January 18, 2021

Life, Work and Thought of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (Fr. George Florovsky)

I. Life.

St. Athanasius was born into a Greek Christian family in Alexandria at the end of the third century, probably in 295. During his youth he witnessed the persecutions which took place under Diocletian. In the words of St. Gregory the Theologian, he spent "little time" in getting a general education or in studying the secular sciences but he had some knowledge of classical philosophy and of Neoplatonism in particular. He gave most of his attention to the study of Scripture, which he knew extremely well. Possibly he studied at the Catechetical School in Alexandria.

St. Athanasius was noticed by Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, when still very young. He lived in Alexander's home and was instructed in grammar and rhetoric under his guidance. St. Athanasius was appointed deacon and became secretary to the bishop not long before the beginning of the Arian controversy. He accompanied Alexander to Nicaea where he "boldly rose up against the impiety of the Arians." Alexander died soon after the council. Apparently he had designated St. Athanasius as his successor. At the Alexandrian council of 339 it was stated that "all the multitude of inhabitants, everyone belonging to the Catholic Church, had gathered together and unanimously, as if in one body, cried out demanding Athanasius as bishop of the Church. Throughout the land they prayed to Christ for this for many days and many nights." In 328 St. Athanasius was consecrated bishop of Alexandria at a large gathering of prelates.

St. Athanasius was persecuted throughout his administration. He spent more than 15 of his 47 years as bishop in exile and banishment. The Arians and Meletians responded to his elevation with hostility and slander and the Eusebians saw him as the main obstacle to their attempts at compromise. Athanasius cleared himself of all the accusations brought against him at the council of Tyre in 335 but his enemies managed to convince Constantine that he was responsible for the dissension. The emperor ordered Athanasius to leave Egypt for the West and sent him to Trier, but he did not give permission for anyone to succeed him to the Alexandrian see. Athanasius was received at Trier with honor and love. During his short stay he exerted great influence on ecclesiastical circles and he was long remembered with veneration. After the death of Constantine in 337 Athanasius and other exiles received permission to return to Alexandria, where he was greeted with popular rejoicing.

However, the intrigue against St. Athanasius was immediately resumed. Eusebius accused him of having returned to his see legally, since his deposition by the council at Tyre had not been overturned by a new council. An Arian presbyter Pistus, who had been made bishop by Secundus of Ptolemais, also an Arian, was sent to take his place, but he was anathematized by the Egyptian bishops.

In spite of the unanimous defense which St. Athanasius received at the council of Alexandria in 339, at the council of Antioch in 340 he was again deposed, and a Cappadocian named Gregory was installed in the Alexandrian see. Gregory and his armed supporters rushed to Alexandria and seized the churches after much bloodshed. Athanasius considered it necessary to leave Egypt and went to Rome, where a local council cleared him of the accusations made against him and received him into their community. Pope Julius also interceded on his behalf. Roman supporters of monasticism, who were attracted by the renown of the Egyptian anchorites, gathered around Athanasius. In 343 he attended the council of Sardica. In 345 Constantius invited him to come back to Egypt, and in 346 Athanasius returned to Alexandria.

The Arian controversy broke out again toward the middle of 350, and St. Athanasius was deposed at the councils in Arles (353) and Milan (355). At the beginning of 356 the military commander Sirian was sent to Alexandria with orders to seize Athanasius, but Athanasius went into hiding and withdrew into the desert. The see of Alexandria was usurped by a new bishop, George, who subjected the orthodox to cruel persecution. Alexandria temporarily became the center of Arianism, and Aëtius and Eunomius began their preaching at this time.

During this period Athanasius hid in the desert among the hermits in complete seclusion. It was at this time that he wrote and circulated his most important denunciatory and apologetic Works. His enemies continued to look for him, but he was not found. Athanasius was not able to return from this exile until the sign of Julian in 361, but again for only a short time. During the few months of his tenure in Alexandria he succeeded in calling and leading a large council in 362, which made important definitions of doctrine.

At the end of 362 Athanasius was again exiled. He went to Egypt and stayed there until the death of Julian. After a preliminary meeting in Antioch with the new emperor, Jovian, Athanasius returned to Alexandria in 364. He again had to leave in 365 when Valens ordered the banishment of everyone who had been exiled under Constantius and returned under Julian. In four months this order was revoked by popular demand and Athanasius spent the rest of his days in Alexandria, occupied with literary and pastoral affairs. He died on May 2/3, 373, having ordained his successor, Bishop Peter, shortly before his death.

II. Works.

Oratio contra Gentes and Oratio de Incarnatione.

Only two of Athanasius' apologetic works date from the early years of his life: Oratio contra gentes [Discourse against the Pagans, Λογος κατα Ελληνων] and Oratio de incarnatione Verbi [Discourse on the Incarnation of the Word, Λογος περι της Ενανθρωπησεως]. They were probably written c. 317-319. There is no trace in these two works of the Arian controversy or of Nicene theology. These are interconnected by theme and content and Jerome united them with the common title Adversum gentes duo libri [Two Books against the Pagans]. The first discourse or oration demonstrates the falseness of paganism and outlines the path of ascent to the true knowledge of God and the Word through introspection and through the contemplation of the external world in its harmony and beauty. In this discourse certain elements of Hellenism and Neoplatonism are very strong, especially in the criticism of idolatry and in the depiction of the fall and return of the soul.

The second discourse or oration deals with the truth and significance of the Incarnation. Athanasius demonstrates that it is a fulfillment of prophecy and that it marks the moral rebirth which took place in the Christian world. He concludes his argument with references to Scripture, which was set forth by God through wise and holy men. He adds that "without a pure mind and without imitating the lives of the saints, no one can comprehend these holy words."

The Lost Exegetical Works.

Many of Athanasius' exegetical works were known in antiquity but only fragments of his interpretations of the Psalms and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which were preserved in catenae, have survived to our time. His commentary has an Alexandrian character and deals primarily with moral problems. In his Epistula ad Marcellinum de interpretatione Psalmorum [Letter to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms] Athanasius expresses his general view of the Old Testament. It was written by one Spirit and was written about our Savior. The Psalms have a particular and primary grace because the law and the prophets are combined in them. At the same time, they were written about each of us, as examples for our edification.

Orationes contra Arianos.

Athanasius set forth his theology as a polemic in the struggle against Arianism. Most of his dogmatic and polemical works were written during his third exile (356-362). Most important are the Three Discourses against the Arians [Orationes contra Arianos]. A fourth is frequently added to these but it was probably not written by Athanasius.

The first discourse or oration refutes the rational and exegetical arguments of the Arians. Here Athanasius cites and analyzes a series of excerpts from the Thalia [Banquet] of Arius. He defends the definition of faith of the Council of Nicaea (325) that the Son is eternal, uncreated, αγεννητος, unchangeable, and of one Divine Essence with the Father. The second discourse deals mostly with the interpretation of Proverbs 8:22, the text which the Arians used as one of their main proofs for the created nature of the Son-Wisdom ("He created me at the beginning of His works"). In both the second and third discourse he analyzes otter Scriptural texts used by the Arians to refute Arian exegesis -- Hebrews 3:2; Acts 2:36; Matthew 26:39; 28:18; John 3:35; 12:27; Mark 13:32; and Luke 2:52. The third oration explains Divine consubstantiality, and also the significance of the passages in Scripture which seem to detract from the divinity of Christ.

Epistulae IV ad Serapionem, Episcopum Thmuitanum.

At this time Athanasius wrote Epistulae IV ad Serapionem episcopum Thmuitanum [Four Letters to Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis] on the divinity and consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit. These four letters comprise an integrated work. Not only are they addressed to the same person but they deal with the same subject — the Holy Spirit. Serapion had written to Athanasius but "certain persons, who, although having left the Arians because of their blasphemy against the Son of God, oppose still the Holy Spirit; they claim the Holy Spirit is not only a creature but actually one of the ministering spirits; that the Holy Spirit differs from the angels only in degrees.” Athanasius called this group the “tropicists,” τροπικοι because they used tropical or metaphorical exegesis to explain away Scriptural texts not in accord with their doctrine. In these letters Athanasius stresses that our knowledge of the Spirit is derived from the Son. His theology of the Holy Spirit is expressed very clearly in these important letters.

Dogmatic Writings.

An oration on the words: "Everything has been given to me by my Father" may very well prove to be authentic and to have been written in the early part of his life. The authenticity of De Trinitate Libri XII and De Spiritu Sancto (which have survived only in a Latin translation) is questionable. Both the work against the Arians and the work against Apollinarius on the appearance of God in the flesh are dubious. Several of his letters, including some to Epictetus of Corinth [Epistula ad Epictetum episcopum Corinthi], Adelphius the Confessor [Epistula ad Adelphium episcopum et confessorem], and to Maximus the Philosopher [Epistula ad Maximum philosophum] have a dogmatic content and deal mostly with Christology.

Athanasius was more than once forced to defend himself against libel. He wrote three apologetic works to justify himself: Apologia contra Arianos [Apology against the Arians], which includes all the documents relating to his case from his first two exiles (probably written c. 357); Apologia ad Constantium impera torem [Apology to Emperor Constantius] (probably written c. 357); and Apologia pro fuga sua [Apology for His Flight] (probably written c. 357) which Athanasius addressed to the entire Church and has, as such, remained one of his most famous works.

The historical and polemical works of Athanasius were also intended as apologies. Historia Arianorum ad monachos [History of the Arians for Monks] was written probably in 358 at the invitation of the monks with whom he had found refuge. In this work he attacks Emperor Constantius as a precursor of the Antichrist, as a patron of heresy, and as an enemy of Christ. However, in his Apologia ad Constantium imperatorem Athanasius utilized his most dignified language to the emperor. His Epistula de decretis Nicaenae synodi [Letter concerning the Decrees of the Council of Nicaea] was probably written about 350/351 and is a defense of the Nicene definition. The Epistula de synodis Arimini in Italia et Seleuciae in Isauria celebratis [Letter Concerning the Synods of Ariminum in Italy and Seleucia in Isauria] was written in the autumn of 359 and constitutes an extensive report and analysis. His Epistula de sententia Dionysii episcopi Alexandrini [Letter on the Opinions of Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria] is authentic; there may be merely a question as to whether it was a later addition to his work on The of the Council of Nicaea, but that it is authentically from Athanasius is not seriously questioned. To these can be added encyclical epistles from the Alexandrian councils: Tomus ad Antiochenos [Tome to the People of Antioch]; Epistula ad Afros episcopos [Letter to the African Bishops], and others.

The Vita of St. Antony

Contemporaries are unanimous in ascribing The Vita of St. Antony, the father of monasticism, to Athanasius. During Athanasius' lifetime it was translated into Latin by Evagrius, a deacon and later bishop of Antioch, probably in 371 or 382, but in any event before 383, which was the year of the death of the youth Innocent, to whom the translation was dedicated. Doubts about the attribution of the Vita to Athanasius, which have existed since time of the Centuriators of Magdeburg, have no foundation.

Vita was written soon after the death of Antony (356), during the "Arian invasion" which forced Athanasius to leave Alexandria and take refuge in the remote desert. It was written for "our brothers in another land," in a country where monasticism only recently begun to appear. Athanasius saw in St. Antony "a worthy model of asceticism." The Life of St. Antony had great influence on the development of hagiographic literature, and especially on Jerome's Life of Paul of Thebes. Recently an ancient Syriac adaptation of the Life of Antony has been published.

Ad Amunem, Ad Dracontium, and De Virginitate.

Athanasius' Epistula ad Amunem monachum [Letter to the Amun] (written before 356) and his Epistula ad Dracontium [Letter to Dracontius] (written about 354 or 355) were intended to instruct them in the practice of ascetic discipline. The authenticity of De virginitate [On Virginity] is highly doubtful, to the testimony of Jerome in his De viris illustribus, 87. However, there is another treatise De virginitate that may be prized as genuine; a substantial Syriac fragment of it has edited and the complete text is extent in Armenian.

The Paschal Letters.

A particular place in the works of Athanasius is occupied by his paschal letters — επιστολαι εορταστικαι. Only insignificant fragments have been preserved of the original Greek, but a large collection has survived in Syriac translation. These letters are important for the chronology and history of the epoch. A fragment of the thirty-ninth letter (367) contains a list of the canonical books of Holy Scripture. This is supplemented by a list of books which were not included in the canon but which the fathers did not condemn for reading by the faithful: the Wisdom of Solomon; the Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach; Esther; Judith; Tobit (Athanasius omitted the books of the Maccabees); the so-called "Doctrine of the Apostles" or The Didache; and The Shepherd. This is the first time that the 27 books of the New Testament were enumerated as a single whole.

III. Thought.

The Doctrine Of Redemption.

The theology of Athanasius is based on the historical figure of Christ, the God-man and Savior. The trinitarian question of the generation and consubstantiality of the Son of God is for him primarily a Christological and soteriological problem. He is concerned not with speculation, but with living religious experience. The reality of salvation is Athanasius' proof of the divinity and consubstantiality of the Incarnate Word, for only the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten brings salvation. He sees the significance of salvation in the fact that a created human nature is united (or, more exactly, reunited) with God. This is possible only if it is truly God who takes on flesh and becomes a man. Salvation is "deification," θεοσις. In this respect St. Athanasius follows the teaching of St. Irenaeus and the tradition of the Church of Asia Minor.

Creation and Created Existence.

In the theology of Athanasius there is an absolute opposition between God and creation. "Everything which is created is not at all like in essence to its Creator," for created things originate from that which does not exist and can have no similarity with that which has independent being. Created from nothing, creation exists above the abyss of nothingness and is ready to fall back into it. The created world is generated and has an origin, and therefore its nature is "fluctuating and subject to dissolution," since it has no support or foundation for existence within itself. True being belongs only to God, and God is first of all Being and Existence because He was not generated but is eternal. However, creation exists and at its origin it receives not only being but also stability and harmony. This is possible through participation in the Word, Who is present in the world. Creation, ruminated by the dominion, works, and order of the Word, can attain stable being by "participating in the Word, Who truly exists from the Father."

The Word of God as the Strength and Wisdom of the Divinity is the source, builder, and guardian of the world. God in His goodness does not let creation "be enthralled or enslaved by its own nature," but the one and only Word of the Father descends into the universe and spreads His power. He enlightens all things visible and invisible. He supports and strengthens everything in Himself, and He gives life to and preserves every individual thing amid all things as a whole. The Word is the source of the order and unity of the world. Everywhere in the world there is symmetry and proportion, the harmonious combination of opposite things. God is revealed in this unity and harmony: "No one dares to say that God's invisibility is harmful to us or that it is completely impossible for us to know God. On the contrary, He has brought such order to His creation that, although He is invisible by essence, He is knowable by his works."

The God of revelation is the Word. "For the Word has spread everywhere, both above and below, into the depths and in all directions: above in creation, below in Incarnation, into the depths of hell and everywhere in the world. Everything is filled with the knowledge of God." "The stamp and likeness" of the Divine Word and Wisdom have been placed on all creation and On every individual creature in the world, and this preserves the from decay and disintegration. Here Athanasius' ideas seem similar to the teaching of Plotinus about the ordering of matter by Intellect, but there is a sharp distinction between them. According to Plotinus, Intellect imprints itself on unqualified Matter and remains in it. For Athanasius, the origination and existence of creation is based on the presence of the Word in it. He rejects the Stoic concept of “seminal” words, λογοι σπερματικοι. The source of the order of the world is the Word of the Father.

For Athanasius the origination of the world and its impression by the Word are not separated in time. He wants to stress the duality of creation, which has its own fluctuating and created nature, and also bears the preserving stamp of the Word, through Whom it exists. Thus, creation has both "nature" and "grace." Athanasius' system is built on the distinction and opposition of these two elements. He developed his teaching about the Word as sovereign and creative Wisdom before the Arian controversy. His work is a continuation of the pre-Nicene tradition but his cosmology remains completely free of subordinationism. "Coexisting with the Father as Wisdom, and gazing at Him as the Word," the Son of God "creates, brings into being, and gives order to the universe, and, as the Strength of the Father, maintains all creation in its being . . . As the true Son, begotten of the Most Good, He is the Father's Strength and Wisdom and Word, not just by participation, as though everything were given to Him from outside, as it is to those who participate in Him . . . but in such a way that He is the very Wisdom, the very Word, the very Strength of the Father, the very Light, Truth, Justice, Virtue, Imprint, Radiance, Image. In short, He is the most perfect fruit of the Father, the Only Son, the unchanging Image of the Father." This means that the Father is completely knowable in the Son.

Athanasius developed his teaching about the Word at the height of the Arian controversy. He stressed the close connection between the creative action of the Word and the Incarnation, the work of salvation. He united these in the concept of the entry of the Word into the universe. In Scripture the Word is called the First-born in relation to creation "because the Word, Who created the world at the beginning, came down to the things that were created so they could come into being, and also because all creation was adopted by the Word at His descent." The Son was placed as the foundation before the beginning of time, "at the beginning of His works."

In keeping with his general teaching on the dual nature of every created being, Athanasius distinguishes two logical (not chronological) stages in the creation of man: the creation of human nature from nothing, and the imprinting or anointing of creation with the image of God. This "genesis" or adoption is made possible by the Son in the Spirit. God through His grace became the Father of those whom He created. Creation, maintaining its createdness, was adopted by the Father through its participation in the Son. At the moment of creation man, who had been led out of nonexistence, was anointed by the Spirit. The "breath of life" which God blew into Adam was not a soul but the holy and life-giving Spirit, and the first man was a "spiritual man" pause he had the Spirit within him. By making him like Himself, God enabled man to contemplate and observe the true Divinity, end introduced him to the bliss of true life.

The Fall of Man.

But the grace and gifts of the Spirit were given to the first man from outside. Therefore it was possible for them to be lost, and indeed man did lose them at the Fall. Man turned away from the contemplation of God, ceased his intellectual striving toward Him, mid became shut up in himself, giving himself over to "self-consideration." It was then that passions and desires flared up in trim, and his life disintegrated and became fragmented. People fell into "self-love" and the soul turned from the intellectual to the corporeal, forgetting that it had been made in the image of God, Who is good. The soul "turned its thoughts to that which does not exist," gave it form, and thus became the inventor of evil. For evil is nothingness. It has no example for itself in God and is derived by human reasoning. The multitude of corporeal desires which crowded together in the soul hid the mirror it contained by Which it could and should have seen the image of the Father. The soul no longer saw or contemplated the God of the Word, in Whose image it was created, but gave its thoughts to a variety of things and saw only what was subject to the senses. This was the intoxication and bewilderment of the mind.

By breaking God's commandments the first man was deprived of the light of intellect and was returned to his "natural condition." He became the slave of the "natural" law of decay. Man's mind turned to vanities and was poisoned by sensual desires, and humanity was lost in the darkness of paganism.

Grace and the Renewal of Creation.

At the Fall man was impoverished and nature was deprived of grace. In this way it became necessary for a "reunion," a "renewal of creation, "which was created in the image of God," to take place. The lost grace of God's image had to be restored. The as the Creator or Demiurge, had to "take on Himself the renewal of creation." And this was accomplished. "The Word became flesh." The Word assumed human nature which, while being similar to our nature, was enlightened and freed from weaknesses that are natural to it. "In this same way a straw, if it is covered by asbestos to oppose the action of fire, will no longer be afraid of fire, since it is safe in its nonflammable covering."

Although it is condemned to decay "by its essence," human nature was created and called to immortality. Indirect participation in the Word, which had existed from the beginning, was insufficient to preserve creation from decay. Repentance and forgiveness would be adequate only if transgression were not followed by decay, for "repentance does not lead man out of his natural condition, but only stops sin." Death, however, had become established in the body and had taken power over it.

God, of course, is omnipotent and could have driven death from the world with a single command, but this would not have healed man, who had become accustomed to disobedience. It would not have been in accord with divine justice. Such a complete forgiveness would show the power of the one who ordered it but man would remain the same as Adam, and once again grace would be given to him from outside. In that case the possibility of a new Fall would not be excluded. But through the Incarnation of the Word grace was given to humanity immutably. It became inalienable and remains with man constantly. The Word was clothed in a body in order to dress the body anew in life, in order to preserve it from decay not only externally but also to truly join the body to life. In this way "the body is clothed in the incorporeal Word of God and thus no longer fears death or decay, for it has life as a robe and decay is destroyed in it."

The Word was in the world from the beginning. As if the world were some large body, the Word gave it life and order. It was fitting for the Word to also appear in a human body and give life to it as well. The image of the Word was already outlined on man but when it became dirty and invisible "it was fitting to restore it." This was accomplished by the Incarnation of the Word.

The Word Became Man.

The Word became man, similar to us in all respects. Athanasius employs the term "incarnation" and by this he means that in assuming flesh the Word became a full man, taking on an animate body with all the senses and sufferings that are proper to it. By virtue of its union with the Word, "because of the Word, which was in a body," the body was freed from its weakness and subjection to decay. The life-giving strength of the Word freed the body of the Savior from natural weaknesses: "Christ thirsted, since that is an attribute of a body, but He did not perish from hunger."

The body was subject to suffering but the impassible Word was within it. The body experienced weakness by the permission and will of the Word and not by necessity or against His will. The Lord tolerated everything proper to the body: He thirsted, wept, and even accepted death. But the death of the Lord took place because of His humility and love and not from necessity. He had the power to separate Himself from the body, and His body was able to die. However, it could not remain dead, for "it had become the temple of life." Therefore it immediately revived and arose from the dead "by virtue of the life that dwelled within it."

The Word was not bound by the body but freed the body from its limitedness and its inclination to sin. By the strength of the changing Word, the mutable human nature in Christ became immutably good, and all delusions were powerless over it. "Wisdom caused humanity to flourish, and humanity gradually rose above human nature, became deified, and acted as the agent of Wisdom in the service of the Divinity and its radiance." "The works proper to the Word were achieved through the body." The flesh was deified by serving the works of God, and the humanity Christ was without sin.

The human nature in Christ was fully anointed by the Spirit even before His baptism in the Jordan. Through Him we also were anointed by the Spirit and received Its imprint and presence within ourselves. Flesh was sanctified for the first time in the Spirit. The radiance of the human nature in Christ is the radiance of all human nature in its Source. In this way the Word through the Incarnation again stands ("is created") "at the beginning of his works," and is therefore called the First-born. The Lord "be came our brother through the likeness of the body," and His flesh "was saved and liberated before the others." Since we "share in His body," we also are saved and our life is renewed "because our flesh is no longer earthly but has been made identical with the Word by the Divine Word Himself, Who became flesh for our sakes."

Destroying Death and Renewing Nature.

Redemption and salvation were achieved not only at the Moment of the Incarnation but were accomplished throughout the earthly life of the Lord. The Lord revealed His love for humanity in two ways, by destroying death and renewing nature, and by "revealing Himself in His works" to show that He is the tend of the Father, the Leader and Emperor of the universe. By visible appearance the Lord showed His invisible Father to kind, which had abandoned intellectual contemplation. By fulfilling the law He removed from us its curse and condemnation. But decay could not be halted in men other than by death," and More the "ultimate goal" of the saving Incarnation must be seen as death itself. "He had a body in order to accept death, and it was not fitting to prevent death, lest the resurrection also be prevented." The death on the cross was an "offering," the fulfillment of a common obligation. But the body of the Lord "could not be held by death and rose from the dead." "Two things were marvelously accomplished in this one action: the death of all was carried out in the Lord's body, and death and decay were destroyed in it because of the Word which was inherent in it."

The Lord died not by the weakness of nature but by His own will, for the sake of the resurrection of all. "His body did not cast off its own death, but accepted death from men in order to completely destroy death." The body of the Lord did not experience decay but arose whole, for it was the body of Life itself. The death of the Lord was a true death, but a brief one. "He did not leave His body in that condition for long, but showed that it was dead and immediately resurrected it on the third day. Thus He raised the sign of victory over death by showing that His body did not decay and did not participate in suffering." All humanity was resurrected and exalted in Christ: "Through death immortality was given to all." The Lord rose from the grave "in the flesh, which had been deified and had cast off mortality." The flesh had been glorified and "this grace belongs to us and this exaltation is ours." We who share in a body with Him have been admitted to heaven.

Thus, Athanasius' teaching on redemption is primarily concerned with the Resurrection, the resurrection of man by Christ and in Christ.

Christ's Unity of Divinity and Humanity.

Holy Scripture tells us two truths about the Savior: He has always been God, Son, and Word, and He became man. This occasionally leads to ambiguity in passages dealing with Christ because, although He is glorified, His human nature is underemphasized.

The Word did not simply "desire to become incarnate" or "manifest Himself in a body." He did not descend to man, but He became man, He made Himself the Son of Man. In this respect Athanasius sometimes uses incomplete or inexact expressions: the Word "clothes Himself" or "dwells within," and He is a temple, dwelling-place, or agent. However, Athanasius carefully distinguishes the appearance of the Word in Christ from His appearance and presence in saints. Christ became man. The visible body of Christ was the body of God, not man. He made the body "His own," and the weakness of the flesh became "proper" to the Word. Christ's works were not separated in such a way that one accomplished by His divine nature and another by His human nature, but "everything was achieved in combination" and indivisibly.

The very saliva of Christ was divine, healing, and life-giving use the Incarnate Word "adopted" all the properties of the and made them His own. It was He Who both grieved for us and then resurrected him. God was born in the flesh from Virgin, and Mary is the Bearer of God, Θεοτοκος. The flesh, which was born from Mary, did not become consubstantial with Word, and the Word was not joined to it. Mary was chosen so the Lord could receive “from her” a body that would be "similar to ours" and not consubstantial with the Godhead. "From Mary the Word received flesh, and a man was engendered whose nature and substance were the Word of God and whose flesh has from the seed of David, a man from the flesh of Mary."

Athanasius clearly emphasizes both the unity of Christ the man and His unmerging two natures. Christ has a Divine nature, by which He is consubstantial with the Father, and also a man nature, by which He is similar and related to us. For this reason He is the Savior, the Word, and the Second Adam all at once.

The Word became man so that we could "become divine," "in her to deify us in Himself." Deification is adoption by God, and "human sons have become the sons of God." We are "received by the Word and are deified through His flesh" by virtue of the Incarnation. Born from the Virgin, the Word was not united with only one man, but with the whole of human nature. Therefore everything that was achieved in the human nature of Christ is immediately extended to all men because they have a body in common with Him. There is no coercion involved here. Men are more than similar to Christ; they are truly participants in the human nature of the Word. Christ is a vine and we are the branches, "united with Him by our humanity." In the same way that the tendrils which grow from a grapevine are consubstantial with it, so are our bodies consubstantial with the body of the Lord, and we receive what He has accomplished. His body is the "root of our action and salvation." Everyone is renewed, anointed, and exalted in Christ, for "He has taken everyone on Himself." This is not merely similarity or substitution, but actual. Therefore all humanity is anointed by the Spirit in the Jordan dies on the cross, and is resurrected to immortality in Christ because "He Himself bears our body."

Humanity's Participation in Christ.

This participation in the humanity of Christ must also be realized in the actions of men. Because the Word assumed flesh, human nature has become "spiritual" and actually receives the Spirit. We are a "temple of God," a temple of the Holy Spirit which lives with in us and we become "friends of the Spirit." In receiving the gifts of the Spirit we are united with Christ. "The Spirit gives us to drink and we drink Christ." "The Spirit anoints Christ and is the breath of the Son," and in the Spirit "the word glorifies creation, deifies it and adopts it, and leads it to the Father." The Word anoints and seals everything through the Holy Spirit, and in the Spirit we be come "participants in the Divine nature." The Spirit is the "energy" of the Word, and therefore in receiving the Word we win the Spirit. The Word received flesh and men received the Spirit, becoming "bearers of the Spirit." By virtue of the presence of the Spirit in human nature sensual desires burn out, temptations to sin are driven away, and men are given the ability "not to be deceived by worldly things." After the coming of Christ the devil is "only a sparrow, a toy for children." Men have been given power over demons and temptations and the sign of the cross, as a sign of victory, can destroy all magic and charms and show demons that they are dead.

What is most important here is that the sting of death has been removed from creation. Because they have been received by the Word, men have "inherited eternal life." "They do not remain sinul and dead in their passions but they arise by the strength of the Word and become immortal and free from decay." Death is no longer terrible, for we have been promised that we will arise from the dead and become rulers with Christ in heaven. This is the path followed by Christian ascetics, who conquer the mysteries and become bearers of God. Their accomplishments testify to the victory of Christ over death, and every day the host of martyrs laughs at death and rejoices in Christ. Let those who doubt approach Christ with faith and they will see the feebleness of death in His victory over it. Christ "instills strength against death in all who come to Him." Christ is the cornerstone which has been laid "so that we can be built up on Him, like precious stones." Deification is the foundation for the complete union of men by love for one another in the image and by the example of Divine consubstantiality, all by the strength of the Spirit.

Redemption, the work of the Word, is the completion and renewal of creation. But the grace it offers man is much more than a simple return to the original condition which was lost at the Fall. For the Word became flesh, and man became a permanent participant in God. Decay was overcome and creation received its final stability through the "body of God." In this way a new creation was achieved. This was revealed in Scripture in the passages on the "First-born" and "the beginning of His works." "From before the hills," the Wisdom of God "was created at the beginning of His works" (Proverbs 8:22-25). Thus was announced before the beginning of time the creation and salvation by the Word and in the Word, the saving Incarnation of the Word as the source of a "new creation," superior to the "original creation." Every intention of God will be fulfilled at the second Corning of Christ: Christ will come in glory "to render to all the fruit of His Cross: resurrection and immortality.

The Truth of the Consubstantiality of the Trinity.

Athanasius' explanation of the mystery of the Trinity was called forth by the Arian controversy. His work is largely an examination of the Scriptural passages which the Arians used to support their arguments, which Athanasius refutes. At the same time, Athanasius' trinitarian doctrine is the result of his own personal needs. It is the foundation of his faith and hope for salvation.

The false teaching of the Arians negates the work of Christ. A creature could not have true knowledge of God, could not overcome death, and could not unite us with God. "If the Word which became man was a creature, then men would not be deified and joined with God." It is only the Savior's consubstantiality which establishes the contact between men and God. Only a consubstantial Spirit unites us with the Father. In his dogma of consubstantiality Athanasius is defending the reality of salvation.

God as the Goodness and Fullness of Being.

The starting point of Athanasius' trinitarian doctrine is the concept of God as the goodness and fullness of being. As a simple, holy and incomprehensible Being, which is higher than any fence, God is beyond human understanding. The perfect simplicity arid inner fullness of Divine Being and Life is the basis for Athanasius' teaching on the eternal generation and consubstantiality of the Only-Begotten, the Son and Word. The Word is rated by the Father and from His essence: He is the "proper generation of His essence." Everything which is generated is always consubstantial with that which engenders it. This is the feature of generation which distinguishes it from other modes of origination, and especially from creation. That which is created always originates either from some preexisting matter or from nothingness. It always remains unlike and external to its creator, "of another essence."

The Son is generated. His being is a necessity of the Divine nature, which is fertile and fruitful in and of itself. "The substance of the Father has never been incomplete, and that which is proper to it has never come to it at a later time." The denial of the Son's eternity and coeternity with the Father is blasphemy not only against the Son but also against the Father. It diminishes the dignity of the Father and negates His immutability. It supposes that "He once was without His own Word and Wisdom, that there was light which had no rays, that there was a spring which was dry and without water."

God is eternal, the source is eternal, and therefore the Wisdom-Word and His generation must also be eternal. If there was a time when the Son did not exist, then there was a time when God the Father and the Trinity did not exist. It would be as if "at one time the Trinity did not exist, but a Unity existed; as if there once was an incomplete Trinity, which at one time became complete." In this way the Trinity would be divided and corn posed of things which once had no existence, "of natures and essences that were alien among themselves." If this were true, the Trinity would have had an origin. It would be a complex "creation" which was composed through connection and adhesion. Athanasius uses this reasoning to show that the "mystery" of Arianism is a denial of the Divine Trinity. In fact, Arianism is a reversion to abstract monotheism. It rejects the knowledge of God as the Trinity, which is the highest truth of Christian revelation.

Athanasius stresses that the Father is immutable. He has always been the Father of "His own Son." There can be no question of succession in the relation of Father and Son, and there is not "interval" or "distance" between them. They are completely and perfectly coeternal. The possibility of a temporal relationship is excluded because it is impossible to designate the eternal and unchanging Father and the Son Who always abides in Him with temporal definitions. This eternity and coeternity means that the Son is generated, not created. Since He is generated, He is “from the essence,” εκ της ουσια. The Son is thus consubstantial with the Father, ομοουσιος. “That which proceeds from someone by essence is truly generated." Generation takes place "by nature," and not by will or desire.

The Free Necessity of Divine Generation.

The necessity of Divine generation does not entail coercion or involuntariness. Athanasius was frequently accused of this, but he consistently denies it. He does not mean to replace free desire by compulsion, but he points out that "that which is entailed essence is higher than free choice and antecedes it." before, that which cannot not be does not have a source from which it came to be. God had no beginning. He did not begin to be good and merciful, nor was an act of His will necessary for Him to become good, for God is Good. However, He is good not by compulsion or against His will. In this same way God is the Father but His willing to be so, and it is impossible to consider God not having a Son. The Father desires His own Hypostasis and He also desires His own Son, Who is from His essence. Being is before will, and only in will does the uncertainty of choice become possible. The generation of the Son is a condition within Divine Life, not an action. This explains the perfect closeness and unity of the Father and the Son. The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. The "essence of the Father belongs to the Word." "The being of the Son is a property of the Father's essence . . . The being of the Son, since it comes from the Father, is in the Father. And the Father is in the Son, for that which is from the Father is the Son. He is in the Son, as the sun is in radiance, as intellect is in the word, as the spring is in the stream."

Therefore the Son is the "Image of the Father," the true and "indistinguishable Image," and the "form of the Divinity" in which the Father is known and contemplated. "As soon as there is the Father, there is also the Son." "Since there is the Hypostasis (of the Father), then without doubt there must also be His Image and because the Image of God is not drawn from outside, but God Himself engenders His Image, and seeing Himself in it He s in it." "When did the Father not see Himself in His own Image?"

This line of reasoning contains many elements of Neoplatonism, but Athanasius manages to free Origen's concept of eternal generation from subordinationism. Athanasius develops the idea of the Trinity as self-enclosed and complete Being and Life, which has no relation to the Revelation of God in the Word, and which is unconditionally and ontologically prior to any Revelation.

The Living Unity of Divine Essence.

Athanasius bases his theology on the living unity of the Son and Father. "The divinity of the Father unceasingly and permanently abides in the Son, and the divinity of the Son is never exhausted in the bosom of the Father." The Father and Son are united in the unity of essence, in an identity of nature," and in the indivisible "identity of a single Divinity." The Son has the Father's nature without change, and the Divinity of the Son is the Divinity of the Father. Athanasius expresses this identity as a property or attribute, ιδιοτης. He considers that its most exact definition is the Nicene “consubstantial,” ομοουσιος.

This signifies more than equality, identicalness, or likeness. For Athanasius it means the complete unity of being, the indissoluble and immutable identity, and the absolute inseparability of the Son and the Father. Likeness, similarity, and coincidence in definition are the results of this unity. The concept of likeness is too weak to express this, and furthermore it is used not of essences but of external appearances and qualities. Moreover, this concept gives too much weight to the separateness of the elements that are being compared. Consubstantiality means not only likeness, but identity in likeness. "The Father and the Son are one, not in the sense that one is divisible into two parts which compose a whole, nor in the sense that one bears two names. On the contrary, They are two in number because the Father is the Father and not the Son, and the Son is the Son and not the Father, but their nature is one. The Son has been generated, but He is also God."

The Father and the Son "are two, and together form an in separable and indistinguishable Divine unity," μονας της θεοτητος. The difference and distinction of the Father and Son exists within a single Divine Being. Athanasius has no particular terms to describe the three which make up the Divine unity. He never uses προσωπον, a “face.” The meaning of “hypostasis" coincides with the meaning of ουσια for him, as it did for the fathers of the Nicene Council. Athanasius never distinguishes them as the Cappadocians were doing even during his lifetime. He restricts himself to the proper names of Father, Son, and Spirit, and explains their mutual relation by such expressions as "the One who generates" and "the One who is generated," "One who is from someone" and "the One from whom He is."

This leads to a certain lack of clarity in Athanasius' distinction of the three hypostases. He concentrates his attention on refuting attempts to divide or negate the consubstantiality of the indivisible Trinity. In his interpretation of the Nicene formulation "from eessence of the Father," he stresses the internal nature of the Divine generation and being. This expresses the "truth and immutability" of the Sonship, its "indivisibility and unity with the Father," and the "true eternity of essence from which the Word is generated." Athanasius refers equally to "natural generation," Sonship by nature," and "generation from the essence."

The Logos of the Father.

The Word of the Father, the Son of God, is primarily the Creator organizer of the world and the source of Divine Revelation in world. "He is the life which pours forth from the Father as if fpm a spring, giving life to everything." All creation comes into being through the Word, and nothing exists outside of the Word or is not created by the Word. The Father creates nothing without Him. At the same time, the being and generation of the Son is not connected with God's will to create the world. The Son is not generated so that the world can be created through Him and in Him. "The Word of God did not receive being for our sakes . . . He, the all-powerful, did not receive being because of our weakness, or to be the Father's instrument in creating us. If God had chosen not to create the world, nevertheless the Word was with God the Father."

There is no cause for the being of the Son: "Just as the Father has no cause for His being, it is also not necessary to try to find the reason for His radiance. It is written: in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. The reason for this has not been stated." There is no cause by which ale Lord is the Word except that He is generated by the Father and is the Father's Wisdom. This "causelessness" entails eternal using. Causes exist only for things which have an origin or source. But Divine Being has no beginning. One can only say that It is. It is impossible to consider Its causes, for there is nothing which existed before that is.

Athanasius decisively rejects and demonstrates the futility of the teaching of the Arians on the Word as the mediator in creation. God does not need an assistant or helper because He can accomplish everything by a single movement of His will. God is not so conceited or fastidious that He would consider creation beneath His dignity and entrust it to another. God needs no instrument to create in the way that a carpenter needs a saw and axe. Furthermore, if it is not unsuitable for God to create, why should He create even one creature as an instrument for Himself? The creation of one Mediator would entail the creation of another, and so on for eternity, and creation would thus be impossible. Since God can create, why should He need a mediator?

The Son is not generated for the sake of Revelation but God is revealed in Him and through Him. The being of the Son precedes the will to create the world. "Creation for God is secondary. Generation, being the Father of His own Son, comes before it." If there did not first exist in God that which is from His nature, how could there exist that which is from His will, that which is secondary?" That which is created by God's will "comes into being and is composed from outside, and is built by that which God has generated from His own essence. The Word builds and creates; He is the "living will of the Father, His own energy." At the same time creation is the common work and common revelation of the whole Trinity, which creates and builds as one. "The Father creates everything by the Word in the Spirit, for where the Word is, there is also the Spirit. That which is created by the Word has its being from the Spirit through the Son." Everything which is given, including being, is given "in the Trinity."

Theology of the Holy Spirit.

According to St. Gregory the Theologian, Athanasius in his teaching on the Holy Spirit "is the first man who alone, or with very few others, dares to state the truth clearly and openly by confessing the single Divinity and the single essence of the Trinity." Athanasius develops his theology of the Spirit with clarity and vigor. He starts with the concept of the completeness and perfect unity of the Holy Trinity: "The whole Trinity is one God." "It is indivisible and similar to Itself." It is identical to Itself and concentrated within Itself. "The Trinity is holy and perfect. It is knowable in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and has nothing alien to Itself or given to It from outside." It is not a Trinity in name only, but in essence and in truth.

There exist two possibilities for the Trinity. If the Spirit is a creature, there can be no Trinity, for "what kind of theology would that be, composed of Creator and creature?" Or, God is triune and the Spirit is completely unlike a created thing. He is "proper to the one Word, proper and consubstantial to the one God (the Father)." Since the Trinity is such a union and such a unity, who can separate either the Son from the Father, or the Spirit from the Son and from the Father Himself?

The Holy Spirit is the principle of renewal and sanctification, the Spirit of Life and Holiness. He anoints and seals. Because of the Spirit we are all participants in God. If the Holy Spirit were a creature, it would be impossible for us to communicate with God: a:1/e would be joined with a creature and would remain alien to God's nature, and would not be in communion with Him at all." The reality of deification testifies to the Divinity of the Spirit: "If the Spirit makes us gods, then there is no doubt that His nature is God's nature."

The Holy Spirit comes from and "proceeds from" the Father, το εκπορευμα του πατρος. He is the Father's Spirit. Athanasius does not explain the meaning of “procession,” claiming that it is beyond the bounds of human understanding. However, he early distinguishes this mode of being from “generation” by stressing the complete uniqueness of generation. The Son is the Only-Begotten and is therefore unique. "The one Father is e Father of His one and only Son." This is more than a matter of words. Genuine and immutable Fatherhood and genuine and immutable Sonship exist only in the Divine Trinity. Only the Son God is a Son and nothing else. He is generated as a son and not in order to become a father, as is the case for other created beings. The Father is only a father, "for He Himself is not from a father."

The Spirit is not generated and therefore is not called the brother of the Son, but is always known by the name of the Holy Spirit. At the same time the Holy Spirit is not "outside the Son, but is called the Spirit of the Son," the Spirit of strength and Wisdom. God's Strength and God's Wisdom is Christ. "Where here is the Word, there is also the Spirit." The Spirit has the name unity with the Son that the Son has with the Father," and the same properties. Where there is light, there is radiance. Where there is radiance, there is also its effect and shining grace. The Spirit is the "proper Image of the Son," His "living effectiveness and radiant grace." He unites creation with the Word, and in Him the Word gives to creation the "gift of the Father." "For the Father Himself acts and distributes all things through the Word in the Spirit."

In his explanation of the Holy Spirit Athanasius tries to demonstrate the complete unity and consubstantiality of the Holy pity and Its sanctifying action. Therefore he insists on the divisibility of the actions of the Son and the Spirit.

The Trinity and Holy Baptism.

Holy Baptism, which according to the traditions of faith is performed in the name of the one and indivisible Trinity, brings ration. The mystery takes place in the name of the Trinity, and "whoever takes anything away from the Trinity and is baptized in the name of the Father alone, or in the name of the Son without the Spirit, receives nothing. Those who are baptized in this way and those who think they are giving baptism remain empty and unsatisfied."

In spite of the fact that the necessary words are spoken, Arian baptism "in the name of the Creator and His creation" "is only apparent and not real" because the words must be accompanied by true faith. Baptism takes place in the name of the Trinity because grace is received from the Trinity. "God as Father founded the world through His Wisdom, and by this He did not dishonor the world. He creates everything through His own Word, and He affirms the holy font through His Son. In the same way that everything that is done by the Father is done through the Son, so too in baptism everyone baptized by the Father is also baptized by the Son. Whoever is baptized by the Son is sanctified by the Holy Spirit." The persons of the Trinity act as one.
From The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century.