George Washington’s Faith and Religious Beliefs

Athanasius on the Incarnation


The Logos, Athanasius teaches, is the image of the living, only true God. Man is the image of the Logos. In communion with him consist the original holiness and blessedness of paradise. Man fell by his own will, and thus came to need redemption. Evil is not a substance of itself, not matter, as the Greeks suppose, nor does it come from the Creator of all things. It is an abuse of freedom on the part of man, and consists in selfishness or self-love, and in the dominion of the sensuous principle over the reason. Sin, as apostasy from God, begets idolatry. Once alienated from God and plunged into finiteness and sensuousness, men deified the powers of nature, or mortal men, or even carnal lusts, as in Aphrodite. The inevitable consequence of sin is death and corruption. The Logos, however, did not forsake men. He gave them the law and the prophets to prepare them for salvation. At last he himself became man, neutralized in human nature the power of sin and death, restored the divine image, uniting us with God and imparting to us his imperishable life. The possibility and legitimacy of the incarnation lie in the original relation of the Logos to the world, which was created and is upheld by him. The incarnation, however, does not suspend the universal reign of the Logos. While he was in man, he was at the same time everywhere active and reposing in the bosom of the Father. The necessity of the incarnation to salvation follows from the fact, that the corruption had entered into human nature itself, and thus must be overcome within that nature. An external redemption, as by preaching God, could profit nothing. “For this reason the Saviour assumed humanity, that man, united with life, might not remain mortal and in death, but imbibing immortality might by the resurrection be immortal. The outward preaching of redemption would have to be continually repeated, and yet death would abide in man.”. The object of the incarnation is, negatively, the annihilation of sin and death; positively, the communication of righteousness and life and the deification of man. The miracles of Christ are the proof of his original dominion over nature, and lead men from nature-worship to the worship of God. The death of Jesus was necessary to the blotting out of sin and to the demonstration of his life-power in the resurrection, whereby also the death of believers is now no longer punishment, but a transition to resurrection and glory.—This speculative analysis of the incarnation Athanasius supports by referring to the continuous moral effects of Christianity, which is doing great things every day, calling man from idolatry, magic, and sorceries to the worship of the true God, obliterating sinful and irrational lusts, taming the wild manners of barbarians, inciting to a holy walk, turning the natural fear of death into rejoicing, and lifting the eye of man from earth to heaven, from mortality to resurrection and eternal glory. The benefits of the incarnation are incalculable, like the waves of the sea pursuing one another in constant succession.

Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-590