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Our endeavor has been to show how a certain characteristic account of the original structure of the relation between God and creation recurs in varying contexts and at significant junctures throughout this double treatise and intertwines itself with an account of the history of this relation.

We have noted that the paradigmatic distinction within that relation is that between the uncreated God and all else that comes to be from nothing. With regard to that relation, what is crucial is the convergence of divine transcendence and nearness. That is to say, that God acts to overcome the separation of natures, which would render knowledge of him and communication with him impossible. A definitive bridge was only provided through the incarnation of the Word, and henceforth the transcendent God manifests himself in a powerful way in human life and history.


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We have already further specified the apologetic intent of this work as an apologia crucis. We need to assimilate this significant point, therefore: that the doctrine of God is here articulated in relation to the incarnation and the cross. In the introduction to the Contra Gentes, for instance, Athanasius sets forth the purpose of his treatise as a defense against the accusation that faith in Christ is irrational,. The systematic task of demonstrating a rational coherence between the doctrine of God and the doctrine of the incarnation is thus integral to the apologetic design of this treatise, as is that of demonstrating the coherence of those two doctrines to that of creation.

Our task at this juncture is to probe his account of this consistency from the particular viewpoint of his doctrine of God. In putting forth his doctrine of God, Athanasius has ready recourse to standard descriptions of the transcendence of God that were shared by Christians and Greeks alike. His transcendence is described in conventional apophatic terms: CG 22; Thomson, p. For in worshiping idols, the pagans are supposing the deity to be corporeal ibid.

Athanasius can make this point without showing the least sign of faltering, but we can appreciate its delicacy in the context of a treatise dedicated to the defense of the belief in precisely a God who appears in corporeal form. This last consideration directs us to the necessity faced by Athanasius of going beyond conventional Platonic descriptions of divine transcendence, and of articulating a doctrine of God who can become human and take to himself a human body. We must now trace this trajectory. Therefore he is the lover of humanity ibid.

For the nature of created things , since it comes into being from nothing, is unstable, weak, and mortal when considered by itself. But the God of all is good and supremely noble by nature. Therefore he is the lover of humanity. For a good being would be envious of no one, and so he envies nobody existence but rather wishes existence for everyone, in order to exercise his love for humanity. So seeing that all created nature according to its inherent structures is in flux and subject to dissolution, and in order to prevent this happening and the universe dissolving back into nothing, he made everything by his own eternal Word and brought creation into existence.

He did not abandon it to be tempest-tossed through its own nature , lest it run the risk of again apsing into nothingness. CG 41; Thomson, pp. God is beyond all created being, as uncreated, but his nearness to creation has its basis also in his very nature, as supremely good and loving. In the self-same movement of creation, God asserts his transcendence over that which he brings into existence from nothing, as well as demonstrating his love which leads him to generously grant existence to what was not.

The fact that God is the uniquely primordial being means that whatever he brings into existence cannot have an intrinsic support for its own existence, since its existence is wholly derived. In short, both the difference between God and creation and the bridging of that distance have their basis in the nature of God. It is within this perspective that Athanasius can also justify the incarnation in terms of the doctrine of God. He does this, first of all, by reconciling it with the doctrine of creation. For this reason he is concerned to show, in the Contra Gentes, that the fact of creation has its basis in the nature of God who is loving.

For what profit would there be for those who had been made, if they did not know their own Maker? DI 11; Thomson, p. For God would then turn out to have created them for others and not for himself. For if creation is understood in strict correlation to the doctrine of God, as a divine act manifesting the divine nature, then the divine manifestation i.

In the context of sin, this principle is given much dramatic play by Athanasius. Then what was the use of their having been created to begin with? For they should rather not have been created than to be created and subsequently neglected and destroyed. DI 6; Thomson, p. I think it justifiable to assert that, in fact, it is the doctrine of God which is primary. For it is a certain conception of God, in which his goodness, mercy, and providential care are emphasized, that constitutes the starting point of that trajectory which leads through creation to the incarnation.

Within this conception, a lack of concern and care for creatures connotes rather weakness than majestic transcendence.

The Coherence of his Thought, 1st Edition

The latter quality, for Athanasius, is inseparable from the care and solicitude of God for creation. At this point, then, we have traced the double aspect in the relation between God and creation to the doctrine of God. God as primordial being is inaccessible to creation, while his involvement with and solicitude for creation derives from his natural goodness. If Trinitarian doctrine does not seem to be at the forefront of his explicit concerns in the Contra Gentes—De Incarnatione, it is nevertheless integral to his presentation, and the very casualness by which it is repeatedly enjoined makes it in some way all the more striking.

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We must acknowledge, to begin with, that it is only by a kind of anachronistic shorthand, and by way of giving Athanasius the benefit of the doubt, that we speak of a Trinitarian, rather than binarian, teaching in the Contra Gentes—De Incarnatione. The fact of the matter is that, while Athanasius was able to integrate the Holy Spirit into his doctrines of God and redemption at a later point, such an integration is not evident in this apologetic double treatise.

Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought (Routledge Early Church Monographs)

What we do find, however, is a pervasive emphasis on the co-inherence of the Word and the Father. At center stage of this presentation is the relation between humanity and God and its enfolding context of the relation between creation generally and God. Moreover, as we have noted, creation is described as related precisely to the relation of Word—Father. It is well to note, at this juncture, the way in which previous Christian apologists had articulated a conception of the Logos as mediator between God and creation.

Within a framework that was more or less subordinationist, such a conception tended toward the implication that transcendence conceived as otherness was more properly divine than a transcendence involved with creation. On the other hand, in Athanasius too, the Word is represented as Mediator.

But here there is no trace of subordinationism, and the Word who is active in the world is himself clearly other than the world and belongs wholly to the Father. With reference to divine transcendence and nearness, such a perspective naturally implies that divine transcendence is in no way mitigated by nearness. In being most intimately involved in the world, God does not cease to be wholly other, as the Word is other than creation. But he does not locate the distinction within the Godhead itself. The essence-power distinction is thus parallel with the more pervasive nature-works distinction, whereby it is articulated that God is invisible, incomprehensible, etc.

He moves beyond a merely philosophical apophatic emphasis on the inaccessible transcendence of God by emphasizing the attribute of goodness as properly descriptive of the divine nature. It is a personal solicitude and love for creation especially humanity , which grounds genuine historical initiatives for the sake of human salvation. In this way, Athanasius is able to integrate into the conventional Platonic distinction between the realm of Being and that of Becoming, the statement— conceived as both an ontological description of God and an interpretation of salvation- history— that God is love.

As we have already noted, it also logically forms the background to his anthropology, since the created universe as a whole, including humanity, is fundamentally characterized as having the same origin from nothing, rendering it intrinsically incapable of retaining its hold on being without continuous divine assistance.

Within the flow of his argument in the double treatise, Athanasius presents his cosmology by way of showing how the order and beauty of the external creation represents a secondary way for humanity to come to knowledge of and thus communion with God, the primary way being inward contemplation. Thus the primary rationale for the cosmos, according to Athanasius, is to communicate knowledge of God to humanity, rendering the invisible God knowable, at least in some measure.

It is particularly this unity-within-distinction that indicates a superior power which reconciles the differences and harmonizes the opposing tendencies of individual elements into a coherent and intelligible whole. That, too, is most necessary to clarify and articulate, so that no one, deceived by ignorance about him, may suppose him to be another and fall back into the same godlessness as before….

Who then is he, if not the Father of Christ, most holy and beyond all created being, who like a supreme craftsman , by his proper wisdom and proper Word, our Lord and Saviour Christ, steers and orders all things for our salvation, and acts as seems best to him?

CG 40; Thomson, p.

Matt Wilcoxen

In showing how the invisible and transcendent God communicates knowledge of himself through the works of creation, Athanasius makes much use of Stoic categories and motifs. In particular, sections 35—9 of the Contra Gentes are inundated with Stoic influence. Beginning with CG 40, however, Athanasius seems to consciously embark on a criticism of and a corrective to Stoic doctrine.

This shift is significant for our general theme of the relation between God and creation. The Stoics are useful for Athanasius, as they were for other early Christian writers, insofar as they provided a vocabulary and certain conceptual tools for articulating notions of divine providence, omnipresence, and intimate involvement in the world—in a word, immanence. But the Stoics provided such resources for the very apt reason that their cosmology was decidedly immanentist, if not materialist. Over against the onesidedness of such an emphasis, Christian writers had to reaffirm the transcendence and independence of God with respect to creation.

Thus Athanasius follows his use of Stoic terminology to indicate the Word as the guarantor of the harmony and order of the cosmos by carefully distinguishing the Word of the Father from a purely immanent and impersonal By Word I do not mean the word involved and innate in every creature , which is called seminal by some, which is soulless and can neither reason or think but acts merely by an extrinsic art according to the skill of the one who applies it.

Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought (Routledge Early Church Monographs)

Nor do I mean the word uttered by rational beings which is composed of syllables and expressed in the air. But I speak of the very Word itself which is the living and acting God, the Word of the good God of the universe, who is other than the things that are made and all creation. He is rather the one proper Word of the good Father, who has ordered all the universe and enlightens it by his providence.

As the good Word of the good Father, he has ordered the arrangement of all things, combining together contrary things and composing from them a single harmony. For that which is participated and that which participates formally constitute a relation of strict mutual opposition. However, the very nature of this relation of opposition is the grounds for a likeness between that which participates and that which is participated. The similitude is thus consequent upon the opposition, and the opposition perseveres within the likeness itself, insofar as the likeness is grounded in and through it.

In its native Platonic milieu, the framework of participation provides an articulation of the relation between the realm of being and that of becoming. While this communication grounds some kind of similitude, however distant, the very structure of the communication is maximally asymmetrical, as is expressed by distinguishing the two poles of the relation in terms of activity and passivity. It can readily be appreciated that such a framework, despite its philosophical provenance, is highly serviceable in a religious setting.

Its particular affinity with a Christian theocentrism can be seen in the biblical texts that Athanasius tends to cite when he uses the terminology of participation.

Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought (Routledge Early Church Monographs) - [PDF Document]

To take only two significant examples, we will consider Colossians —18 and the opening verses from the prologue to the Gospel of John. In essence, it conjures up a conception of all creation as radically receptive to the radical and persevering activity of the Word. The world is a receptacle for the activity of the Word, and it is only in virtue of this radical receptivity that the cosmos is a harmonious order. The intelligibility and reality of the universe is grounded in the reality of the Word.

It is thus the omnipotent, all-holy, and perfect Word of the Father himself who is present to all things and extends his own power everywhere, enlightening all things visible and invisible, containing and binding them to himself.