(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria writes that the Redeemer is also the Creator. God became incarnate to redeem fallen humankind and renew all creation. In addition, Christ, the Son of God—the incarnate, redeeming Word—is also the creating Word, who made the universe in the beginning. For the universe is not self-generated nor preexistent as many philosophers think, but was made by God through his Word. It was the fall of humanity, through the exercise of free will, that occasioned God’s response of love in sending his redeeming Word. This response could be thought of as inevitable because of God’s goodness. It was impossible for God to leave humankind declining on a path toward inevitable extinction. Human repentance does not suffice as a means of self-restoration to divine favor. Repentance might stop future sin, but it will not repair the corruption of the race that has already been brought about by previous sins, and the sinner is inclined to return to sin again. For this reason, the Word entered the world.

The Word, who received his humanity from a pure virgin, did not just become embodied but was born and did not just appear but lived, so that by becoming subject to human life and death, he might break the hold that death had over the entire human race, according to Saint Athanasius. Like a king who did not neglect his fair city after it had been attacked by robbers but rather saved and restored it, so has the Word restored the plundered nature of humankind.

The second reason for the Incarnation is that although humans were made in the image of God, through neglect they failed to know their maker and turned instead to worshiping false gods. Humans proved to be still incapable of knowing God by the means God had subsequently sent, the law of Moses, the prophets, and holy men. Therefore it became necessary for the very image of the Father to come and effect the re-creation of humankind.

This coming in the flesh did nothing to change Christ’s...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Anatolios, Khaled. Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought. New York: Routledge, 1998. This introduction to Athanasius’s life, writings, and theology emphasizes the importance of reading Athanasius on his own terms and not those of later controversies.

Brakke, David. “Athanasius.” In The Early Christian World, edited by Philip F. Esler. New York: Routledge, 2000. Discusses the contribution of Athanasius to the development of the Nicene trinitarian formula. Provides an overview of contemporary scholarly debate on Athanasius.

Pettersen, Alvyn. Athanasius. Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1995. Focuses on Athanasius’s key role in the success of the Nicene formula and the defeat of Arianism.

Thomson, Robert W. Athanasius “Contra Gentes” and “De Incarnatione.” Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Provides a new translation of these works together with the Greek text.

Young, Frances M. From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and Its Background. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983. A useful overview of the entire period of the trinitarian and Christological controversies, including the influential role played by Athanasius.