On Athanasius’s “On The Incarnation of the Word”

Athanasuis is the famous and highly educated theologian from ancient Alexandria in Egypt. He was born in 293 AD, and as a young man in 325 AD he attended the “First Council of Nicea,” a convening of Christian leaders in present-day Northern Turkey that sought to establish fixed doctrine for Christendom, such as Jesus’s divinity, and setting hard dates for Easter and so on. The Council notably found “The Son” (i.e. Jesus) as consubstantial with “The Father.” Athanasius agreed with this doctrine.

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Athanasius quickly rose as a theological leader in Egypt and North Africa. He is known today for being something of an ascetic -refraining from eating meat or consuming alcohol. He led a somewhat tumultuous life, considering the political challenges of his day, but he always defended the life of an episcopate rather than an ascetic monk. He died in  373 peacefully in his own bed (unlike many other early Christians who were martyred).

Athanasius wrote extensively. One of his more famous writings is On The Incarnation of the Word. 

Athanasius opens the treatise by announcing his presuppositions: the doctrine of creation, and that of the Word. The document is explicitly a refutation of claims espoused by heathens, such as those of the Epicureans who teach of self-contempt and of no universal divine providence. Predictably, he also rejects the “Pagans” like Plato, and the Gnostic accounts of creation, as well. Athanasius gives a defense of God’s creation ex nihilo by citing Genesis.

In section 8, Athanasius identifies Jesus as the “Word” (or logos) in allusion to the Gospel of John. Jesus is called “incorporeal, incorruptible, and immaterial.” The treatise continues as Athanasius anticipates certain objections and attempts to provide refutations to them, again citing the sacred scriptures. Likely, the text was never used to persuade non-Christians. “The world” is associated with a sense of evil (even wars are blamed upon demons), while God and Jesus is associated with perfection. The writings of these early theologians are a truly difficult slog through repetitiveness and monotony.

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