Thoughts On This Athanasius Quote

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by Ben Chomp, Jul 8, 2019.

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  1. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Early on in "On the Incarnation", Athanasius is reflecting on the human condition both as creatures and as sinners. He says of humans as creatures:

    "By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing; but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt."

    Kindof intersting. I might be misunderstanding how Athanasius is using "nature", but he seems to be saying that mortality is part of human nature and it is only through communion with God that man is made immortal. When communion is broken due to sin, man reverts to his created nature which is to return to dust.

    This might be behind some of the Eastern Orthodox conceptions of sin and death which unfortunately lack a legal dimension. What are your thoughts on this Athanasius quote? Is he right? Is he wrong? Is he somewhere in between?
  2. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I suspect the "communion" is simply being with Jesus (in the fullest sense) and eating from the Tree of Life is just that.
  3. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    He isn't talking about life pre-fall. He simply means that out nature, since it isn't self-subsistent, is necessarily mortal (unless upheld by God). Only eternal things are eternal. Our human nature isn't.
  4. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    I will have to re-read him with that in mind.
  5. BottleOfTears

    BottleOfTears Puritan Board Freshman

    Athanathius believed that if something is created out of nothing, it has the potential to become nothing again. Because God saw that if He created human beings, they would be created out of nothing, and therefore could not live forever, He gave them a further gift by making them in His image and letting them share in the power of the Word.

    "Among these things, of all things upon earth he had mercy upon the human race, and seeing that by the principle of its own coming into being it would not be able to endure eternally, he granted them a further gift, creating human beings not simply like all the irrational animals upon the earth but making them according to his own image, giving them a share of the power of his own Word, [...]" - On the Incarnation ch 3

    Athanatius does not mean that humans were created corrupted or tending towards death, they were created in God's image and therefore in communion with Him. When he says humanity sinned and was "returned to the natural state" he means the state of things that were created out of nothing apart from the image of God/participation in the Word. We can see this here:

    "they received the previously threatened condemnation of death, and thereafter no longer remained as they had been created, but were corrupted as they had contrived; and, seizing them, death reigned. For the transgression of the commandment returned them to their natural state, so that, just as they, not being, came to be, so also they might rightly endure in time the corruption to non-being" - On the Incarnation ch 3 (emphasis mine)

    We can see clearly that when Athanathius talks about "natural state" he does not mean human nature as it was created, but human nature apart from the image of God. So humanity, as created, was not neutral, but good, and as long as they obeyed God's laws they would remain uncorrupted and attain immortality.

    For Athanatius good is being as it comes from the eternal God, and evil is non-being. Therefore, when we sinned and turned to evil we lost eternal being.

    "For if, having a nature that did not once exist, they were called into existence by the Word's advent and love for human beings, it followed that when human beings were bereft of the knowledge of God and had turned to things which exist not- evil is non-being, the good is being, since it has come into being from the existing God- then they were bereft also of eternal being." - On the Incarnation ch 3

    Athanatius then takes this principle and goes further, saying that because of our great sin and the breaking of God's law the corruption of humanity is even greater than that of our "natural state".

    "For God has not only created us from nothing, but also granted us by the grace of the Word to live a life according to God. But human beings, turning away from things eternal and by the counsel of the devil turning us towards things of corruption, were themselves the cause of corruption in death, being, as we already said, corruptible by nature but escaping their natural state by the grace of participation in the Word, had they remained good. Because of the Word present in them, even natural corruption did not come near them, just as Wisdom says, "God created the human being for incorruptibility and as an image of his own eternity; but by the envy of the devil, death entered into the world". When this happened, human beings died and corruption thenceforth prevailed against them, becoming even stronger than its natural power over the whole race, the more so as it had assumed the threat of Deity against them through the transgression of the commandment." - On the Incarnation ch 5

    I think nature is being used in a very strange way here, it seems to be almost hypothetical, because I would have thought because humanity is created in the image of God that is part of our nature.
    Because Athanasius still says that humanity were created in God's image and therefore were created good, and that God revealed His law to Adam in the garden to show him that if he remained good he would inherit eternal life, but if he turned away he would die, it seems he rejects humanity being created as purely neutral, which is good. On top of that, although he talks a lot about being and non-being, he seems to avoid a lot of the problems with a "chain of being" view.

    I still need to think more about this "natural corruption", and I don't know anything about EO views on Adam, so that's about as much as I can say on the matter. I think you can see where some of the thoughts here develop towards theosis, but there is some connection to Reformed thought here too.
  6. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Most EOs say that we are created in the image of God, but we have to attain unto the likeness. They reject that image and likeness are the same thing. I think it is obvious from Hebrew grammar that they are the same thing. We get to the likeness by ascetic practices. I actually don't think Athanasius taught that. Gregory of Nyssa did.
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  7. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    I thought that EO focused on essences vs energies, in that we don't participate in the essence of God only his energies? Not saying I agree with that only that they make a distinction. At least that's how Dr. Horton frames it.
  8. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    They do, but that isn't the issue. In any case, the E/e distinction wasn't really hardened by the time of Athanasius. Sure, you can find quotes from Athanasius--true ones, I might add--that speak of the energia en-ousia.

    But the main point is that since we are mortal, we don't have within us the principle of immortality. True, we have a soul that will never die, but even that soul doesn't sustain the body forever.
  9. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    By nature does he mean our bodies or our souls?
  10. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    I'd have to say both. The ancient church, as far as I can tell, used Greek philosophical categories (what else did they have to work with) to explain these things. That does not mean we are forever bound, like marriage, to Greek metaphysics. Only those categories that are useful for explaining our doctrines. We may find, but never contradicts earlier creeds, new but creedal ways to understand these great mysteries. Nature in this sense means both human and divine.
  11. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    That touches on the traducianist question, but he probably means both. While he does affirm that the soul lives beyond the body (waiting the resurrection), he would deny that a created soul has in itself the principle of immortality.
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