask the necessary and relevant questions followed by the kind of language that is consistent with kind of nature we are confronted with. What we say must faithfully and reverently match what it is that is disclosed in the Person of Jesus Christ. God is our subject-matter. Theology is concerned with a method that does betray this relation between the Father and the Son inserted into us by the Spirit. Our language and thought in response to this subject-matter about God must be relevant and applicable to Him.
When embarking in this kind of scientific theological method, we may be required to adapt our language so it faithfully represents the nature and reality of God who discloses Himself to us in this Person, Jesus Christ. It may even require us to invent a new word or even a phrase in our efforts to continue to remain faithful to what we apprehend. Athanasius insisted that we may have to harness ordinary terms, reframe them into a specific new context, stretching them beyond their meaning and applying them in such a way that goes beyond what is commonly and widely understood. Whatever theological terms we employ to refer to God in His relation to the world must have a degree of flexibility, bringing them to an end in God Himself on one end and upon the world or man at the other end. ‘To use modern scientific language theological terms inevitably embody a relation of differentiality like the variation principles in physics, conformable to the precise nature and force of the realities to which they are used to refer’ (p. 241). What this means is the place (τόπος) of God is the place, i.e. Jesus Christ, where we understand God strictly according to Him, according to His nature as God. This involves the dynamic relation of the God in His relationship to man in this created world in accordance with the nature of man as man. It is the Creator who become the creature but the creature cannot become the Creator. Yet there is a dynamic relation between the two and cannot be pulled apart. This is very much like the topological language of today which Athanasius somewhat employed.
We are starting to see some distinct characteristics that are typical of Athanasius mind and the method he employs. He was not in the habit of yielding himself to any form of logical, or any other methods, that may lead to distinctions that had no bearing on the facts disclosed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. He always thought in connections. These connections had to be real and not just made up ones through logical reasoning to support a theory or a personal view. These connections had to be consistent with the object. We find in the object the meanings to these connections giving us basic concepts and the corresponding terms that properly reflect the realities we observe and their interrelations. Though there is a tendency to divide the soul into two are three sections, this is not the case with Athanasius. He preferred to think of the soul or the self as a single agent that functioned rationality as a unitary whole but in different ways. When speaking of the being of the Trinity as a whole and of the actual existence of each of the Persons, his terms varied to suit the circumstances. However Athanasius was always careful to use terms that properly reflected the reality he was attempting to describe. He was also careful to make sure his language appealed to the general scope of thought. When it came to using terms to describe the being and subsistence of Persons in the Holy Trinity you can see the care he undertakes in his choice of words. Athanasius preferred to speak with definitive terms in reference to the relations between the Father, Son and Spirit. He tried as much as possible to avoid using fixed terms and wanted to avoid any reading back into God any earthly usage. This allowed the term of reference in God’s own Self-revelation in His own divine Being to have the final say in how these terms were to be understood. This can be seen in Athanasius’ work in De Synodis showing great care in how he used technical terms. He was also prepared to be challenged on his choice of terms and went further to clarify them and show his thinking process as to how and why they were employed. By establishing the “homoousion” (“of the same being” with the Father) as the starting point, further technical terms could be employed and their differences further explained in the context of this starting point. It was important for him to select verbal terms rather than nouns so as not to trap God in artificial distinctions. Athanasius was prepared to show enormous flexibility in his explanations but always maintained his uncompromising position of the relationship of the Son with the Father and would not allow anything to undermine it. Jesus Christ, God’s Only-begotten Son, as internal to the relationship to God always had priority in his theological discussions. This gave room and space for other terms to be incorporated so long as it was in obedience to Holy Scriptures and portrayed the very same intended truths it contained.
In our modern times, there has been enormously difficulty coming to grips with terms such as ousia (οὐσία) hypostasis (ὑπόστασις) and physis (φύσις). With the foundation laid down by Athanasius we can clear up many of the misunderstandings suffered in our times.
Ousia is defined as that which is. In particular to God it is used as He who is who He is. It is to speak of the ousia of Him who is. There are significant differences between its use in accordance with God’s own Being, who is beyond all created being and is the Creator source of all, and the being of those who are created. There is one point, however, where there is a bridge formed by God Himself between the two because we can reflect on God the Creator who has now become the creature without ceasing to be the Creator. We do not begin with the likeness in being between our own being and the Being of God (ὁμοιον κατ᾽ οὐσίαν). Rather, because in the Word, God has dynamically established and maintains a connection through Himself between the Creator and the creature, He is the eternal ground upon which we draw our knowledge of God in His interaction with humanity in this world. What is taught is both the Logos and the Spirit are eternally indwelling in the One Being of God and therefore we can actually know God, as much we are able to, according to his inner Trinitarian relations. While we speak of God’s ousia we are using it to denote something more than his transcendent existence or His actual existence, it points more to what God is as He is Himself internally. When Athanasius uses the term ousia in his theology it is always in reference to God’s internal reality. One has to leave behind understanding God in terms of realities that are external to Him such as we might find in the tendency to define Him in human terms and paste them onto God. God is beyond all created being. So we need to turn to God to know Him as He is in Himself, in His own eternal Being. The meaning of the word can be understood in precisely the way Athanasius applied it. With what God has created He has conferred on it its own intelligibility. That is, we have the capacity to investigate objects according to what it is in its own self, according to its internal nature (κατὰ φύσιν). In this way, the information we draw from the object reflects precisely what the object is in its own self in an open and free way available to all. There is a relation between the foundation of our knowledge which is determined by and begins in the object we draw knowledge from. There is the tendency to try and make the object, such as God, fit with our own ideas of what we believe to be true. Instead which should allow God to determine to us who He is where we listen and assent to Him. This provides a scientific basis which steers the philosophical understanding of the knowledge we seek.
Hypostasis was a term that Athanasius used with some reluctance. It was only when it was used as a synonym of ousia as ‘very being’ (αὐτὸ τὸ ὄν) that Athanasius would use this term. It was also identical with the term ὔπαρξις (which means existence). If it was used in this precise context then one could say ‘of the same’ hypostasis is more or less equivalent to saying ‘of the same’ ousia. This was how it was understood in the Nicene sense where ousia and homoousia were predominantly used. The Nicenes understood the usage of ousia to describe the Person of Christ as internal to the Father and not external to Him or created by Him. The ousia of the Son is indivisible to the ousia of the Father. The reason Athanasius was hesitant to use hypostasis was more of its widespread usage as opposed to its carefully defined and applied Nicene usage. Generally, hypostasis indicated a kind of self-support or an independent reality like a kind of objective identity or something that distinctly manifested on its own. If it was used in reference to the Son or the Spirit, it had to be taken into account that it is God who defined Himself through His own Self-revelation in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The existence of the Son and the Spirit cannot be determined apart from the Father nor the Father’s existence can be determined without the Son and the Spirit. Therefore, the Truth of God must begin in God and our thoughts and knowledge of God must conclude in God. The knowledge of God alone is controlled by what God discloses to us and is beyond our control having its source outside of ourselves in God’s own Being. With this in mind, it is on this basis that hypostasis and ousia can be considered as synonymous. Now if we look at hypostasis from the perspective of the Athanasian scientific method then it must be taken in context in relationship to the reality or the Being with which we are concerned. The Antiochenes always had this in mind when they used physis and hypostasis interchangeably concerning their doctrine of Christ. It is in reference to what we are referring to that determines the context for which hypostasis is defined. If it is in reference to inanimate objects or impersonal things, it is defined in one way. If it is in reference to created things, then it will mean something else. If it is in reference to the Creator Himself, then it will mean something else again. Thus hypostasis in the strictly theological sense was associated with ‘name’ onoma (ὄνομα) and above all with ‘face’ prosopon (πρόσωπον) giving a personal touch to its meaning. Rather than hypostasis implying the Logos as some impersonal cosmological principle, it gave Him a dynamic being as God who appears to us and engages with us face-to-face speaking directly to us as the Person (ἐκ προσώπου), Jesus Christ. It is in the context of the One and only true God who comes to us as true Man that we find the correct context of the meaning to hypostasis. This is how the word hypostasis was adapted so that it became suitable as a theological term and could correctly be used to express Father, Son and Holy Spirit according to the disclosure through Jesus Christ. We learn from the reality of God first disclosed in Him. This led to the formalisation of the phrase three hypostaseis and one ousia which Athanasius occasionally used. It was upon this foundation laid down by Athanasius this phrase was later developed by the Cappadocians, Basil, Nyssa and Nazianzen, and the Alexandrians, Didymus the Blind and Cyril, in strengthening this biblical ground.
Athanasius used hypostasis in his own precisely way so as not to allow any lapse into error or misrepresentation of what he said. Nevertheless, he allowed some degree of flexibility in its sense so that it could properly reflect the very nature his object demanded. Athanasius always insisted that realities came first (Jesus Christ) and the language used to describe it came second (theology – God-word). Here it is precisely because we are talking about God, who is beyond all created being, that what we say of Him can only begin with Him and what He discloses to us. Thus in using the term hypostasis he employed it without stepping outside the Object in question. He always had in mind the definite terms of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit who the three, while distinct from each other (ἄλλος ὁ πατὴρ ἄλλος υἱός), were united in the One Godhead. If one was to adopt a separation mindset as we find Aristotelian polymorphism then we would think of the Trinity as three separate entities implying three God’s (three ousiai). Athanasius would have nothing to do with this kind of language that would divide any of the Persons of the Trinity. He always remained consistent and adhered to the Nicene homoousion. This was more than just sharing of the ousia between the Son and God. Rather, it showed there was a continuous and undivided relation of the Being of the Father in the Son. It showed the whole Godhead included the Being of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and not just in the Father alone. The homoousion (of the same Being) included three co-equal Persons in undivided unity of Being in the Godhead. Whereas the Arians were at pains to find any reason to divide the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit, Athanasius emphasised constantly their undivided nature and Being. The same acutely precise theological method was put forward towards the semi-Arians in their attempt to divide the Holy Spirit from the Trinity. Athanasius maintained a consistent approach when speaking of the Trinity as maintaining each of the Persons as distinct but totally united in the One Being of God. His preference was to use verbs like ὑφιστάναι (being and existing in itself) and ὑπάρχειν (to be) together with the personal pronoun αὐτός (self) and connecting them with the word ὕπαρξις (subsistence). The Arians preferred a different take on the hypostasis where the actual existences of each of the Persons of the Trinity into three separate objects. Although we do believe in the worship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one God, we do not believe in worshipping them as three alongside each other. Athanasius did say in his Ad Antiochenos that it was suitable for those who held to the united ousia they could say three hypostaseis or Persons in God. But it was important for Athanasius to exclude any form of Sabellianism by holding to the Nicene definition of hypostasis and ousia or anything that might question the objective hypostatic reality of the Son and the Spirit.
What is there to be said about the word physis? There are several related ways Athanasius used this term but always in accordance with the reality of God, he was confronted with, in the Uncreated Person and work of Jesus Christ. When it came to all other created objects, this word was applied in a different way and took on different meanings according to their context. There was a difference when applying the word in the Uncreated context and the created context. The physis of God is sharply distinguished from the physis man. The ousia of the Creator is also sharply distinguished from the ousia of the creature. Following these theme, it was in harmony with Athanasian theology to state the inequality of Christ’s divine nature to ours (τὸ πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἀνόμοιον τῆς φῦσεως). In addition, there was also the inequality of the divine and human natures with respect to the Incarnate Son. Conversely, Athanasius used physis almost as synonym to reality (ἀλήθεια, or ousia). We see frequent applications of this in his phrase ‘in accordance with his nature’ (κατὰ φύσιν), we think truly (ἀληθῶς) of things when we think ‘in accordance with their nature. Rather than use the term ‘one will’ (βουλήσει), as did the Arians, he used, as the contrast, mia physis in the sense of ‘one undivided reality, one ousia or ὑπόστασις.
Because Athanasius used it in this way, it was in the Christian understanding of God that shaped the way physis was defined. It was only understood in the context of God’s active relation to the world He created and continues to sustain by His creative presence in it. This was set against the pervading Greco-world view which was static rather than dynamic. The old Greek idea was gripped by an unchanging nature meaning there were fixed patterns through relations that were unable to be changed, which Athanasius avoided in his theology. It is at the point where God confronts humanity in His own Person that we are all confronted by the reality of God. Outside of the Incarnational event, there is no other reality of God and all definitions that exclude this event are merely false imaginations. In the Incarnation we are confronted by God’s own independent Being in which the reality it contains is imposed on us and His truth is consistent with what He completely and truly is. When we use physis in this precise way it then corresponds in meaning with what the thing we are trying to grasp essentially is and and therefore we engage with its reality. When we take the notion of physis away from our actual encounter and begin with the general understanding of ‘nature’ then we operate outside of the Incarnation. When we do this we tend to fall within Aristotelian abstract distinctions between primary and secondary ousia. Rather, we must take into account Athanasius’ consistent method of staying within the active and dynamic outworkings of the Being of God disclosed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. In other words, to know God in accordance with His own nature (kata physin) is to know Him according to the universal observation and experience as a result of His uniquely divine impact i.e. energeia on us through the Incarnation where are taken up into the life of God (theosis). As a result, we find Athanasius unites both theology and godliness (theologia and theosebeia) together and are inseparable. Therefore, the knowledge of God is what He discloses to us and is knowledge of Himself given by Himself, in Person. This genuine knowledge arises only within intellectually engaging in His transcendent reality and majesty. It is through the continuous context of worship, prayer, holiness and godly living that our knowledge of Him is maintained. We let God be God (and every man a liar) so that the empirical and theoretical, the theological and religious are bound together with knowledge that is altogether united in our experience and our knowledge of Him.
The church Fathers of the Greek Antiochene sort had another way of using physis which led to quite significant problems. Aristotelian thought crept into the meaning of this word giving it a different slant. There was a relationship between physis (=nature) to phuo (to produce or grow). It was this kind of interpretation that was behind the Latin natura. When this was employed into the meaning of physis it pulled it away from its careful Nicene application and it created division between the ousia of the Godhead. In turn, it led to a division between the human physis and divine physis of the One Person of Jesus Christ resulting in the Nestorian, Eutychian and Monophysite heresies. It really comes down to a ‘lost in translation’ between the disputing parties when in fact they may be trying to achieve the same thing in the end. It is far more evident of monophysitism in the West than those who are more readily called monophysite.
What we are aiming for in the theological activity of Athanasius is a kind of language that bests reflects the object we are concerned with. To be consistent right across the whole created theological landscape, the Object in question must be free from any attempt to bring it under any created control. God is beyond all created being and likewise is beyond all created control. Therefore theology is “God-Word” that starts in a place that is essentially beyond us concerning realities that our beyond ourselves. It goes far beyond Greek thought with its habit of dividing epistemology and cosmology into groups that tear apart form and being, or structure and substance. So the kind of theology we are concerned with is the area created by an understanding beginning with the divine Logos whose existence lies permanently within the Being of God. The form of God and the Being of God are indivisibly united. At the same time, God through His creation has embedded within it a knowability, a logos. There also exists in the world of created being a unity of form and being and the word (logos) also lies permanently within the human being. As much as the truth lies in the unity of Logos and Being in God taking into consideration the utter uniqueness in the nature of God, there is also the truth there is unity of logos and being within the bounds of creaturely nature of the human being as man, who is utterly different to God. This means we must develop a method of inquiry and argument that suits the Object of our study. Employing creaturely methods that do not begin with this unity of Logos and Being in God and the logos and being in man will be far from satisfactory. We cannot conduct our investigation ‘at a distance’ from God. Aristotelian methods, argumentation and demonstration that operates with the break up of this unity of Logos and Being in God as well as logos and being in man, lead to thoughts based purely on imagination rather than fact because God can only be guessed at ‘from this distance.’ Instead we operate in a truly theological way where we are involve ourselves in the economy (οἰκονομία) prepared for us by God’s own gracious condescension to make contact with us in Person in our own world of space and time. While God condescends Himself to us in this way He does not cease to be what He eternally is in Himself apart from creation and the Incarnation. This imposes on theology a different approach to our method of inquiry and an appropriate means of argumentation. It allows our minds to enter into this area prepared for us between God and man where we are opened up to the dynamic inner structures of God’s own Being. This provides us with theology in its strictest meaning. We penetrate into God’s own Self-communication to us in His revelation and reconciliation and follow its built-in order and soundness providing its own pattern to us. And as far as we are allowed to as created beings, it is in and through Him that we rise with Him in the Spirit to an understanding of God as Triune. This is the kind of method that Athanasius calls theologia (ἐν τρίαδα ἡ θεολογία τελεία ἐστι). This means what God does in the Incarnation can never be separated from who God is in His own Being. We begin with discerning the order provided to us in the Incarnation in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, the οἰκονομία (this what we call the economic Trinity, the Trinity in action in the Incarnation). From here we move to the inner relations in God Himself (what is commonly known as the ontological Trinity or immanent Trinity, God’s own inner Being).
Now we move onto the ground that has been established by God Himself. Athanasius set the method, the content, the subject matter in accordance with its correct source (ἀρχή) in the Incarnation where we can draw all the ways and acts of God. It is only in Jesus Christ where these ways and works of God are fully disclosed to us. He is the One through whom the knowledge of God is mediated to us in the Spirit and it is in Him where we are able to apprehend God in accordance with His own inner nature. If this is laid aside then whatever follows is content that is disconnected from and empty of God. We follow the way of Athanasius in his method of laying hold of the inherent structure of what we know of God in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Athanasius allowed God Himself in this way to be the control in how he scientifically organised and developed in a precise way, and as far as he was able to, a consistent theology according to the order of His divine Being and activity as disclosed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Athanasius opens our eyes to especially significant expressions. Firstly, as we have mentioned before, there is economy which informs us the way in which God orders His eternal purpose in Christ, which is disclosed to us in the Incarnation. It is at this precise point where the dynamic pattern of the order of redemption of God intersects with the order of creation. Secondly, there is the idea of order (τάξις) itself. The Trinity provides us with a pattern (εἴδος) inherent in God as He is in His own internal relations which guides us into a way of seeing the unity, stability and constancy of God’s activity towards us which moves through the Son and in the Spirit. This is what Athanasius calls the ‘coordination and unity’ or ‘the order and nature’ in the Being of the Holy Trinity. Thirdly, together with the first and second points, the formula is repeated over and over again: from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, or the other way around, to the Father through and with the Son and in the Spirit. The divine condescension of the Son, the Incarnation, was the interpretive key through which Athanasius developed an organic and concrete structure in discerning the theological understanding of God. He could see with his mind the distinct pattern set before us in this unique event of the Incarnation of God in the Person of Jesus Christ and endeavoured to articulate in his writing his faithfulness to it. Athanasius linked together, through its intrinsic Trinitarian relations in the Godhead, the patterns based on God’s relation towards us in terms of to or from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit.
The theology of Athanasius is both centred in Jesus Christ (Christocentric) and centred in God (Theocentric). The central controlling point of the theology of Athanasius was within the Person and work of Jesus Christ interwoven with central truths of the Gospel into a seamless fabric. This method of Athanasius remained when he wrote of either the Trinity or of the Spirit. The reason for such a focus on Jesus Christ is because the knowledge of the Father precisely corresponds with the knowledge of the Son and mutually coinhere in one another. He maintained the central truth of the Father who is not eternally apart from the Son and the Son who is not eternally apart from the Father. They are eternally bound to one another. This is the deepest truth of all truths that comes out of the Nicene homoousion. When we stand with him and the other fathers who defended the homoousion, we speak in the same Spirit as Christ. This is as relevant today as it was in the ancient church. It did not take very long when the Greek thought through the Cappadocians began to distinguish between the Godhead of the Persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They believed the Father was the sole source arche (ἀρχή), the fount, pege (πηγή), or the cause aitia (αἰτία). There was also the tendency to distinguish between the energeiai and the divine ousia. This put tremendous strain on the Athanasian concept of the Persons of the Trinity as eternally bound to one another. There was no question they believed the Deity of both the Son and the Spirit are co-equal with the Deity of the Father for there is one Godhead. However, there was the suggestion the Son and the Spirit obtained their Deity from the Father, who is the underived Deity. This is apparent in the teaching of John of Damascus. The teaching of Athanasius cuts across this idea and asserts the Godhead is whole and complete in the Son and the Spirit as much as it is whole and complete in the Father. The Godness of God in the Son is the very same Godness with the Father and the Son of God is God in exactly the same way as the Father is God, for each is whole and proper to the other. As Athanasius says the same things are said of each except one is called Father and the other is called Son. He says without any doubt the Son is of the Father and his thought never indicates that the Son is caused or derived from the Father. The Son is the Son of the Father as the Father is the Father of the Son. Therefore when we say of we precisely mean there is full mutuality between the Father and the Son in the One Unchangeable Being of the one God. There is never any suggestion of inferiority or superiority. Athanasius made comfortable use of analogies but they had to be applied in a very precise way. Even though he used words such as source, light and radiance, fountain, water and river to help us to think out and speak about the triunity of God, he insisted we were not to read into them their creaturely images and impose them onto God. These terms only served as a guide which pointed to the inner relations of God. This meant his teaching on the Trinity was not locked into the Father as the Godhead as superior in terms of the cause, source, or fountain. This gave the term ousia a precise meaning and understanding all on its own where there was one divine energeia co-inehering within the ousia. It completely changed the Hellenic idea of ousia and was completely outside Aristotelian, Platonic and Neo-platonic thought. If we examine the history of patristic thought, you will find in places where the divine energeia has been pulled apart from the ousia, there is a slide back into the non-Christian Hellenic thought. In turn, this effects the relation of the Father to the Son and the Spirit setting them on a subordination level characteristic of Arianism. This is never the case with Athanasius.
By centering in Jesus Christ (Christocentric) and at the same time, centering in God (Theocentric) we can gain a greater understanding of Athanasian thought. These two must never be pulled apart. We then begin to see that Jesus Christ Himself is both the one Image and, at the same time, the only Reality of God. Jesus Christ is the One and only place where we really know the Father. When we remain central within the Person of Christ we are in the centre of theology. This is theology directed to the Father through the Son as it arises from the Father through the Son. Furthermore, the Son and the Spirit indellibally and mutually indwell in one another and they each receive from the other. This means Pneumatology is also, according to Athanasius, Christocentric, i.e. through the Son and is also central to theology just as the theology of the Father is central within the Person of Jesus Christ. In an overview of the understanding of Athanasian theology, first and foremost, we must understand there is no separation between the Activity of God and the Being of God in the Trinity, in the Incarnation or in the work of the Spirit. This moves theology from the ‘economic Trinity’ into the ‘ontological Trinity. What this means is what God is in His Activity of His saving operations towards us in Jesus Christ He is antecedently, inherently and eternally is in Himself as the Triune God. There are a few things happening in Athanasian theology. There is a Christological and Soteriological pattern that is at the foreground. However, it is the Trinity that shapes it with its essential and permanent ‘grammar,’ the taxis and the physis of the Godhead. The shape of Athanasian theology was a method that was governed by his Christology and Soteriology in accordance with the saving ‘Activity’ of God in Jesus Christ. So this means that Athanasian theology is also theocentric in its full scope and ultimately Trinitarian in its end.
Athanasius combined the knowledge drawn from Jesus Christ in His Person and work and intertwined it with the knowledge of God making the two essentially one. It was also consistent with his basic understanding of the mediatorial function of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ Himself we see in a very human way, the movement of the Father’s love towards the human race. At the same time, in the assumption of the whole scope of our human nature, is where we see a movement of God’s Activity. This entailed in His humanity the receiving of the Father’s love and in His humanly offering to the Father. The whole human race was trapped in their ignorance, weakness and blindness. However, in the Incarnate Jesus Christ, we have One human being who, through His own humanity, full of our ignorance, weakness and blindness, is able to receive from the Father and also to make a suitable offering in response. This is not to say our humanity full of ignorance, weakness and blindness belonged to Him from His divine nature. The Light of the Father shines in and through Jesus Christ shining in and throughout the whole human race. Yet, it is only this Light that shines in Jesus Christ, which shines in our darkness, that reciprocates the shining light in us, back to the Father as the suitable response on our behalf and for our sake. It is this is the fallen, frightened, weak and blind humanity He assumed and made His own in order that He might redeem us from it. This humanity included the fallen human mind and the fallen soul which is renewed and sanctified in the Son, as we have previously said.
This makes the Incarnation the very place where our theological activity must begin because it is at this point that Christ fulfilled on our behalf and in our place the God-ward movement of the human mind, which is renewed and sanctified in Him. It is very apparent that enormous importance must be placed on Athanasius’ De Incaratione as a starting point for his theological operations. However, he progressed enormously from this work modifying some of his ideas as he delved deeper and deeper into interpreting more and more the meaning of the Incarnation. The starting point for Athanasius is where God the Logos interacts with us in space and time. To do this He assumes and inseparably unites to Himself to our humanity and the realities faced by all human beings. God has a direct confrontation with human beings as the human being in and through Jesus Christ. It is at this exact point where there is the place for real communication of God Himself which is delivered to human beings. At the same time, there is real reception and the freedom to lay hold of this divine Self-communication of God, as God Himself, to us and make it our own. It is in this genuine and actual existence of Jesus Christ who is of the very same Being with the Being of God, as He is in Himself, that we find in the presence of His abounding grace and love, a place where we can enter into genuine theological enquiry to obtain the actual knowledge of God. This is sharing in the knowing of the Father through the Son in the Spirit and falls back on Athanasius’ short discussion in Luke 10.22 (Matt. 11.27). This is sharing in what Jesus Christ received as Man when everything the Father has is handed to Him by the Father. This enables us to partake in the actual knowing that exists between the Father and the Son. This occurs only in the Spirit and it is a miracle. It is still required on our part human activity in understanding, explanation and articulation if we are to take hold of any degree of rationality of God’s divine Activity (τινα νοῦν τῆς οἰκομομίας). It is God who undertakes the activity to share something of Himself with us through actual human activity in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. This opens the door for a human relational, reciprocal response by mentally engaging in some way and involve ourselves in God’s own activity of sharing Himself with us. If it is not done in this way then theology will steer off course into knowledge no longer anchored in God. If knowledge is no longer anchored in God in His Incarnation in Jesus Christ, the knowledge we are left to contend with become endless debates of over who God can and cannot be and what He can and cannot do.
In the works of Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione we find examples of a method of thinking that provides us with useful aids that lie within the God-man-world or God-world-man-inter-connections. It allows us to enter into the core unity or order of things that guides us and give us light on the on how everything is brought together in a unified way in theology. How do we bring everything together in this way so what we have is a unified whole? It is this kind of thinking investigative method that gives us a secure connection to the actual subject-matter at hand. This means all manner of thinking along with our preconceived ideas must be laid aside and we must start afresh in God. If it takes God to know God and without Him God cannot be known, then the only reliable one who can teach us is God Himself. We cannot gain anything of God that is independent of God. We cannot gain anything from Scripture that it independent of God. We cannot gain anything from theological manuals of earlier theologians that is independent of God. Instead, we must turn to God as the only One who can teach us the things of God. It is a manner of thinking and investigation that is entirely within the field of faith in God through Jesus Christ where can enter into the depths of God’s own essential and natural internal order and intelligibility. It is from this point that faith arises and it is upon this ground that our argument operates. The reasons we draw from this material content of this faith is because we have a tangible point of contact where we can draw truths about God directly from God Himself. What have in Contra Gentes and the De Incarnatione is a ground-breaking method in the history of scientific theology. In this method there was the ability to combine ideas into a unitary whole producing a way of thinking that had the ability to penetrate deeply into the essential and natural internal order of the subject-matter at hand and produce positive results. By directing ourselves to the Incarnation of the eternal Word or Son of God, we have a central reference concerning the way in which creation and redemption are to be understood. This integrates our understanding of theological connections and relations and reaches back into the creative heart of God giving to us a clear way of understanding for which we can all grasp. As we grasp Him we then have a way of knowing that keeps us securely on the path of truth.
Surely this is the way we all want to travel in our search for truth that lies in the very existence of God Himself, the ground of our faith and knowledge? If we let God be true in His own way, then we must let our minds fall under the knowledge He discloses to us and adapt to His truth. It must follow the pattern and order of the connections that already exist throughout the universal relation of God to creation. It is taking into account that we are created beings who are engaging with the Uncreated Being who is beyond all created being that we seek to know God in such a way that we are open and receptive to what He discloses to us from beyond our created minds. God has brought us intimately close to Him in the Person and work of Jesus Christ where our minds mutually indwell one another. Our rationality and intelligibility has been sanctified and redeemed in Jesus Christ. But He is still the Uncreated Being and He still beyond all created being. So we cast our mind to and contemplate on what is, in a sense, from beyond us, what is other than or what is above ourselves. We are still creatures and He is still the Creator. It is allowing ourselves to think critically and objectively from the perspective of what is beyond us, something we can become familiar with and recognise Him who dwells at the heart of human rationality. This is the kind of thinking Athanasius believes. When our minds act in harmony with the rational order of things that already exists as they truly are in the created universe, then we are already on the path to the truth that leads us to the truly existent God. It is not so much our ability to use our own created rationality and work out logical steps to God. It is allowing our minds to commune with the mind of God so that it lines up with the symmetry (συμμετρία), concord (ὁμόνοια), order (τάξις), harmony (ἀρμονία), symphony (συμφώνια), and system (σύνταξις) of the cosmos, which cry aloud for God. In other words, as much as we allow God to be true in His own way, we also allow the cosmos and its inner realities, created by God, to be true in its own way. The soul of our humanity is directed through its own rationality, like a mirror, to look away from creaturely rationalities towards the Uncreated and creative Logos of God, whose own Uncreated rationality mutually indwells and engages with creatures.
As far as Athanasius is concerned and what he emphasises on most is the one common order that exists in the cosmos. It is the one Logos who enlightens and regulates the cosmos bringing it altogether into one harmonious system (κόσμου παναρμὀνιος συντάξις). The fact that there is an inbuilt rationality of things (λόγου ὄντος φυσικοῦ) can only mean there is no chaos and disorder in the cosmos. As a result of our confession of one God, and not many gods (ἕνα καὶ οὐ πολλους) is an ever-continuing repudiation of any kind of dualism, pluralism and polymorphism of Greek philosophy, religion and science. This means there is unity throughout the universe, of the visible and invisible, celestial and terrestrial realities pointing to the all-embracing providential and integrating activity of the divine Logos. It is our God, the Lord of creation, who is Himself beyond all created Being, who pervades all created existence with a single rational order where our own created rationality is wholly dependent upon His transcendent uncreated rationality.
We are therefore tuned in to the central and creative order of things in God’s relation to the universe, generally speaking, where we grasp something of humanity’s relatedness to all. Once establishing this in the face of the heretical nonsense he was confronted with, in the De Incarnatione, Athanasius now concentrates on how humanity is related to God and God to humanity. He intuitively works out this relationship in the Incarnation where the Word of God was made man in Jesus Christ. From this perspective we must take into account that the human being is part of the whole cosmos. When the Logos was made human as man, God disclosed Himself in this way through a part of the whole. Here it is God Himself who gives us the vital indication we needed for our relation of God to the world which is revealed to the whole world in the Light of the redeeming and renewing activity of Jesus Christ. At the very same time, He lays out the very way we needed, the only true way there is, and by travelling along this way we are able to know the Father Himself. Athanasius established and set himself the task to layout a distinctive theological undertaking beginning with learning from the Logos Himself. It is through the Person and work of Jesus Christ he enquires into ordering force and unique pattern of grace unveiled in the life and Person of the Incarnate Logos. Learning from Jesus Christ, the Uncreated Word of God as Man, as far as it is possible for created human beings, we enter into the inner movement and reason for God’s redeeming and renewing activity in the cosmos. For us to understand what it is that God has done and to have His imprint from the event of the Incarnation, we look to this event from which Jesus Christ assumed His humanity from us, what He did for us and on our behalf as the key to a deeper theoretic insight into the saving Activity of God.
This is only made possible for us because it is the Logos Himself who has initiated the step towards us. He lowered Himself from His divine privilege and made Himself equal with us without losing His equality with the Being of God making Himself known to us in precisely this place. It is right here we are able to lay hold in our thinking a true means of the understanding of God as Father. Yet we are unable to encompass within our created minds the diversity of the activities of the Logos and far less able to fully grasp their unified wholeness. This is to say that it is enormously difficult for us to understand the Activity of God towards us in His inner relations and connections. Athanasius explains this difficulty through the image of attempting to take in the vast expanse of the ocean with its countless waves. ‘For as one cannot take in the whole of the waves with his eyes, for those which are coming on baffle the sense of him that attempts it; so for him that would take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, it is impossible to take in the whole, even by reckoning them up, as those which go beyond his thought are more than those he thinks he has taken in. Better is it, then, not to aim at speaking of the whole, where one cannot do justice even to a part, but, after mentioning one more, to leave the whole for you to marvel at. For all alike are marvellous, and wherever a man turns his glance, he may behold on that side the divinity of the Word, and be struck with exceeding great awe.’
There are two things that can be said about this:
(a) The kind of order we are placing forward is both simple yet complex. Though we can attempt to explain it in its parts through an analysis of its particular components, its scope and range is still, and always, far superior to the human mind and beyond our created ability to fully grasp and master. However, it is possible we can make some way into an understanding of its internal structures and relations if we reframe and restructure our mind to think in such a way where it hits the same tune of the power of its internal structure and intelligibility. This is to operate in such a way that we study an important part of the whole where the organic structure of the whole discloses itself to us. Even so, the whole of its range may infinitely transcend far beyond our ability to comprehend in our created thinking.
(b) Here then we are in a situation where the kind of thinking and the kind of speaking which we must use will point to something far more than anything we say. We must remain faithful to the eternally and utterly unique subject-matter in theology where the way we think must be appropriate to it and always open ended. What we mean be this, is the kind of thinking which always takes into account the endless reality of God. The patterns disclosed by God are not static and fixed so that we reduce Him to what we think or what our opinion might be. Our interaction with Him is dynamic and open where we enter into the connections between the living God and His creation. This makes it impossible for us to limit Him within logical cause-effect relations that attempts to cross the boundary from our created mind to attempt to unravel the mystery of His created Being. No amount of logical cause-effect will enter into the depths of the Uncreated Being of God. There is a train of thought which we must consistently follow (κατ᾽ ἀκολουθίαν) and we must allow the eternally unique nature (φύσιν) to take priority over the way we think to decide the suitable connections which best reflect our interpretation of it. This gives us a strict protocol which proceeds and guides our thinking according to the nature of God (κατὰ φύσιν) in His active condescension to us in Jesus Christ. Though He is beyond all created Being, in Jesus Christ, He limits Himself into our created being while remaining beyond all created Being. Although we have access by the Spirit through Jesus Christ into the Being of God, we cannot act as if we can seize Him in a fixed sort of way and then argue logically from fixed subjectively deemed so called truth in the way of the Euclidean and Aristotelian methods. This would be operating with an insistence that God must operate in a certain pre-determined way and this is foreign to the nature of Him and the activity of the Spirit. Notwithstanding all this, there must be a way we can discern the kind of train of thought that is required which will give us a consistent chain of relation or connections (ἀκαλουθια or εἱρμός) in God’s saving Activity (economy) that will provide us with the basic clue (πρόφασις, πρόλυψις, or ὑπόθεσις) we need for our understanding. It is in Jesus Christ where we must find the most appropriate and accurate way of achieving this understanding we all desire.
In his works of De Incarnatione this is precisely what Athanasius was trying to achieve. He made use, however, as is shown in Contra Gentes and later in Contra Arianos, of the logical cause and effect argument to clarify his thought but mostly to destroy the wayward and misleading deviations that were put forward by the heretics. Though he exposed their self-contradictions, this method alone was not suitable and could not be used in a positive way to explain the truth of God revealed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Through the Incarnation, we are engaging with an Uncreated Intelligibility which is of a higher kind than created intelligibility. Therefore, it can only be understood and interpreted in a way that is fitting for the kind of Intelligibility we are engaging with. We have no choice but to use a proper train of thought that is appropriate to it and to try and unify it all in an appropriate way. What is significant for Athanasius is in his argument there was a careful choice of terms that showed respect to the Uncreated Being we are engaging with through adjective, verbal or adverbial form. He used terms like what is suitable or fitting, what is in place or appropriate, what is worthy or properly in accordance with, what is required or needful, or what is necessary in the sense of what is in accordance with the nature of God and humanity in their interrelations. This extends the biblical ‘it behoved’ or ‘ought’ for example when applied to Christ. It is clearly evident Athanasius was very careful in his grappling for the kind of language which exhibited the appropriate connections as he expressed his thought on the basis of the orderly, in-built relations of God’s interaction with humanity. He was determined to allow an ’empirico-theological,’ that is, an experienced, generally based observation in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, to mould his thinking and argument to settle points of contention. To put it another way, Athanasius was penetrating into the interior ‘good’ reasoning (τὸ εὔλογον) of things, what was sufficient religiously and theologically in following the general observation of the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Athanasius had to bear in mind what was sufficient in terms of what is worthy of God and what it was that man required to meet his needs for understanding. Athanasius begins in both the Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione by criticising all things and the various arguments that were contrary to the truth. He ploughed his way through the erroneous ideas deemed not in the same train of thought with God disclosed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ in order that what remains is truth itself manifested which is thrust upon him in Its own Light.
His method was to go in hard with direct questions one after the other. The questions became continuously more and more precise and penetrating. The result is reality and truth arose allowing the nature of things to become disclosed in an empirical and objective way in their own inner relations. In the process the mind was trained to follow a suitable way of thinking which were adapted from or coined from ordinary forms of thought and speech. As we have discussed before, our minds begin to think relationally creating new ways of knowing. Such is the nature of theology in today’s world where we have to elbow through the crowd of so-called truth which obscure the nature of the reality we are observing until we arrive up against what is ultimately simple but profound pattern of truth into its own self-evidence. This now becomes the controlling element that guides the way in which we construct theology. In addition, when we allow Jesus Christ to fully disclose His truth as He is in Himself we have more success when the method allows for a fuller, coherent and consistent construction of theology where Jesus Christ plays the vital role in testing what is appropriate and what is faithful to the truth.
In the De Incarnatione we see the theological enquiry follows this precise course and becomes the internal reason for which Athanasius was looking for. The love of God towards man (φιλανθρωπία – kind-heartedness) become real to us in the saving condescension of the Son into our creaturely and fallen condition that was captive to corruption and with an erratic way of thinking. His perspective in his interpretation began with the provision in the active relation of the divine philanthropy to meet the need of humanity in sin and instability of the human being. The Logos or the Son of God became man, entered into and shared in our physical condition in mortal flesh in camaraderie with all humanity under condemnation from divine law and the threat of the menace of non-being. We are heading to the starting point, the primary reason for the Incarnation of the Saviour: He is the Son of the Father who came to humanity and assumed our human nature so that He acts not only for humanity but also on the side of humanity. He, therefore, restores humanity’s relation to the Father through atoning reconciliation and sanctifying re-creation.
Athanasius then shows us the way in a lengthy discussion reinforcing how this has had an impact on this built-in intelligibility that results from out of the self-humiliation and crucifixion of the Son of God. Looking at it from this perspective guides us in a very precise way. This is so ridiculous to the Greek mind. Yet, the Creator has chosen to effect the restoration of human rationality as well as our rational understanding in humanity through and in the Logos. This has deeply impacted and changed humanity in such a way that by uniting Himself to man in the Incarnation of the Logos, He has amalgamated human nature once again into the central order of God. In addition to this, He has enabled humanity to participate by grace in His own image as Word of the Father so that the recreated being of humanity is one that is distinctively marked by the pattern of grace (ἡ κατ᾽εἰκόνα χάρις) that has its source from God Himself. Therefore, Athanasius says (note the adjective, adverbial and verbal forms): ‘Hence His death on the Cross was appropriate and fitting, and its ground was revealed to be altogether reasonable: moreover it admits of right reasons why the salvation of all had to take place in no other way except through the Cross.’ What is clearly evident is Athanasius shows the truth as an overwhelming indication of its own self-evidence where we are left with no choice but to accept it by faith on its face value. In this way, the truth is the springboard for faith. Athanasius does the very same thing and argues in the very same way for the resurrection of Christ so it is portrayed by its own self-evidence and reality. It is both the resurrection and the crucifixion that are brought together to give us the ability to understand the Incarnation of the Word that, in itself, are allowed to be self-explanatory and alone appeals to our reason. (κατ᾽τὴν εὔλογον ἀκολουθίαν). It is these proofs which are self-evident (ἀποδείξιες ἐναργεῖς – visible proof that manifests to the mind’s eye) to demolish the accusations firstly of the Jews and, secondly of the Greeks. Regarding the Jews, it demolishes their claim as to the offence to the Cross and the Incarnation of the Word of God. Regarding the Greeks, who believed the Incarnation was impossible, it demolished their claim that the whole notion of the Christian teaching is Jesus Christ, is the Word of God, the Creator has become man is utter nonsense. Both together Athanasius clearly shows the whole of God’s redemptive activity in Jesus Christ is both appropriate and reasonable. It makes sense. He also shows the presence and activity of the Logos permeates the whole universe. He also established the knowledge contained in the Person and work of Jesus Christ is God the Word and the Power of God.
Athanasius draws his own conclusions in his discussion in De Incarnatione giving advice to those who have read this through. He sums up his discussion by pointing out to the lover of Christ that in his overview contains the ‘basic ground and distinctive pattern (στοιχείωμεν και χαρακτῆρα) of faith in accordance with Christ and his divine manifestation towards us.’ He urges them to take this as the clue (πρόφασιν) and sincerely apply it to the words of Scripture so they can learn in a more complete and precise (ἀκρίβειαν) way to what it actually says. It takes a kind of mind of the enquirer to obtain knowledge of this kind to have integrity of life, purity of soul and virtue in Christ. In doing so, they will journey along the road and be able to reach and grasp its objective, in a far better fruitful way, in as much as human nature is able to learn from the Word of God. To be more specific, one must lead this kind of life as it must go hand in hand with inquiry and understanding so that we can have the disposition of mind and way of life that corresponds and is worthy of God’s Self-revelation in Christ. In so doing, we are able to develop ways of thinking and the kind of language that is appropriate to Christ as He is in Himself. In summary, this one road we travel to God the Father is not only through but with Christ and in the Holy Spirit.
There should be no doubt that the aim for Athanasius in the De Incarnatione is to find our way, through the Incarnation of the Word or the Son of God, as the central reference for us to understand the interaction of God with the world in creation and redemption. This knowledge gives us the internal interrelatedness bringing all things together and ordering all our Christian understanding in a unified way. This was the method of Athanasius in later years as he ploughed his way through the theological confusion of the Arians and semi-Arians as he developed the doctrines of the Son, the Spirit and the doctrine of the Trinity. During this time he made it clear the vital importance of how the knowledge of God is shaped by the all-important Nicene word homoousion (of the same being). This word became the interpretive tool for giving a clear structure of the centrality of the Father-Son-Spirit relation that shaped our knowledge of God giving us a recognisable pattern for bringing together into one place the teachings of the Christian faith. This kind of theological method evident in the Great Ecumenical Councils of the East and West, were hallmarks in the works of Hilary of Poitiers and Anselm of Canterbury showing its impact was wide and far reaching in both the Eastern and Western Churches where it was developed into a more rigorous form. One kind find the true significance of Athanasius’ method by comparing it with the way scientific method is conducted today. While Athanasius worked with his object of God that remained true to God engaging in an inter relational united way in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, theology today tends to do the opposite. In mainstream evangelicalism, there is the tendency to pull apart the Person of Jesus Christ from the work of God. When we operated with a mindset of sin defined as what separates us from God, then everything has to be forced through this fixed and locked premise. The whole notion of the creation, Incarnation, redemption, Christology are all pulled apart from the knowledge of God. In contrast, Athanasius treated the Object he observed in very much a flexible way but strictly through God Himself in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. If this is laid aside, then we have nothing but our fallen, darkened alienated, created mind estranged from God to work out something something that is eternally Uncreated. There is no reliability in any other attempt to logically work out the nature and character of God when it is only God who knows God. God cannot to be known without God first making Himself known. When God makes Himself known in precisely the way He has done in Jesus Christ, then we are united to His knowing and intelligibility gaining access to, though but a glimpse, into the inner structure of God’s own nature and character, almost like we see faintly from the inside out. In the field of physics it is precisely in this manner that scientist attempt to unlock the secrets of the universe. Like the method Athanasius employes, scientists attempt to engage with the object at hand and faithfully, in a way that truthfully reflects its inner nature, they investigate and report exactly what they see. T F Torrance, as far as he can see, believes Athanasius was the first to use this kind of scientific method where he perceived God through the lens of relational concepts. It was in this way he was able to think and speak (write) in such a manner that was faithful and worthy of God as His nature is disclosed in Christ in His Activity in human and historical existence.
The problems Athanasius was confronted with was not so unique to his period in Christian history. We find in theology the very same problems are still evident in our modern times and have been apparent for centuries. In fact they are the very same issues in which Athanasius faced in the fourth century. What was foreign and alien to Athanasian thought and, in fact, heretical, have now been indoctrinated into mainstream Christian thought. It runs so deep that when the teaching of Athanasius is assessed in modern mainstream Christian thought, it is often dismissed as heresy, or primitive theology not yet fully developed. The assumption made today as the basis for Christian doctrine were dismissed by Athanasius when he was confronted by the Arian heresy in his own time. Firstly, there is the unquestionable assumption between what is seen and what is known. Secondly, there is the Newtonian or Kantian conception of space existing in a container. Within this container everything is closed off from God and all calculations are based on the cause and effect model. This turns the Judeao-Christian teaching about God into a distorted myth, completely disregarding the reality of God becoming incarnate in the space and time. The task of the Christian then tries in vain to demythologise the Gospel upon this understanding of the universe by using the very same logic, cause and effect process that leads to what they want to be true. What lies at the root of both is a faulty method of argument. Both are wrong because the logic, cause and effect method is wrong. Pagan methods of interpreting the Scriptures will only lead to Pagan conclusions that are not consistent with the Judeao-Christian teaching about God. An entirely new approach must undertaken to unravel the truth of the Gospel that faithfully represent the Scriptures.
The problems addressed by Athanasius was a result of Origen’s work of the previous century which laid down a framework which would be a precise scientific framework upon which all theology was built. This method, refined by Athanasius, was the foundation upon which all Nicene theology was built. It provided an open and clear way for everyone to appropriate the theological instinct in a manner consistent with the Apostolic tradition. It is not blindly following Athanasius so to speak. Rather, it is learning to learn in the way these ancient theologians learned to grasp the very same they believed the apostles handed to the church. This led to the universal approach and understanding that resonated with the truth of all believers in this period, the truth was testified in relative unity throughout the Mediterranean Church. It was the truth testified that directed all people to the Truth contained beyond themselves in the very Person of Jesus Christ within the heart of the Triune God. When we begin to hear the Truth of the Triune God disclosed to us by the Spirit only through the Person and work of Jesus Christ, we begin to see the enormous errors of the fragmented and distorted worldview we live in. Since the rise of relative theory, the foundations of our way of seeing and knowing have been shaken to the core undermining the old and obsolete Newtonian and Kantian mechanistic understanding of the universe. The Incarnation is real. The Lord God of the universe is present among us and resides in us. The time is ripe for a proper communication of the Gospel from the Judaeo-Christian perspective. Instead of falling back on our own ideas and the traditions taught to us by our modern theologies, we must learn to fall under the powerful disclosure of God Himself in the very Person of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures. It takes God to know God and God can only be known through God Himself. Without God, God cannot be known and it is only God who can teach us the things of God. It is high time we allow God to speak for Himself as He has done in Person in Jesus Christ.
1. More specifically, God is identical with one of the two ungenerated and indestructible first principles (archai) of the universe. One principle is matter which they regard as utterly unqualified and inert. It is that which is acted upon. God is identified with an eternal reason (logos, Diog. Laert. 44B ) or intelligent designing fire or a breath (pneuma) which structures matter in accordance with Its plan (Aetius, 46A). The designing fire is likened to sperm or seed which contains the first principles or directions of all the things which will subsequently develop (Aristocles in Eusebius, 46G). The biological conception of God as a kind of living heat or seed from which things grow seems to be fully intended. The further identification of God with pneuma or breath may have its origins in medical theories of the Hellenistic period. See Baltzly (2003). On the entire issue of God and its relation to the cosmos in Stoicism, see the essays in Salles (2009) (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
2. The philosophical notion of participation was used by plato to explain the relation between the contingent, individual forms and the eternal, unchangeable Ideas. aristotle attributes the origin of this doctrine to the Pythagoreans, who taught that all things exist by imitation (μίμησις) of numbers; for him, Plato simply introduced the new term participation (μέθεξις) and said that all things exist by participation, changing only the name. According to Aristotle, both the Pythagoreans and Plato left undecided what this participation or imitation of Forms could be (Meta. 987b 10–14). It is true that the doctrine of participation in the writings of Plato is undeveloped and includes all types of being involving any kind of dependence, likeness, coexistence, and the like (Encyclopedia of Religion).
3. This term can only really be understood from a proper understanding of perichoresis. The following is the definition put forward by Dr C. Baxter Kruger who studied under Professor T F Torrance and achieved his Phd under Professor James Torrance. In my opinion, it is the best definition I have ever read and heard: Genuine acceptance removes fear and hiding, and creates freedom to know and to be known. In this freedom arises a fellowship and sharing so honest and open and real that persons involved dwell in one another. There is union without loss of individual identity. When one weeps the other tastes salt. It is only in the Triune relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit that personal relationship of this order exists, and the early church used the word “perichoresis” to describe it. The good news is that Jesus Christ has drawn us within this relationship and its fullness and life are to be played out in each of us and in all creation.” Vicarious is when one weeps and the other tastes salt is one is so intimately and mutually close in such interpenetrating love that if one suffers the other feels that very same suffering. When Jesus Christ assumed our humanity He tasted all that it was to be human just as we are, including our death, without shrinking back from any part of it. When Jesus Christ assumed our humanity, He came as close to us as He is to the Father, closer than we are to ourselves.
4. This heresy was proposed by Apollinarius of Laodicea in the latter part of the fourth century. He was one of the champions of Nicene orthodoxy and a friend of Athanasius. Apollinarius believed there was a Christological problem regarding the assumption of human nature in His Incarnation. He believed the Word could not have assumed a complete human nature. As he correctly asserted that the mind is the seat of human sin, the mind of Christ could not have been human but must have been replaced by the divine mind. In response to this Gregory Nazianzus came up with his famous response, ‘What is not assumed is not healed” (Ep. 101) If it were true that the soul of the human was not assumed, then the human soul would not be healed.