Tag Archives: Athanasius

LATC 2018 – Adam and Christ: Human Solidarity Before God

The following are notes from Frances Young’s plenary talk.

Slime Mold

  • Japanese Scientist “trained” them to make their way through a maze
  • A self-organizing organism that is greater than the sum of its parts
  • Emergence & feedback mechanisms – do we need to reimagine ourselves as constituting an organism that is greater than the sum of its parts?


David Kelsey

  • Shares some common themes – but today we take up a feature that lies outside of Kelsey’s definition
    • Personal living body with an unsubistitutable identity
    • Rules out participation in Christ
      • “It is human kind that is some sort of corporate whole that exhibits the image of God. However just what this means is unclear.”


Corporate Personality (Whole of Humanity Represented both in Adam and in Christ)

  • Central to early Christian understanding



  • He took humanity that we might share divinity
  • Does he think of Christ’s humanity as that of a particular human man or humanity in general?
  • To grasp the sweep of his story we need to take account of his apologetic concerns
    • There is an oscillation in Athanasius’ work between Humanity and Soul
  • The Death of all was fulfilled in the Lord’s body – he somehow dies the death of the whole human race – its impossible to do justice to patristic thought without taking into account the corporate whole of humanity


Athanasius and the Corporate Whole

  • Passages reflect Platonist intellectual background – particular cases acquire a certain property by participating in its absolute form.
  • Because he is the TRUE Son – particulars can participate in this form
  • The body of Christ – passing through death and resurrection – is absolute humanity – renewed and recreated – the humanity of Christ is some kind of coproprate whole and Athanasius’ theological schema will fall apart without it.
  • Two-fold scheme – Solidarity in Sin and Solidarity in Christ


Charles Taylor and The Modern Sources of the Self

  • Contrast “modern” anthropology & this participation model
  • We no longer think of ourselves collectively
  • The term community has crept in but it is a way of talking about individuals who feel they are in the same boat – they think relationships are ultimately about themselves and their own personal commitment
  • “The Hunger Angel”


However necessary it is to counter individualism with the emphasis on our communal nature does not actually reclaim the human corporations that we find in the patristic sources.

See the book “Think like an anthropologist” – we are all interconnected – scientific study upholds a view of a universal human nature – the intertwining of narratives is a way in which the particular and universal interact

Back to Slime Mold

  • Through feedback mechanism individuals become part of a larger whole
  • By emergence we have the capacity to reappropriate something like the corporate personality of the patristics

Atonement & the Image of God: The Patristic Atonement Model – Notes on Ben Myers – LATC15 Presentation

Ben Myers – well known for his Faith-Theology blog – lecturer in Systematic Theology at Charles Sturt Univsersity’s School of Theology presented a paper at LATC tonight titled – Atonement and the Image of God: The Patristic Model of Atonement.

Ben Myers – Author of Christ the Stranger, Salvation in my Pocket, and Milton’s Theology of Freedom.

Here are my notes (sort of incomplete notes) on his lecture and the Q & A time after the lecture

Atonement and the Image of God

Ben Myers

The Patristic Atonement Model

No Explanation?

  • The how of the operation remains a mystery – or so say most modern theologians. Most are content to settle for a restatement rather than an explanation.
  • Gustaf Aulen – the Patristic Model has no mechanism; it defies systematization
    • The teaching is internally contradictory
    • The Anselmian model is disreputable b/c its structure is too rational
    • Christus Victor is not a model at all….
    • Anti-Mechanism

Thesis: Christian antiquity did indeed develop a model of atonement – and it does indeed have a mechanism behind it.

The Model – 12 Steps

  1. Humanity, created in the image of God is loved by God.
    1. Assumption 1: There is one human nature. All individual human beings participate in this universal (realism).
  2. But human nature has succumbed to the power of death.
    1. Assumption 2: Death is and a positive quality but a privation of being (privation).
  3. Divine impassibility.
  4. ???
  5. What is God to do?
  6. In Christ, God becomes incarnate: the divine nature is united with human nature.
    1. Assumption 4: Exactly how this union occurs is unknowable. (Hypostatic Union)
  7. In this union each nature retains its own distinctiveness while participating in the properties of the other.
  8. In Christ’s death – death dies (the mechanism).
  9. Christ resurrection is the inevitable consequence of his death.
  10. What happens to human nature in Christ happens to humanity as a whole (because of m1) (The universal effect)
  11. Human nature is now freed from the power of death and is restored to its created position. This is a good thing. (The solution)
  12. Human nature is now united to God and receives far surpassing its created position. This is a very good thing. (The surplus)

Divine Impassability

  • Divine impassibility is the reason for the incarnation (see Athanasius)
    • For this reason he takes on a body capable of death – to snatch humanity out of the grip of death.
    • Communication of properties makes it so that God can be capable of tasting death…It was God’s body that suffered and no one elses.
    • The problem that the incarnation solves is the problem of impassibility
      • God is “touched” by suffering without being changed by it.
    • The Son’s human nature is the doorway into death – but who “steps through the word is the eternal logos.”

Death and the Devil

  • Assumption: Death is a privation of being.
    • Non-being is defeated when it comes into contact with the Divine Being.
      • e. light darkness disappears when light comes on
    • That evil & death is a privation is axiomatic w/in Patristics & early theologians
    • The atonement is not a struggle b/w God and Satan
      • The struggle w/ demons is strictly b/w us and Satan/Demons
    • The point of these metaphors is not to show that Christ defeats the devil
      • The mechanism behind these metaphors is about the possibility of the impassible nature going into death and defeating it from within.
    • Gregory of Nyssa – The Fishook Passage
      • The real problem is not Satan but Death
      • Death is not a positive power, but a privation of life
    • The Mechanism – Divinity touches death and death is no more (i.e. putting being into non-being)
      • Death is an absence that Christ fills

Realism and Human Nature

  • The view that humanity is essentially one – universal human nature that all humans participate in –
    • Use metaphors and analogies to depict this
      • Ireneaus – Single book Metaphor
      • Athanasius – A Town that a King lives in
      • Gregory – Kitchen and yeast in the dough or a curdling agent for milk
    • They assert this view – and don’t give much of an explanation for this assumption
    • See Athansius – On Incarnation, pg 9, sacrifice language is “one and the many” language.
      • Not a depiction of the mechanism but a depiction of the universal effects
      • This answers the question – not how it works – but for whom it works.
    • The Language of sacrifice is used to depict how Jesus death counts for us.

The Solution and the Surplus

  • Christ wraps himself in our falling human nature – takes us higher than we started.
  • Dying human nature is infused with Divine life.
  • The surplus factor belongs to the atonement model proper.
    • It communicates human qualities to divine nature
    • It communicates divine qualities to human nature – thus elevating it.
  • We rise up to an honor that is above our nature (when we were created).



Q1- I’m interested in this assumption that there is one human nature that all individual human beings participate in. Could you elaborate a little bit upon what you think forms the background for this philosophical assumption…

  • OT Models (Adam & Humanity, Sacrifice & One Representing Many)
  • NT Pauline Descriptions of Adam & 2nd Adam
  • Ireneus sees human nature as being instantiated throughout history, beginning with Adam, Israel, and Finally Christ. Human nature is a thing that unfolds through time.
  • Some others see human nature as a more abstract universal. (Almost in a Platonic way.)

Q2- Where does Sin fit into this Patristic Model?

  • I’m not persuaded that there is an integration with Anselmian models.
  • In Patristic theology the emphasis is on the problem brought about by Sin i.e. Death – not on sin itself.

Q3-What are the implications of the realism assumption. How can the son assume sinful human nature? Assuming that he can – why isn’t incarnation in itself enough for atonement?

  • Because there was a fall with death – there must be a death in the life of Christ or else Christ cannot lift us up from it.

Q4- Given modern discussions about anthropology – the idea that there is no one thing which we man by “human nature” i.e. the plurality of the human species – how does this idea that there is a universal nature affect your view?

  • I don’t quite see how you can hold to the gospel without having some way of talking about humanity as a whole. The NT itself has ways about talking about the whole of humanity.

What I’m Currently Reading – May 22nd

Right now I have several books that I am making my way through right now. As is usually the case some are a bit more academic, some are more devotional, and others are more ministry oriented. I find it helpful to mix things up in that way. (Also I am in the process of working through Church Dogmatics, but that might take me the rest of my life…)

Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood by David Setran and Chris Kiesling

As surprising as it may sound, this is the first book of this type that I have ever read. I usually don’t delve much into sociology, and this book relies heavily upon the social sciences, but I am finding this book absolutely fascinating. Although I already knew much of what their research has found (from anecdotal and personal experience) I have found it very helpful in understanding what the major issues are that the college students I work with are facing. Also, since I am an “emerging” adult I am learning quite a bit about my own beliefs. I honestly didn’t realize how well I fit the mold of an “emerging adult.”

Here is the Amazon Blurb: Here two authors–both veteran teachers who are experienced in young adult and campus ministry–address this new and urgent field of study, offering a Christian perspective on what it means to be spiritually formed into adulthood. They provide a practical theology for emerging adult ministry and offer insight into the key developmental issues of this stage of life, including identity, intimacy and sexuality, morality, church involvement, spiritual formation, vocation, and mentoring. The book bridges the gap between academic and popular literature on emerging adulthood and offers concrete ways to facilitate spiritual formation among emerging adults.

Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict by Chris Keith

I just received a copy of this book from Baker Academic, so a review will be coming out shortly. I have always thought that Jesus conflict with the religious leaders revolved around the Temple – namely Jesus’ critique of the temple institution and Jesus claims to supplant it. I am really interested to see what Kieth sees as the core of the conflict between these two parties.

Here is the Amazon Blurb: How did the controversy between Jesus and the scribal elite begin? We know that it ended on a cross, but what put Jesus on the radar of established religious and political leaders in the first place? Chris Keith argues that, in addition to concerns over what Jesus taught and perhaps even how he taught, a crucial aspect of the rising conflict concerned his very status as a teacher.

Eternal Wisdom from the Desert: Writings from the Desert Fathers

This volume contains Athanasius’  The Life of St. Anthony, St. Jerome’s The Life of Paul the Hermit, and the collected sayings of many of the desert fathers. So far I am about half way through The Life of St. Anthony, lets just say this hagiography is a bit over the top. Nevertheless, I am finding myself strangely encouraged by reading this embellished biography. I am finding myself encouraged to spend more time in prayer and to focus more on spiritual discipline. I am finding myself encouraged to imitate some of Anthony’s characteristics, namely his devotion to prayer, his reliance upon Christ’s power, and his insistence on getting rid of sin in his life. I guess that is why Athanasius wrote the book though…. If you can get past the over the top elements of some of the material in the book you will certainly find yourself encouraged to grow in your relationship with Christ.

Did Jesus Have to Die on a Cross? Athanasius’ Response (Pt. 1)

A while ago I took an atonement seminar with Oliver Crisp, among the discussions that we had, one student, Gavin Ortlund (the son of Gospel Coalition Pastor Ray Ortlund) brought up a really interesting question: “Did Jesus have to die on a cross? Could it have been a guillotine (if they had those), or could he have gotten run over by a horse, or could he have just died of old age? Would those kinds of deaths been effective for our atonement?” Up until that point I had never thought of that question. I just assumed that because Jesus did die on the cross, he had to die on the cross. I guess that is why I’m not a great theologian, I don’t think of these kinds of questions. Luckily though, somebody else besides Gavin has. Athanasius, the patristic theologian, writes about it in “On the Incarnation.”

Four Reasons Why Jesus Died on a Cross as Opposed to Some Other Way (Athanasius’ Response to Non-Christians)

Here is how Athanasius begins his discussion:

Why, then, one might ask, if it were necessary for him to deliver the body to death on behalf of all, did he not lay it aside as a human being, instead of going so far as to be crucified?

  1. It was not fitting for the Lord to die of illness. (Section 21) Could Jesus have died of cancer or tuberculosis etc (if that is even possible) and cause atonement to be made?  Athanasius says no…“For it was neither fitting for the Lord to be ill, he who healed the illness of others, nor again for the body to be weakened, in which he strengthened the weakness of others.”
  2. Jesus had to intentionally approach death in order to be victorious over it. (Section 22) Athanasius says that “it was not fitting for the Word of God, being Life, to give death to his own body by himself, so neither was it suitable to flee from what was given by others, but rather to follow it to destruction….Such action did not show weakness on the part of the Word, but rather made him known to be Savior and Life, in that he both waited for death to destroy it and hastened to complete the death given to him for the salvation of all…he accepted that death coming from human beings in order to destroy it completely when it came to his body.” Jesus’ death had to be intentional, not accidental (in the full sense of the word).
  3. He had to have witnesses (Section 25).  Could Jesus have died “away by himself privately and ‘in a corner” or in a desert place or a house anywhere at all, the suddenly appear again from the dead? Athanasius says no! “If these things had taken place in secret, how many pretexts would they (the Pharisees) have devised for disbelief? How then could the end of death, and the victory over it, be demonstrated, unless summoning it in the sight of all he proved it to be dead, being annulled thereafter by the incorruptibility of the body?” So basically Athanasisus says, it had to be a public death or else people would be able to have reasonable doubts about his actual resurrection. People might claim that he merely fainted or that it was all a hoax.
  4. Jesus had to intentionally let death attack him in order to be victorious over it. Athanasius compares Jesus’ victory over death to a wrestler’s victory. He says that if a wrestler chooses his opponents, some will be suspicious of his choices. They will say that he was fearful of some opponents and that is why he did not choose to fight those one.  A brave wrestler will allow the crowd to choose whom he will fight, that way the crowd knows the match is not “fixed” and the crowd will not doubt the wrestler’s bravery. Jesus faces death in the same way. Christ “did not contrived death, but he accepted and endured on the cross that inflicted by others, especially enemies… in order that the power of death might be completely annihilated.”

Some of these reasons are more convincing than the others. I think 3 and 4 are the strongest… but I will let you make that call.

Do you think that Jesus “had” to die on a cross (as opposed to some other way)? If so, why?

Why Did the Son Become Incarnate?

Why did the Son become incarnate? That is a good question. Several people on the A-Team (Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas and Anselm) have all taken a shot at answering this question. Usually the answer gets tied in to the doctrine of atonement. Here is what Athanasius has to say about that question:

For speaking of the manifestation of the Savior to us it is necessary also to speak of the origin of human beings, in order that you might know that our own cause was the occasion of his descent and that our own transgression evoked the Word’s love for human beings, so that the Lord both came to us and appeared among human beings. For we were the purpose of his embodiment, and for our salvation he so loved human beings as to come and appear in a human body. Thus, then, God created the human being and willed that he should abide in incorruptibility; but when humans despised and overturned the comprehension of God, devising and contriving evil for themselves, as we said in the first work (Against the Gentiles), then 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. (De Incarnationae S.4)

So why did the Son become incarnate? Quite simply, the Son became incarnate to save us from the death we had brought upon ourselves.

Thanks be to God!