The purpose of this article is to provide a review of “St Athanasius On the Incarnation” highlighting important themes with respect to his Christology. This is a very nice and easy to read book. I believe that this book would be beneficial for all Christian to read. St Athanasius’ does a great job of presenting theology in an unadulterated and so clear that it easily outmaneuvers the many contemporary theological books. The book is divided into nine chapters. There are eight actual chapters and a conclusion.
In each of these chapters he presents what is almost a religious instruction to lead the individual who is reading, to the answer to one very important question for all Christian: what was the “supreme object” of Christ’s coming? As Athanasius answers this question in chapter four: The supreme object of His coming was to bring about the resurrection of the Lord’s body. This was to be the monument to His victory over death, the assurance to all that He had Himself conquered corruption and that their own bodies also would eventually be incorrupt.
This is clearly what the scripture teaches, but there are times when it is very important that the mind and the soul be not cluttered with theological theories. This at time may prohibit all of the details from coming together and may increase the difficulty in summarizing them clearly. I haven’t read every piece of the current theological writings, but what I have read was not written so profoundly yet so confortable to read.
Athanasius does a superb job at expressing some of the deepest aspects of Christianity with such simplicity. This is what separates this book from others in its class and also brings great recognition to “On the Incarnation”. C. S. Lewis justly called it a work of art, and it’s one that any Christian could read without too much hesitation. St Athanasius eventually informs the reader that the purpose of the Incarnation in a form of terms similar to an exchange formula: “He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God”.
He emphasizes that this process of deification belongs to those who embrace the faith of Christ. Frederick D. Aquino defines this transformative power in the context of the Church: In beholding the image of the incarnate Word of God, the church grows into the same image; consequently, it reflects the glory of God in the world by means of its various gifts of ministry. As it is well known prior to the primal transgression, Adam and Eve enjoyed a very closeness with God.
This allowed them to have a contemplative life in the Word where they were free from corruption and death. Whereas prior to Incarnation, the men and women that walked closest with Jesus were deprived from having the privilege of living a life free of corruption, therefore were constantly faced a fear of death. The death and resurrection of Christ provided humanity with the grace of incorruption and the eternal promise of resurrection through which this fear of death is conquered.
Furthermore, and what is perhaps the essence of St Athanasius’ basis for human redemption, is the practical and vital regeneration of human nature, caused only by the Incarnation. As mentioned in the outset of this essay, because of the primal transgression, humanity had forfeited the grace which enabled a blessed life in communion with God. Just as it stated in Jonah 2:8 “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
Thus, the ability for eternal life was withdrawn and because of the ontological gap between God and humanity, the later was menaced by the return to non-existence. The corruption that had set in human nature, writes St Athanasius, was not external to the body, but “woven into its very substance and dominating it as though completely one with it”, and was thus in need “for Life to be woven into it instead”. St Athanasius continues to write that had death been kept from humanity by a mere command, it would still have remained mortal and corruptible, according to its nature.