P. 241 of Theology in Reconciliation
It was to theologia of this kind that Athanasius assimilated the scientific method that had been developed in Alexandria, namely, rigorous knowledge according to the inherent structure or nature (κατά φύσιν) of the realities investigated, together with the development of the appropriate questions and the apposite vocabulary demanded by the nature of the realities as they become disclosed to us.2 It is in this way that theology adapts its method to its proper subject-matter, and allows its proper subject-matter to determine the appropriate forms of thought and speech about God.
So far as scientific theology is concerned, this means that we are forced to adapt our common language to the nature and reality of God who is disclosed to us in Jesus Christ, and even where necessary to coin new terms, to express what we thus apprehend. Hence Athanasius insisted that when our ordinary terms are applied to God they must be stretched beyond their natural sense and reference and must be employed in such a way that they indicate more than the actual terms naturally specify.3 Theological terms, therefore, which by function and use are deployed to refer to God in relation to the world, in the nature of the case must have an elastic quality, terminating on God himself at one end and upon the world or man at the other end.4 To use modern scientific language, theological terms inevitably embody a relation of differentiality like the variation principles of physics, conformable to the precise nature and force of the realities to which they are used to refer. Indeed, in developing a theological understanding of space in respect to dynamic relation between ‘place’ (τόπος) of God which is to be understood strictly in accordance with the nature of God as God, and the place (τόπος) of man in this created world which is to be interpreted strictly in accordance with the
nature of man as man, Athanasius projected something rather like what we call topological language.1
Notes for page 241
Notes for page 242
- See ‘Relation of the Incarnation to Space in Nicene Theology‘, in Andrew Blane, The Ecumenical World of Orthodox Civilisation, Essays in Honour of Georges Florovsky (Mouton, The Hague, 1974), pp. 61ff.; Space, Time and the Incarnation (OUP, London, 1969), pp. 14ff.