Earlier this month my children gave me an ebook reader. It’s excellent when my hands are sore and it’s difficult to hold a full paper book. It’s also excellent because a lot of older books, which are now out of copyright, are either free or incredibly cheap.
It’s meant I’ve been getting reacquainted with some old friends. My latest friend to catch up with is one of my favourite early church theologians, Athanasius. I’ve just finished re-reading his “The Incarnation”.
Most of the really important theological works of the early church came out of major disputes – and “The Incarnation” is no exception. With this Athanasius would (eventually) settle one of the church’s major issues. Along the way he’d be declared a heretic and sent into exile several times. (While studying early church history, I used to imagine Athanasius keeping his suitcase packed beside the door waiting for the next time he was sent into exile.)
The dispute was what we call the “Christological Debate” it was the question of the nature of Jesus. One extreme (which we call Arianism) said Jesus was God – and had just “put on” a human body – like an actor puts on a costume. This side of the argument said Jesus had never really experienced what it was like to be human, and had never felt any pain at the crucifixion, and hadn’t really died, it had all been an act.
The other extreme (known as Gnosticism, and very closely related to the modern New Age Religion) said Jesus was a very good human, who had achieved some level of divinity that other humans could achieve.
And then there was Athanasius who said both sides were wrong. In “The Incarnation” he said what is now one of the most basic beliefs of Christianity, that Jesus is both fully human and fully God. In his day, it was a radical statement, but it was one he supported from Christian Scripture for Christians, from the Jewish Scripture for Jews, and even from the world of Greek philosophy for the Greeks.
There’s so much in this one book that makes me love it, but it contains one of my favourite statements every by any theologian, and I would like to share that with you: His body was for Him not a limitation, but an instrument, so that He was both in it and in all things, and outside all things, resting in the Father alone. At one and the same time – this is the wonder – as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father.
What an amazing thing God has done in Jesus – and for no other reason than out of love for us!
Grace and peace
"The Incarnation" - ebook and paper book links.