Incarnation

ACCORDING TO ATHANASIUS

Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (328), is an important person in the history of the church and his legacy lives on to inspire and influence the church today. Having been outlawed or banished as many as five times over the course of his ministry because of his strident theological views, he defended his position regarding the deity of Christ which was eventually accepted by the church and affirmed by the Council of Constantinople (AD 381). The church had become divided over its understanding of the substance and person of the Son of God. The question was whether the Son was of the same substance as the Father or equal to the Father. Arius, an ascetic pastor of the church in Alexandria, taught that Christ was a created being “whose substance was different from God the Father.”1 On the surface, the issue appeared to be simply a Trinitarian debate, however, in Athanasius’ mind, and rightly so, the concern was soteriological and of critical importance to Christianity, for the implications were far reaching as they impacted the church’s teaching regarding Christ’s saving work. According to Roger Olson, Athanasius approached the debate by presenting three lines of theological reasoning to defend his position regarding the Son’s deity: 

  1. The metaphysical, if the Father is God then the Son must be also, 
  2. The soteriological, “if the Son of God is not ‘truly God’ in the same sense as the Father, then salvation as re-creation is impossible. Only God can undo sin and bring a creature to share in the divine nature,” and 
  3. Revelation, “Only God can truly reveal God. ‘If the Son is not one with God even as God the Father is, he cannot truly and genuinely reveal the Father.’”2

The soteriological arguments advanced by Athanasius in defense of the deity of the Son were crucial toward the preservation of the Gospel. In his second line of reasoning, Athanasius takes the position that the Incarnation of the Son is God’s means of salvation. Through the Incarnation the image of God is restored to humanity resulting in man’s deification and redemption. The crux of Athanasius’ argument was that if the Son of God was not both truly God and human flesh, then He could not unite the two and deify human beings through their union with Christ and thereby redeem humanity. Athanasius writes, “He was made man that we might be made gods, and he manifested himself in a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father”3

While Athanasius eventually succeeded in his argument to establish the teaching that that the Son is equal to and of the same substance as the Father, Athanasius’ application of the Incarnation of Christ places a disproportionate amount of emphasis on the Incarnation as a remedy for humanities corruption at the expense of other soteriological components of Christ’s atoning work. For example, the Pauline doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, the Cross, and the blood of Christ are completely subsumed by Athanasius’ emphasis of the Incarnation and the subsequent deification of believers. As such, Athanasius’ second line of reasoning will be the subject of this paper.  

The method of this paper’s inquiry will be to explore the two primary sources where Athanasius’ sets out his soteriological reasoning: Contra Gentes and the De Incarnatione, which is two-volumes of a single apologetic work. While this paper will focus largely on these two primary sources, other primary sources will be employed as necessary in order to more fully understand Athanasius’ argumentation and reasoning. Additionally, contemporary as well as classical reference works will be used in the research of the subject. 

The limitation of this paper shall be deliberately narrow and will focus primarily on Athanasius second line of reasoning, the Incarnation and subsequent deification of the saints because of its soteriological implication and differing theological position from that of the western church. Unlike Biographical studies that focus on Athanasius’ role in the defense against Arianism but fail to expound on the theological points; or historical studies that follow the events chronologically, yet also fall short of any specific focus on the theological points or their implications to Christ’s redemptive work, this paper will follow the path of a literary analysis in order to provide a specific focus to Athanasius’ argument pertaining to the incarnation of Christ, and specifically to his arguments dealing with theosis or the deification of the saints. 

Arianism

A common misconception among many is the mythical caricature that portrays Athanasius as the lone patron saint who defended the deity of Christ against the errant teaching of Arianism. However, this view in and of itself is a mischaracterization of Athanasius work and the events and circumstances surrounding the debate in a number of ways. First, at the time of Athanasius, there was no clearly defined orthodox doctrine regarding Christ’s deity. As such, Arian teaching was not presenting a threat to an established doctrine. According to R. P. C. Hanson, “there was not as yet any orthodox doctrine for if there had been the controversy could hardly have lasted sixty years before resolution.”4 The church was in a state of reaching some sort of consensus regarding their understanding of what was to be orthodox doctrine. Additionally, questions regarding the deity of Christ were not introduced or impressed upon the church from outside sources or Greek Hellenist influences, but rather were simply raised by believers who needed a clear definition of what it was they in fact believed. Robert Letham states, “[These questions] arose out of questions basic to the Christian gospel—belief in one God, together with the recognition that Jesus Christ is divine. ‘The theologians of the Christian Church were slowly driven to a realization that the deepest questions which face Christianity cannot be answered in purely biblical language, because the questions are about the meaning of biblical language itself.”For lack of a clear statement of faith and orthodox doctrine, the church became divided over its basic understanding of the Christian faith. Therefore, when Arias postulated his own understanding of Christ and began teaching it in the church, it was only a matter of time before others within the church with varying opinions and teachings came forward to challenge Arius’ teaching.

Arius’ understanding and teaching of Christ was different from that of Athanasius and what has become known as an orthodox understanding of Christ’s deity. According to Arius and those who later followed his teaching, Christ was the offspring of God the Father, therefore, a created being who was subject to change. According to Ferguson, in Arianism that Christ is subject to change “serves as an example of obedience and moral change for the better.”6 Conversely, Athanasius maintained that Christ “was of the same substance as the Father,” and is “impassible” in nature, which means he does not change (Heb 13:8). For Athanasius, the primary concern was not only Christ’s deity, but also rather the soteriological implications and how it may impact the understanding of how believers are saved.  As Ferguson notes, “it was not only a dispute about the metaphysical definition of the Godhead, but also was a struggle about the very nature of Christianity and human salvation.”7

According to the Arian view of Christ, Jesus was inferior to God because the Gospels portray him as suffering and expressing human emotion. Because of these character traits, Jesus was not to be worshiped as one would worship God the Father. With regards to the Incarnation, Arians acknowledged that the Son assumed a human body, but they denied that he had a human soul or mind. According to Robert Letham, “this had not been a matter of consideration hitherto and was not to arouse opposition until later in the century, when Apollinarius propounded it as a major theme and was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Constantinople in 381.”Although the Arians wanted a relatable God who could be empathetic to their own needs and identify with humanity, it was inconceivable to them that God, the Father, could feel the emotion and suffer along with humanity. Therefore, it was necessary for the Son to be “less than fully divine.”9Letham explains, “because Arians held to a Gnostic dualism where God was kept at a distance from material creation, God could not come into contact with the creation without either deifying it or destroying it.”10 While it was not only the Arians that held this dualistic view of God because many Greeks and Hellenists followed the same perception, this conceptualization of the Son precluded the Arians ability to accept the Son’s full deity. 

Athanasius’ Doctrine of the Incarnation

The kernel of Athanasius’ theological argument linking the redemption of humanity to the incarnation of Christ is comprised in his works known as Contra Gentes and the De Incarnatione, which is two-volumes of a single apologetic work. Some hold the view that these works were written prior to Athanasius becoming involved in his fight against Arianism. Supporters of this view largely base their argument on the absence of any reference to Arius in these works; however, this view cannot be sustained since Athanasius also fails to mention Arius in his Festal Letters, which were written at the height of the Arian controversy in 329-35.11 Therefore, an argument from absence fails to provide sufficient evidence to sustain such proposal, and the probability of a much later date of writing if very possible.  

Each volume of Athanasius’ work begins with the fall of humanity from the grace of God as a result of sin. Additionally, each work emphasizes Athanasius’ chief soteriological concerns regarding the restoration of humanity through the incarnation. God, who made man in His own image, intended for mankind to share in part of the eternality of God himself. In De Incarnatione Athanasius writes, “He imparts to them a share of His own Image, our Lord Jesus Christ, and makes them after His own Image and likeness; in order that through such a gift of grace perceiving the Image, namely, the Word of the Father, they may be able to receive through Him a conception of the Father, and thus, coming to know their Maker, live the happy and truly blessed life.”12 However, due to the impact of the sin of disobedience, man became a corrupt being and thereby forfeited his share of eternality and fellowship with God. In Athanasius, according to Frances Young, the incarnation becomes the “only solution to the consequences [of man’s fall].”13

Humanity, which was once created in God’s image, had become disobedient and broken God’s law—they had exchanged that which was spiritual for the material and as a result become like beasts corrupted by their own self-desires. Because God in his righteous justice must judge the sin of man, man’s repentance would not be enough to restore the Logos to humanity.14 Repentance was not enough. Only recreation through the Son, the Word of God, would preserve God’s character and save humanity. Athanasius writes,

But repentance would not guard the consistency of God’s character; for He would still remain untrue, if death did not hold the mastery over men. Nor does repentance recall men from what is according to their nature, but only makes them cease from their sins. If, indeed, it had only been a trespass, and not a consequent corruption, repentance would be well enough. But when once transgression gained a start, men came under the power of the corruption, which was their nature, and were bereft of the grace, which was theirs in virtue of their being made after God’s Image.15

Athanasius, De Inc, 7.

According to Athanasius, man corruption was of such significance, man was bereft—robbed of the use of God’s grace—beyond God’s favor, and as such was in need of recreation. Yet God was still faced with the dilemma of punishing sin in order to maintain his justice and righteous character. As such, Athanasius writes, “For it was His part both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption, and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For being Word of the Father and above all, He therefore naturally was alone both able to re-create everything, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all…”16 Again, this brought Athanasius back to the incarnation as the solution to man’s dilemma. 

Athanasius saw the only way for God to save humanity from the consequences of man’s fallen state was to renew God’s image in mankind. According to Athanasius, God accomplished the task of renewing his image in man by the Logos himself taking up residence in a human being. Athanasius writes, “He pitied our race and compassionated our weakness and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear the mastery of death—lest His creature should perish and the work of His Father in man come to naught—He takes to Himself a body, and that one like our own.”17 Logos, the Son, takes a body of human flesh, in order to recreate man according to the original, which was made in the image of God. Edgar and Oliphint explain it with the analogy of a painter, “If the figure on a painting becomes obliterated, the painter must ask the model to come in again and sit for him. Similarly when mankind had obliterated its righteousness through sin and idolatry, God himself came in the flesh to seek and to save the lost.”18

Athanasius sees man, who was originally created in the image of the divine Logos, to have been on constant fellowship and communion with his divine creator. As such revelation was very much a part of man’s fellowship with God. Athanasius views the restoration of true revelation to be a necessary part of the recreation of man in order to restore him to his original condition prior to the fall. As Young states, “He [Logos] came and taught them at their own level and revealed God through direct contact with them.”19 Regarding revelation Athanasius writes, “For what profit to the creatures if they knew not their Maker? He gives them a share in His own Image, our Lord Jesus Christ, and makes them after His own Image and after His likeness: so that by such grace perceiving the Image, that is, the Word of the Father, they may be able through Him to get an idea of the Father, and knowing their Maker…”20 In this we find that not only is the revelation of God wrapped up in the image of God in man, which in Athanasius the image of the Son, but also grace was bestowed upon man through the image of Logos.

Athanasius argues that it was required for the Word of God to come in the Image of God in order to save mankind. He will also argue that as a result of the incarnation, God is working to restore mankind to the image (glory) of God. Athanasius explains,

But to renew again the grace by which they had been made after His Image, so that through it men might be able once more to know Him? But how could this have been done except by the coming of the very Image Himself of God, our Saviour Jesus Christ? (emphasis added)

For it could not be through men, seeing that they are only made after the Image: nor through angels, for not even they are (God’s) images. Therefore the Word of God came in His own Person, in order that, as He was the Image of the Father, He might be able to re-create the man made after the Image. But this re-creation could not otherwise have taken place unless death and corruption had been entirely abolished. Whence He naturally took a mortal body, in order that in it death might be finally abolished, and that men might be again renewed after the Image. To satisfy this need was the part of no other than the Image of the Father. (emphasis added) 21

Athanasius, De Inc, 13.

Therefore, a necessary component of the redemption of humanity in Athanasius understanding is the Incarnation of the Son in order to restore the Logos to man toward the the end goal of the recreation of man. 

Theological Analysis

As one would expect to find, Athanasius’ view of creation is decidedly Trinitarian. Christ, as the “Word” was the agent by which He “made it at the beginning,” and [by] whom the “Father…wrought its salvation in Him by whose means He made it.”22 He was the creator of humanity as well as the revealer of God to humanity as mankind was made according to His image. Because humanity could not be restored to God by repentance alone, because man’s repentance would be insufficient to guard against the just claims of God, it was necessary for God to recreate man through the Incarnation. Athanasius explains the purpose of the Incarnation in that when Christ became a man, and took a body no different than that of mankind. By giving that body to death on behalf of humanity and then offering it to the Father, since all who believe have died in him, the effects of sin; the death and corruption of man was undone.23 In this, the Image of God has in effect recreated man who was made in the image of God.   

As Robert Letham points out, “Protestants are accustomed to think of an exchange occurring at the cross, where Christ took our sins and we received his righteousness. For Athanasius, an exchange of a different, although related, kind took place in the Incarnation.”24 Letham goes on to explain, “In becoming man, Christ received and assumed what is ours and, in doing so, sanctified (deified) it, making it fit for fellowship with God. In turn, he gave to humanity the grace of partaking of the divine nature.”25 Letham also points out, how the Incarnation became the basis by which Athanasius develops his theology of the deification of the saints (theosis), which is best illustrated through the often quoted phrase from Athanasius, “He was made man that we might be made God.”26

Athanasius’ soteriological views regarding the deification of the saints as a result of the Incarnation of Christ did not originate with him, for seeds of his theology appear in Irenaeus, Tertullian and Origen.27 For example, Origen’s doctrine of God centers on the soteriological rather than cosmological. Robertson states, “[In Origen] God is known to us in the Incarnate Word…”28 Additionally, there is a digression in the state of man whereas man becomes in need of redemption. “To meet the need the Word takes a Soul…to unite the nature of God and Man in One.”29 Prior to Origen, Irenaeus held in contrast to the fall of Adam, that in Christ was the “sum” of all that man was intended to be.30 Roger Olson writes, “For Irenaeus, redemption was a process of reversing the corruption that entered into creation through Adam’s fall…a life in which, the liabilities of creaturehood are overcome by the grace of God. This life is characterized by that incorruption which both results from and leads to the vision of God and the mirroring of God’s glory in man himself. Irenaeus clearly envisioned salvation as transformation of humans into partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4).”31 This concept known as theosis, or deification or divination, has been passed down to us through the early church fathers and it formed the basis for Athanasius, as well as Irenaeus and his “vision of Christ’s work as recapitulation.”32 Additionally, Irenaeus possessed a clear vision of personal revelation and held that God was personal active in the lives of believers. Irenaeus in his work against the Gnostics postulated that God in his providence was an immediate presence in the life of his creation.33 As predecessors to the theology of Athanasius, these theologians undoubtedly planted the seed to which sprouted Athanasius’ views regarding the Incarnation.

While the subject of grace appears twenty-nine percent fewer times than that of the body or Incarnation in Athanasius’ writing. He did, however, address the subject by way of the dealing with the receptivity of the Logos in receiving and securing grace for humanity. Anatolios notes that the dilemma of humanities fall from God’s grace is resolved through the Incarnation of the Word. Anatolios writes, “This role is described in terms of his “securing” the grace, and allowing us to definitively “remain” in it. It is Christ’s reception of grace—more specifically, Christ’s human reception of the Holy Spirit on our behalf—that is seen as the ultimate “securing” of grace for humanity.” Anatolios goes on to carefully note, “Athanasius says categorically that our own reception of the Spirit, on which hinges our salvation and deification, is impossible except as a derivative of Christ’s human reception of it in the Incarnation.”34

Athanasius’ understanding of Christ’s receptivity of grace leads to the question of the “interrelation of the human and divine in Christ.”35 According to Anatolios, “Athanasius’ point is that we are able to be saved and deified because Christ has securely received grace in a human way on our behalf, and has thus rendered us receptive of the Spirit by his own human reception of it. Our deifying reception of the Spirit is thus derived from Christ’s human receptivity.”36 The disproportionate inequality that exists between God and creation must be pointed out at this point. The question of how the reception of God’s grace upon the Son can have the same effect upon humanity who has fallen to such great depth must be raised. According to Anatolios, “the inequality between redeemed humanity and Christ in Athanasius is not a matter of ‘levels of attainment’ but of the fact that Christ works our deification and makes us to be ‘gods by grace.’” Therefore, “there is no tension between the language of deification and the emphasis on inequality. Rather, they are perfectly consistent; the inequality between creation and the son is manifest in that creation is divinized through the Son.”37 As such, theosis or “deification” of believers in Athanasius finds no tension in inequality, but rather depends on it to make deification possible as a result of the Incarnation. 

In Athanasius, it is only because of the divine Son taking a body for himself that the deification of the saints may occur. In other words, if the Son had not been divine, deification would not have been possible. According to Mark Husbands, “Athanasius maintains that the Word was not diminished by taking on flesh, but rather healed or deified that which was otherwise subject to death.”38 Husbands goes on to quote from Athanasius showing that it was because of the Son’s incarnation and impassibility that the deification of humanity was possible. “He endured the ‘insolence of men’ so that those who were suffering may be preserved by His own impassibility.”39 What is important, as Husbands points out, is that “’Jesus suffered and yet suffered not,’ by which Athanasius means that because the Word is by nature divine and human these two natures come together without canceling out their respective properties. According to Athanasius Jesus suffers inasmuch as he is truly human. Similarly, the Word does not suffer, for the divine nature is impassible.”40Athanasius high Christology is revealed in his conclusion that the Son through his own humility and sacrifice communicates solidarity with humanity in such a way as to effect deification to man. Athanasius, who is quoted by Husbands, writes: 

And if we wish to know the object attained by this, we shall find it to be as follows: that the Word was made flesh in order to offer up this body for all, and that we, partaking of His Spirit, might be deified, a gift which we could not otherwise have gained than by His clothing Himself in our created body, for hence we derive our name of “men of God” and “men in Christ.” But as we, by receiving the Spirit, do not lose our own proper substance, so the Lord, when made man for us, and bearing a body, was no less God; for He was not lessened by the envelopment of the body, but rather deified it and rendered it immortal. (emphasis added)41

Athanasius, On Incarnation, 14, quoted by Mark Husbands, 177.

In this, Athanasius explains that because of the Son’s deity and impassability, when he took the form of a man His divinity was not diminished in ay way, but rather because of His divinity His body was then made divine or “deified.” Therefore, as the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18), His redemptive work through the deification is then passed to his heirs. As Paul writes,  “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” (Col 1:18)42  Moreover,“if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Rom 8:17) 

Biblical Texts

One of the biblical texts that served as a basis for Athanasius’ understanding of theosis, or deification as a result of the Incarnation, is 2 Peter 1:4, where Peter writes that “through the promises of God [we] may be partakers of the divinenature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world…” To be a partaker is to be “one who fellowships and shares something in common with another partner, or is a fellow participant or companion” of another.43 Interestingly, Paul also uses the same word in his first letter to the believers in Corinth when he writes, “…Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?” (1 Cor 10:18) The word usage by Paul begs the question, what does it mean to be a partaker of the altar? Does this partaking effect some physical or spiritual transformation, or is it speaking in purely metaphysical terms? The divine nature (θείας) of which Peter is writing according to Bauer’s definition, “pertains to that which belongs to the nature or status of deity, or persons who stand in close relation or reflect the Characteristics of the divine.”44 Either of these definitions apply to believers as with both Paul and Peter believers are heirs “in Christ” (1 Pet 5:14), and “partakers of the divine nature” and “glory that will be revealed” (1 Pet 5:1). 

Athanasius, explaining how it is that believers are made to be partakers in the redemptive work of the Incarnate Logos writes, 

For what the human Body of the Word suffered, this the Word, dwelling in the body, ascribed to Himself, in order that we might be enabled to be partakers of the Godhead of the Word…And while He, the incorporeal, was in the passible Body, the Body had in it the impassible Word, which was destroying the infirmities inherent in the Body. But this He did, and so it was, in order that Himself taking what was oursand offering it as a sacrifice, He might do away with it, and conversely might invest us with what was His,and cause the Apostle to say: ‘This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality.’45

Athanasius, Ep Epict., 6.

Through the sacrifice of the Incarnate Logos, what belonged to humanity, flesh and the corruption of sin, was done away with and redemption was made possible. In Athanasius, both human flesh and the divine Logos come together, the divine canceling out that which was sinful making that which is carnal divine. 

As pointed out earlier, Athanasius’ understanding of the Incarnation and the deification of the saints was widely accepted by his predecessors and continued later in the Eastern Church. This in fact, according to Curtis Giese, became the “conceptual framework to what was later further developed by the Eastern Orthodox church as theosis.”46 While the Incarnation continued to become the soteriological emphasis of the Eastern Church, the resurrection became the focus of the church in the west. However, the question believers today must ask is how faithful to the intent of the biblical writers is the concept of theosis? 

A number of biblical commentators today find the context to Peter’s writing in 2 Peter 1:4 to have Greek and Hellenist influences as a background. For example, Giese writes, “Participation in the divine nature was a contemporary Greek concept that involved people taking on divinity or having their supposedly divine soul freed from the material hindrance. Although not asserting a blatant pantheism, Philo and 4 Maccabees (e.g., 4 Macc 18:3) employ the concept regarding escape from the material world.”47 Giese goes on to point out how the apostles frequently would write with their contemporary Hellenist audience in mind while correcting their “errant Hellenistic understanding.”48 However, Giese maintains that Peter in this passage “gives no indication that salvation involves human attainment of divinity…Divinity and humanity remain distinct, as they were in the original creation.”49 Edmond Hiebert in his exegesis of the passage finds that Peter is teaching that it is an ongoing “growth process…that must characterize the Christian life.”50 The idea that “you may be” (genēsthei) indicates that it is a process and the aorist tense “implies that it an actual realization in the life of the believer. Hiebert explains,

In regeneration the believer does not cease being a human being; he does not become a little god. Through the impartation of a new nature by the indwelling Holy Spirit believers become “partakers” or sharers in the moral nature of God, enabling spiritual communion with God. This new life with its new attitudes and dispositions is none other than “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).51

D. Edmond Hiebert, 47.

While theosis has an immediate realization that is lived out in the day-to-day life of the believer, there is also a future eschatological dimension to it as well. Peter writes that God has given us “exceedingly great and precious promises…” Thomas Schreiner points out that the word “promises” (epangelmata) points to the Lords coming because of its “connection to 2 Peter 3.”52 The false teachers Peter refers to in chapter 3 have rejected the teaching of the Lord’s coming. However, according to Schreiner, “It is when the Lord comes, after all, that believers will experience full likeness to Christ (1 John 3:2).”53 Therefore, while there is a realized eschatological aspect to theosis there is a future dimension that is suggested as well. 

Another biblical text we find Athanasius’ concept of the Incarnation leaning on is John 14:9-10, “…He who has seen Me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (Jn 14:9–10). Athanasius animatedly believed and taught the Son was fully God. Kevin Giles notes, numerous times Athanasius would write, “The same things are said of the Son which are said of the Father, except for calling him Father.”54 Just as believers today, the Jews in Jesus’ day desired personal revelation and experience with God.55 Moses asked that God would show him his glory (Ex 33:18), and the prophet Isaiah was given the vision of the Lord seated on the throne (Isa. 6:1). In Jesus, there is this fulfillment by the divine Logos. Andreas Köstenberger notes that “in John’s presentation there is an ontological unity (unity of being) that is implied…”56  Köstenberger cites Calvin who writes, “I do not consider these words to refer to Christ’s Divine essence, but to the manner of the revelation; for Christ, so far as regards his hidden Divinity, is not better known to us than the Father…God has fully revealed himself, so far as God’s infinite goodness, wisdom, and power, are clearly manifested in him.”57 It is not so surprising that Calvin’s understanding of Peter would be different than that of Athanasius since he was a western reformer who placed great emphasis on faith alone and the atonement and resurrection of Christ. However, Calvin does not find the ancients in error when it comes to their use of this passage from John’s Gospel with regards to Christ’s divinity. Calvin writes, “Christ does not simply inquire what he is in himself, but what we ought to acknowledge him to be, this description applies to his power rather than to his essence. The Father, therefore, is said to be in Christ, because full Divinity dwells in him, and displays its power; and Christ, on the other hand, is said to be in the Father, because by his Divine power he shows that he is one with the Father.”58 However, to make the point, this same statement could not be said of deified believer. Godet writes, “A Christian, even though perfected, would not say: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Christ.” How much less could a man, though perfect, say: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” These words are unintelligible, unless the Son, in the form of human life, continues on earth the revealing function which He possesses, as the Word, in His state of divine life.”59

Conclusion

This study has shown how Athanasius’ emphasis on the Incarnation, and specifically the deification of the saints, has led to neglect of the other soteriological aspects of Christ’s atoning work. This study has revealed evidence within the vocabulary used by Athanasius in his writing that terms such as grace and faith receive only an infrequent mention compared to words associated with the Incarnation. This disproportionate imbalance is not something that should be overlooked because to do so is to completely disregard something that is foundation in Pauline writing and doctrine. For while Athanasius views God’s grace in creation and God making man in his own image, this relationship to Christ is only seen in the divine Logos through Incarnation, rather than the work of propitiation through the cross. While this neglect was corrected in the Reformation it has continued in the Eastern Orthodox Church today. Therefore there is sufficient evidence pointing to the fact that the church is clearly divided on these issues. Moreover, there remains a large segment of the population of the church today who has not received a balanced biblical teaching on the atoning work of Christ. 

In addition, evidence provided in this study shows that the emphasis of deification, while not entirely unwarranted, may be misunderstood and lead to abuse in the church. For the “partaking of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4), according to the context of Peter’s writing is an ongoing process in the life of the believer with both immediate and future implications. Believers are not immediately made perfect upon conversion, nor do they become “like” God, but rather it implies the ongoing work of sanctification through the Spirit in the life of the believers. Further, the context of the apostle’s writing was in reference to the appearing of the Lord and Savior at the end of the age. To be looking forward to the glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is something that was lacking in the early church and continues to be lacking in the church today. However, God will prevail as the world becomes a much smaller place and western theology takes root through Internet evangelism, these theological deficiencies will eventually be corrected. 

Endnotes

  1. E. E. Cairns, “Arius,” Moisés Silva and Merrill Chapin Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, A-C (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 2009), 345.
  2. Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (Downers Grover, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 167-69.
  3. Athanasius, On the Incarnation 54.3
  4. R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318-381 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988), 123.
  5. Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ; P & R Publishing, 2004), 111.
  6. Everett Ferguson, Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 205. 
  7. Ibid.
  8. Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, 113. 
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid., 114.
  11. Frances M. Young and Andrew Teal, From Nicaea to Chalcedon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 52. 
  12. Ath. De inc.11.
  13. Frances M. Young and Andrew Teal, From Nicaea to Chalcedon, 54.
  14. Word, Word of Godthe Son: “the express image of His person” (Heb 1:3), “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).
  15. Ath. De inc. 7.
  16. Ath. 7.
  17. Ibid., 8.
  18. William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphint, eds., Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader, to 1500, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 174.
  19. Young and Teal, 54.
  20. Ath., De inc. 11.2–3
  21. Ibid., 13.
  22. Ibid., 1.
  23. Ibid., 8.
  24. Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, 129.
  25. Ibid., 129-30.
  26. Ath. 54 quoted by Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, 130.
  27. Robert A. Case, “Will the Real Athanasius Please Stand Up?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 19, no. 4 (1976), 281.
  28. Archibald T. Robertson, “Prolegomena,” in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 25.
  29. Origen, “Against Celsus, 3.28” cited by A. T. Robertson, “Prolegomena,” in St. Athanasius, 25.
  30. Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 68.
  31. Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, 77.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.24.2
  34. Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought, Routledge Early Church Monographs (Taylor and Francis, 2004) 160. Kindle Electronic Edition.
  35. Ibid., 161.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid., 175.
  38. Mark Husbands, “Wealth, Lordless Powers, and the Rule of Christ,” ed. Klyne R. Snodgrass, Ex Auditu: An International Journal for the Theological Interpretation of Scripture 27 (2011): 177. 
  39. Ath., De inc. 54.3 quoted by Mark Husbands, “Wealth, Lordless Powers, and the Rule of Christ,” 177.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
  43. Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 233.
  44. William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 446.
  45. Ath., Ep. Epict. 6.
  46. Curtis P. Giese, 2 Peter and Jude, ed. Dean O. Wenthe and Curtis P. Giese, Concordia Commentary (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2012), 62.
  47. Ibid., 66.
  48. Ibid.
  49. Ibid.
  50. D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1989), 47.
  51. Ibid., 48.
  52. Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 293.
  53. Ibid., 294.
  54. Athanasius, “Four Discourses” 3.4, 3.5, 3.6; “The Councils” 3.49 twice. Cited by Kevin Giles in “The Doctrine of the Trinity and Subordination” Priscilla Papers, vol. 18, no. 3 (2004): 16.
  55. Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: John, Acts., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 138–139.
  56. Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 431.
  57. John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 87.
  58. Ibid., 87.
  59. Frédéric Louis Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John: With a Critical Introduction, trans. S. Taylor, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1900), 137.