Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The Divinity of the Word


By the grace of God we also noted a few points regarding the divinity of the Word of the Father and his providence and power in all things, that through him the good Father arranges all things.

On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius

St. Athanasius here opens this book by referring to his prior treatise, Against the Gentiles.  In the opening paragraphs, he uses “Word” to describe Christ.  Nothing new or novel about this.  But the way it is used opens, for me at least, a new door. 

·         “Incarnation of the Word”;

·         “…not think that the Savior has worn a body as a consequence of nature, but that being by nature bodiless and existing as the Word…”;

·         “…its recreation was accomplished by the Word who created it in the beginning”;

·         “…from nothing God and having absolutely no existence brought the universe into being through the Word….”

At the moment of conception, God’s “Word” joined man.  It sounds different to me than referring to this baby as Jesus – the nice manger scene at Christmas.  All of the avenues that this picture paints are too much and too vague for me to contemplate at the moment, and if I speculate too much on it here I will no doubt tempt heresy.  I will just say it makes the Trinity easier for me to comprehend.

St. Athanasius continues by describing the creation of man, made in God’s image.  He describes man’s fall.  He does this because speaking of the manifestation of the Savior necessitates speaking of the origin of human beings.  It was our cause, our transgression that was the occasion of His descent. 

With man growing ever more corrupt, what should God do?  If He neglects man’s continuing fall, it would show weakness – that He could abandon His creation.  This would be unworthy of the Creator.  At the same time, He could not let the corruption pass – the Father of truth would then be a liar.

Repentance.  Wouldn’t this suffice?  Man repents from his sin?  No, this isn’t enough:

But repentance would neither have preserved the consistency of God, for he again would not have remained true if human beings were not held fast by death, nor does repentance recall human beings from what is natural, but merely halts sin. 

The consequence of the fall still has its hold on man; the sinful nature remains.

But if once the transgression had taken off, human beings were now held fast in natural corruption and were deprived of the grace of being in the image, what else needed to happen?  Or who was needed for such grace and recalling except the God Word who in the beginning made the universe from non-being?

Repentance was not sufficient to restore man to his incorruptible nature – to the creature God intended. 

Being the Word of the Father and above all, he alone consequently was both able to recreate the universe and was worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to interceded for all before the Father.

It had to be the Word, and this is why the Word became manifest – and manifest in man.  He took on the human, since it was the human that was liable to the corruption of death.  He delivered it over to death on behalf of all and offered it to the Father.

The Word, incapable of dying, took on the human body in order to die.  By this, His would be a sufficient death for the corruption of man.  Yet the Word itself was and remained incorruptible, hence corruption may cease.

St. Athanasius cites from Hebrews 2: 9-15, and summarizes the meaning:

Saying this, he means that it was for none other to bring human beings out from the corruption that had occurred except the God Word who had also created them in the beginning.  And that the Word himself also took to himself a body as a sacrifice for similar bodies….

One made in the image cannot do the work of the image maker.  Jesus, if he was only human, could not renew that which was created by that which gave him his image:

But how could this have occurred except by the coming of the very image of God, our Lord Jesus Christ?  For neither by human beings was it possible, since they were created “in the image”; but neither by angels, for they were not even images.

For this reason, the Word of God came, being the image of the Father such that the human being made in the image might be recreated.  One merely made in the image cannot recreate that which was created by the image – by the Word.

For this purpose, then, there was need of none other that the Image of the Father.

St. Athanasius continues with why the manner of Jesus’s death had to be as it was; he refutes objections first of the Jews, then of the Gentiles.  These passages are beyond my purpose, so I will leave it here.


…it was not for another to turn what was corruptible to incorruptibility except the Savior himself, who in the beginning created the universe from nothing; and that it was not for another to recreate again “in the image” for human beings, except the Image of the Father; and that it was not for another to raise up the mortal to be immortal, except our Lord Jesus Christ.


  1. "For this reason, the Word of God came, being the image of the Father such that the human being made in the image might be recreated. One merely made in the image cannot recreate that which was created by the image – by the Word."

    This is a powerful statement. Thank you. I don't know that I've quite heard it put like this before.

    One question I playfully wrestle with on this topic is whether God can be considered perfect if His sapient creations (both angels and man) fell? Would a perfect God require multiple covenants or attempts at getting His creation in line? I am not sure. Maybe it was all planned from the beginning for a purpose that we cannot (or have at least yet failed to) grasp. It does make for an amazing and beautiful story at the very least.

    Many Christian theologians feel the need to prove God is perfect. I am not too worried about this though. The God that made me and everything else that is a part of my existence and descended from Heaven to experience and conquer death for me, commands my loyalty and love regardless of whether He is perfect or not. If He can forgive my giant flaws, I can certainly look past His minor ones, if indeed any exist at all.

  2. I have thought of it that Jesus had to be human and God in order to pay for all the sins of mankind for two reasons. First, Jesus had to be a man to pay for the sins of man. The sacrifice had to be like for like. Second, He had to be God in order to make an infinite sacrifice. Not that sin is infinite but the sacrifice had to be enough to cover everyone's sins.

    The other truth I have come to through discussion with friends of mine who think about this stuff to is that Jesus was the Son of God from eternity past. He is eternally begotten of the Father as stated in the Creeds. However, He become the God-man at the immaculate conception. The hypostatic union started there.