Already during his own lifetime, St. Athanasius had become a legendary figure.
From the Introduction by C.S. Lewis to On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius
Bishop of Alexandria for forty-six years, until his death at approximately seventy-four years of age in 373. During his life, he was exiled five times for a total of seventeen years – a regular victim of the battles regarding Arianism, battles that continued despite the declaration at the Council of Nicaea.
Nicene Christianity exists by virtue of his constancy and vision.
This work, On the Incarnation, is seen by Lewis as perhaps the defining exposition of Nicene theology – the central mystery of Christian theology. It is the second part of two works, the first being Against the Gentiles. Lewis will offer an overview of this earlier work:
[Atanasius affirms that] … while [the knowledge of religion and of the truth] can be discovered from the words of the Holy Scripture, “for the sacred and divinely inspired Scriptures are sufficient for the exposition of truth,” there are also many treatises of blessed teachers, which, “if one happens upon them he will gain some notion of the interpretation of the Scriptures and will be able to attain the knowledge he desires.”
And, as Lewis notes, this present work is perhaps the exemplary work in aiding the interpretation of the Scriptures in understanding the Incarnation. To understand the Incarnation, it all begins with the one who ascended the cross:
… “he who ascended the cross is the Word of God” …
Which leads to something that has been on my mind. Let’s start with John 1:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
The word “Word” in Greek is logos. Logos is a tough word to translate; it does not mean “word” in a grammatical sense. Like many Greek words, it takes several words in English to grasp something of its meaning: discourse, reason, law, put in order, arrange, gather, choose, count, reckon, discern, say, speak, a principle of order and knowledge.
Logos (word) is everything that makes humans human – everything that differentiates man from other living beings on earth. Sure, other animals put in order – all beings are, after all, made with a purpose, and end, a telos. But discourse and reason (in any sophisticated sense), are found only in human beings.
The source of this discourse and reason (logos) is what we know as God. It was through discourse and reason that all things that were made were made. In Genesis, we are told that God spoke creation into existence. It was through His Word (discourse and reason) that creation came to be.
Genesis 1: 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Genesis 2: 7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
There is no other creature on earth for which these two things are true – two things, but really one thing. We are made in God’s image – not that God has a nose and arms, but through His breathe. Through His breathe we have a soul – reason and discourse. We were given the logos, albeit, of course, we are not perfect nor perfected. These are what make us image-bearers.
Which brings me to the present day. I know, in many ways our present day isn’t unique in the idea that the meaning of words evolves. But the extent to which we stretch this (what is a woman?) has destroyed discourse and reason.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I.
As Nietzsche notes, we have killed God – the source of discourse and reason. And that discourse and reason was made incarnate – in Christ:
Colossians 1:17 And he [Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
John 1: 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
It is God that holds creation together; creation could not continue to exist without God’s presence. This is true in every sense: physical and metaphysical. In other words, without God, who is the source of discourse and reason (logos; Jesus), the world falls apart and we lose truth.
Through discourse and reason, all things in this world (and everywhere) are held together; through discourse and reason, we have light – we can see. Not like a lightbulb, but exposure to truth. Without discourse and reason (logos), the world falls apart; we cannot see truth.
Truth is after all a moving target
Hairs to split
And pieces that don’t fit
How can anybody be enlightened?
Truth is after all so poorly lit
- Rush, Turn the Page
We are no longer in a world where the search for truth involves hair-splitting. The lies are obvious. Truth is not merely poorly lit; it is purposely destroyed.
It is the end result of having killed God. And by doing so, we killed the light that exposes the truth. We killed discourse and reason. Sure, we ran on fumes for a few decades since Nietzsche made his pronouncement, but we see where the road has led and we are living in it. Yes, there has been calamity many times before, but we were never so unreasonable as to not know, for example, what a woman is.
I also wonder what it really means to consider “the word of God.” Many use this phrase to speak of the written Scripture. It is certainly that, but it is so much more. It is the means by which creation came to be; it is the means through which creation is held together.
Creation is a result of logos, the Word: discourse and reason. This is the Word of God.