St. Athanasius (297 – 373)
Christ’s Purpose of Renewal of Mankind
You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the image of the Father, came and dwelt in our mist, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself….
~ On the Incarnation, as quoted in Loren Wilkenson, Caring for Creation in Your Own Backyard, Servant Press, Ann Arbor, 1992, pg. 109.
Only Humans Fail in their Purpose in All Creation
Nothing in creation has erred from the path of God’s purpose for it, save only man. Sun, moon, stars, water, air, none of these has swerved from their order, but, knowing the Word as their Maker and their King, remained as they were made. Men alone, having rejected what is good, have invented nothings instead of the truth, and have ascribed the honor due to God and knowledge concerning Him to demons and men in the form of stones.
~ On the Incarnation: The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, 7.43. St. Valdimir’s Seminary Press, 1998, p. 78-79.
God is Within and Yet Encloses All Things
God is self-existent, enclosing all things and enclosed by none; within all things according to His goodness and power, and yet without all [things] in His proper nature.
~ De Decretis, 3:11 In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Vol. IV. Ed. Philip Schaff. Christian literature Company, 1892, p. 157.
Apply Tests for Discerning the True Cosmology
Athanasius tells us that there are many opinions about creation, but that a true cosmology must accord with all of the other elements of Christian faith. This means that a holy unity exists within Christian doctrine in which each part integrates with all of the other parts. It also means that tests are necessary to discern whether a new doctrine about creation is valid or not:
In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things, there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste…. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith.
~ In On the Incarnation: The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, I.2. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998, p. 26.
The Presence of the Holy Spirit in Creation
As the creative will of a sculptor hovers over a piece of wood, or as the spiritual soul spreads through all the limbs of the body, thus it is with the Holy Spirit: it hovers over all things with a creative and formative power.
~De Genesi ad litteram, IV, 16, as quoted in Karl Rahner, Earth Spirit and Divine Spirit, p. 139.
Creation and Salvation are of the Same Word
There is no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the one Father has employed the same agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.
~ Incarnation of the Word I.I. In On the Incarnation: The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998, p. 25.
God Permeates All Things
God is self-existent, enclosing all things and enclosed by none; within all things according to His goodness and power, and yet without all [things] in His proper nature.
~ De Decretis, 3:11. Quoted in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Ed. Philip Schaff. University of Virginia Press, 2008 (First published Christian literature Company, 1892), p. 157.
Limits to our Knowledge about Creation
For all created beings, and especially we who are men, find it impossible to speak adequately concerning the things that are ineffable. All the more presumptuous, then, if when we cannot speak, we devise for these difficult subjects strange forms of expression….
[Nevertheless, some individuals] presume to tell us… how the heavens were formed, and from what material, and what is their composition; and likewise of the sun and each of the stars. … [Yet] we do not understand the “how” of the trees here below, of the gathering together of the waters, and of the fashioning and forming of living creatures. For even Solomon, who had a far greater share of wisdom than any, saw that it was impossible for men to find out everything about these things….
~ Letter to Serapion on the Holy Spirit, trans by C. Shapland, the Epworth Press, London, 1951, 1:17-18.
The Spirit of the Lord Fills the Universe
The Spirit of the Lord fills the universe. Thus David sings, “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?” (Psalm 139:7) Again in the Book of Wisdom it is written: “Thine incorruptible Spirit is in all things” (Wisdom 12:1). “And the angels came to stand before the face of the Lord,” as it is written in Job. And Jacob the patriarch dreamed: “And behold! A ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and the angels of God ascended and descended upon it” (Genesis 28:12). But if the Spirit fills all things, and in the Word is present in the midst of all things; and if the angels, being his inferiors, are circumscribed, and where they are sent forth, there are they present: it is not to be doubted that the Spirit does not belong to things originated, nor is He an angel at all, as you say, but by nature is above the angels.
~ Letter to Serapion on the Holy Spirit, 1:26 trans by C. Shapland, the Epworth Press, London, 1951.
The Divinizing Work of Jesus Christ
God became man in order that man might become God.
~ On the Incarnation of the Word of God, 54, P.G. 25, col. 192B.
The Wisdom of God Harmonizes Creation
Like a musician who has tuned his lyre, and by the artistic blending of low and high and medium tones produces a single melody, so the Wisdom of God, holding the universe like a lyre, adapting things heavenly to things earthly, and earthly things to heavenly, harmonizes them all, and leading them by His will, makes one world and one world order in beauty and harmony.
~ Contra Gentes, 41, pg. 26, in George Maloney, SJ, The Cosmic Christ, Sheed and Ward, NY, 1968, p. 261.
How the Logos Binds Creation Together
The Holy Word of the Father then, almighty and perfect, uniting with the universe and having everywhere unfolded His own powers, and having illumined all, both things seen and things invisible, holds them together and binds them to Himself, having left nothing void of His power, but on the contrary he quickens and sustains all things everywhere, each severally and all collectively; while He mingles in one the principles of all sensible existence, heat namely and cold, and wet and dry, and caused them not to conflict, but to make up one concordant harmony….
Obeying Him, even God the Word, things on earth have life and things in heaven have their order, for there is nothing that is and that takes place, but it has been made and stands by Him and through Him.
~ Against the Heathen, Sec. 42, pg. 26. In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol IV. Ed. Philip Schaff. Republished, Cosimo, Inc., 2007.
From Word to World: a Single Harmonious Melody
[The Logos] produces a single melody… holding the universe like a lyre, draws together the things in the air with those on earth, and those in the heaven with those in the air, and combines the whole with the parts, linking them with his command and will, and thus producing in beauty and harmony, a single world and a single order within it…. [The Logos] extends his power everywhere, illuminating all things visible and invisible, containing and enclosing them in himself, [giving] life and everything, everywhere, to each individually and to all together, creating an exquisite single euphonious harmony.
~ Contra Gentes, 41, quoted in Andrew Linzey, Compassion for Animals: Readings and Prayers, SPCK Publ., London, 1988, pg. 8.
Intuiting a Governing Creator from the Heavens
For seeing the circling of heaven and the course of sun and moon, the positions and revolutions of the stars which are opposed and different, but in their difference all keep a common order, who would not think that they do not order themselves but that there is another who orders and made them? And who, seeing the sun rise by day and the moon shining by night, waning and waxing unchangingly according to an exacting number of days, and some stars crossing and variously changing their paths while others keep a fixed place, who then would not consider that there must a Creator who governs them?
~ Contra Gentes, 35:95-97, in J. Schaefer, “Acting Reverently in God’s Sacramental World,” Ethical Dilemmas in the New Millennium, Villanova Univ. Press, 2001, p. 41.
Bishop of Alexandria and patron saint of conferences, entered into many dialogues to articulate and preserve an authentic Christian understanding of Church doctrine. He frequently used lessons from nature to exemplify his instruction and his writings are filled with a sense of creation as a primary instructor of Christian life. Athanasius was instrumental in selecting the books of the modern New Testament. He saw creation as “a living book” which spoke of its Creator as it revealed the Logos. He praises this “Book of Creation” and says, “the creatures are like letters proclaiming in loud voices to their Divine Master and Creator the harmony and order of things.” Athanasius especially witnesses to the immanence of God in creation by showing how actively God is involved in both the creation and the fulfillment of man. Athanasius participated in the first great Ecumenical Council at Nicea, and he holds the title, “the defender of Orthodoxy.”
Knowledge of God Through Knowledge of Creation
But since man’s carelessness, little by little, descends to lower things, God made provision even for this weakness of theirs, by sending a law, and prophets, men such as they knew, so that even if they were not ready to look up to heaven and know their Creator, they might have their instruction from those near at hand. For men are able to learn from men more directly about higher things. So it was open to them, by looking into the height of heaven, and perceiving the harmony of creation, to know its Ruler, the Word of the Father, who by his own providence over all things makes known the Father to all, and to this end moves all things, that through Him all may know God.
~ On the Incarnation of the Word I.12.2 From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
Christ, the ordering principle of the universe
For He was not, as might be imagined, circumscribed in the body, nor, while present in the body, was he absent elsewhere; nor, while he moved the body, was the universe left void of his workings and providence; but, thing most marvelous, Word as He was, so far from being contained by anything, he rather contained all things himself; and just as while present in the whole creation, he is at once distinct in being from the universe, and present in all things by his own power — giving orders to all things, and over all and in all revealing his own providence, and giving life to each thing and all things, including the whole without being included, but being in His own Father alone wholly and in every respect, thus, even while present in a human body and himself quickening it, he was, without inconsistency, quickening the universe as well, and was in every process of nature, and was outside the whole, and while known from the body by his works, he was none the less manifest from the working of the universe as well.
~ On the Incarnation of the Word I.17.1. Trans. Archibald Robertson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
The Earth as a Great Body
The philosophers of the Greeks say that the universe is a great body; and rightly so. For we see it and its parts as objects of our senses. If then the Word of God is in the universe, which is a body, and has united Himself with the whole, and with all its parts, what is there surprising or absurd if we say that He has united himself with man also.
~ On the Incarnation of the Word I.41.5. Translated by Archibald Robertson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
What the Word of God in Creation Reveals
By the greatness and the beauty of the creatures proportionately the Maker of them is seen. For just as by looking up to the heaven and seeing its order and the light of the stars, it is possible to infer the Word Who ordered these things, so by beholding the Word of God, one needs must behold also God His Father, proceeding from Whom He is rightly called His Father’s Interpreter and Messenger. And this one may see from our own experience; for if when a word proceeds from men we infer that the mind is its source, and by thinking about the word, see with our reason the mind which it reveals, by far greater evidence and incomparably more, seeing the power of the Word, we receive knowledge also of His good Father, as the Savior Himself says, “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.”
~ Against the Heathen 44.3 & 45:1-2. In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Vol. IV. Eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Christian literature Company, 1892, p. 23.
The Beginning of Creation and its Renewal are From the Same Word
We will begin with the creation of the world and with God its Maker. The first fact you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it at the first.
In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste…. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the Universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter, God brought it into being through the Word. He says as much in Genesis… and again through that most helpful book, “The Shepherd” (The Shepherd of Hermas, Book II:1), “Believe thou first and foremost that there is one God Who created and arranged all things and brought them out of non-existence into being.” Paul indicates the same thing… (Hebrews 11:3).
He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ; and of all these His earthly creatures He reserved special mercy for the race of men. Upon them, therefore, upon men who, as animals, were essentially impermanent, He bestowed a grace which other creatures lacked, the impress of His own Image… so that, reflecting Him… they might continue forever in the blessed and only true life of the saints in paradise…. But if they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death and live no longer in paradise, but, dying outside of it, continue in death and in corruption….
What was God to do in the face of this dehumanizing of mankind (through the sin which emerged)? … What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus Christ? … In order to effect this re-creation, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image….
Fitting indeed, then, and wholly constant was the death on the cross for us; and we can see how reasonable it was, and why it is that the salvation of the world could be accomplished in no other way.
From the scriptures you will learn also of His second manifestation to us, glorious and divine indeed, when He shall come not in lowliness, but in His proper glory, no longer in humiliation but in majesty, no longer to suffer but to bestow on us all the fruit of His cross – the Resurrection and incorruptibility.
~ On the Incarnation: The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, Sections: 1-3,13, 26, 56. St. Valdimir’s Seminary Press, 1998, p.25-28, 95.
Only a Pure Heart Understands the Lessons of the Saints
But for the searching and right understanding of the scriptures there is need of a good life and a pure soul, and for Christian virtue to guide the mind to grasp, so far as human nature can, the truth concerning God the Word. One cannot possibly understand the teaching of the saints unless one has a pure mind and is trying to imitate their life…. Similarly anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds. Thus united with them in the fellowship of life, he will both understand the things revealed to them by God and thenceforth escaping the peril that threatens sinners in the judgement, will receive that which is laid up for the saints in the kingdom of heaven.
~ On the Incarnation: The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, IX, S. 57. St. Valdimir’s Seminary Press, 1998, p. 96.