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1 General Considerations
2 Fundamental ideas of man & his redemption 
3 Fundamental Ideas of God, World, & Creation
4 Vehicles of Revelation; Scripture, Church, Tradition
5 Content of Revelation. God Three in One & Incarnation
6 Derivative Doctrines. Grace & Means of Grace; Christian Life; Last Things
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Chapters 6
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1 General Considerations

The theological training of Athanasius was in the school of Alexandria, and under the still predominant although modified influence of Origen. The resistance which the theology of that famous man had everywhere encountered had not availed, in the Greek-speaking churches of the East, to stem its influence; at the same time it had made its way at the cost of much of its distinctive character. Its principal opponent, Methodius, who represented the ancient Asiatic tradition, was himself not uninfluenced by the theology he opposed. The legacy of his generation to the Nicene age was an Origenism tempered in various degrees by the Asiatic theology and by accommodations to the traditional canon of ecclesiastical teaching. The degrees of this modification were various, and the variety was reflected in the indeterminate body of theological conviction which we find at the time of the outbreak of Arianism, and which, as already explained, lies at the basis of the reaction against the definition of Nicæa. The theology of Alexandria remained Origenist, and the Origenist character is purest and most marked in Pierius, Theognostus, and in the non-episcopal heads of the Alexandrian School. The bishops of Alexandria after Dionysius represent a more tempered Origenism. Especially this holds good of the martyred Peter, whom we find expressly correcting distinctive parts of the system of his spiritual ancestor. In Alexander of Alexandria, the theological sponsor of the young Athanasius, the combination of a fundamentally Origenist theology with ideas traceable to the Asiatic tradition is conspicuous.

Athanasius, then, received his first theological ideas from Origenist sources, and in so far as he eventually diverged from Origen we must seek the explanation partly in his own theological or religious idiosyncrasy and in the influences which he encountered as time went on, partly in the extent to which the Origenism of his masters was already modified by different currents of theological influence.

To work out this problem satisfactorily would involve a separate treatise and a searching study, not only of Athanasius but on the one hand of Origen and his school, on the other of Methodius and the earlier pre-Nicene theologians. What is here attempted is the more modest task of briefly drawing attention to some of the more conspicuous evidences of the process and to some of its results in the developed theology of the saintly bishop.

It has been said by Harnack that the theology of Athanasius underwent no development, but was the same from first to last. The truth of this verdict is I think limited by the fact that the Origenism of Athanasius distinctly undergoes a change, or rather fades away, in his later works. A non-Origenist element is present from the first, and after the contest with Arianism begins, Origen’s ideas recede more and more from view. Athanasius was influenced negatively by the stress of the Arian controversy: while the vague and loose Origenism of the current Greek theology inclined the majority of bishops to dread Sabellianism rather than Arianism, and to underrate the danger of the latter (pp. xviii., xxxv.), Athanasius, deeply impressed, from personal experience, with the negation of the first principles of redemption which Arianism involved, stood apart from the first from the theology of his Asiatic contemporaries and went back to the authority of Scripture and the Rule of Faith. He was influenced positively by the Nicene formula, which represents the combination of Western with anti-Origenist Eastern traditions in opposition to the dominant Eastern theology. The Nicene formula found in Athanasius a mind predisposed to enter into its spirit, to employ in its defence the richest resources of theological and biblical training, of spiritual depth and vigour, of self-sacrificing but sober and tactful enthusiasm; its victory in the East is due under God to him alone.

Athanasius was not a systematic theologian: that is he produced no many-sided theology like that of Origen or Augustine. He had no interest in theological speculation, none of the instincts of a schoolman or philosopher. His theological greatness lies in his firm grasp of soteriological principles, in his resolute subordination of everything else, even the formula ὁμοούσιος, to the central fact of Redemption, and to what that fact implied as to the Person of the Redeemer. He goes back from the Logos of the philosophers to the Logos of S. John, from the God of the philosophers to God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. His legacy to later ages has been felicitously compared to that of the Christian spirit of his age in the realm of architecture. ‘To the many forms of architectural conception which lived in Rome and Alexandria in the fourth century, the Christian spirit added nothing fresh. Its achievement was of a different kind. Out of the many it selected and consecrated one; the multiplicity of forms it carried back to a single dominant idea, not so much by a change in the spirit of the art as by the restoration of Religion to its place as the central motive. It bequeathed to the art of the middle ages the Basilica, and rendered possible the birth of Gothic, a style, like that of the old Greek Temple, truly organic. What the Basilica was in the history of the material, the central idea of Athanasius has been in that of the spiritual fabric; an auspicious reduction, full of promise for the future, of the exuberant speculation of Greek theology to the one idea in which the power of religion then resided’.

 
2 Fundamental ideas of man and his redemption

To Athanasius the Incarnation of the Son of God, and especially his Death on the Cross, is the centre of faith and theology. ‘For our salvation’ (Incar. the Word became Man and died. But how did Athanasius conceive of ‘salvation’? from what are we saved, to what destiny does salvation bring us, and what idea does he form of the efficacy of the Saviour’s death? Now it is not too much to say that no one age of the Church’s existence has done full justice to the profundity and manysidedness of the Christian idea of Redemption as effected in Christ and as unfolded by S. Paul. The kingdom of God and His Righteousness; the forgiveness of sins and the adoption of sons as a present gift; the consummation of all at the great judgment;—Christian men of different ages, countries, characters and mental antecedents, while united in personal devotion to the Saviour and in the sanctifying Power of His Grace, have interpreted these central ideas of the Gospel in terms of their own respective categories, and have succeeded in bringing out now one, now another aspect of the mystery of Redemption rather than in preserving the balance of the whole. Who will claim that the last word has yet been said on S. Paul’s deep conception of God’s (not mercy but) Righteousness as the new and peculiar element of the Gospel Revelation? to search out the unsearchable riches of Christ is the prerogative of Christian faith, but is denied, save to the most limited extent, to Christian knowledge. The onesidedness of any given age in apprehending the work of Christ is to be recognised by us not in a censorious spirit of self-complacency, but with reverent sympathy, and with the necessity in view of correcting our own.

Different ages and classes have necessarily thought under different categories. The categories of the post-apostolic age were mainly ethical; the Gospel is the new law, and the promise of eternal life, founded on true knowledge of God, and accepted by faith. Those of the Asiatic fathers from Ignatius downwards were largely physical or realistic. Mankind is brought in Christ (the physician) from death to life, from; human nature is changed by the Incarnation, man made God. Tertullian introduced into Western theology forensic categories. He applied them to the Person, not yet to the Work, of Christ: but the latter application, pushed to a repellent length in the middle ages, and still more so since the Reformation, may without fancifulness be traced back to the fact that the first Latin Father was a lawyer. Again, Redemption was viewed by Origen and others under cosmological categories, as the turning point in the great conflict of good with evil, of demons with God, as the inauguration of the deliverance of the creation and its reunion with God. The many-sidedness of Origen combined, indeed, almost every representation of Redemption then current, from the propitiatory and mediatorial, which most nearly approached the thought of S. Paul, to the grotesque but widely-spread view of a ransom due to the devil which he was induced to accept by a stratagem. It may be said that with the exception of the last-named every one of the above conceptions finds some point of contact in the New Testament; even the forensic idea, thoroughly unbiblical in its extremer forms, would not have influenced Christian thought as it has done had it not corresponded to something in the language of S. Paul.

Now Athanasius does not totally ignore any one of these conceptions, unless it be that of a transaction with the devil, which he scarcely touches even in Orat. ii. 5Of the forensic view he is indeed almost clear. His reference to the ‘debt’ which had to be paid is connected not so much with the Anselmic idea of a satisfaction due, as with the fact that death was by the divine word, attached to sin as its penalty.

The aspect of the death of Christ as a vicarious sacrifice is not passed over. But on the whole another aspect predominates. The categories under which Athanasius again and again states the soteriological problem are those of ζωὴ and θάνατος, and ἀφθαρσία. So far as he works the problem out in detail it is under physical categories, without doing full justice to the ideas of guilt and reconciliation, of the reunion of will between man and God. The numberless passages which bear this out cannot be quoted in full, but the point is of sufficient importance to demand the production of a few details.

(a) The original state of man was not one of ‘nature,’ for man’s nature is φθόρα. the Word was imparted to them in that they were made. Hence what later theology marks off as an exclusively supernatural gift is according to Athanasius inalienable from human nature, i.e. it can be impaired but not absolutely lost (Incar. 1and apparently Orat. iii. 10 fin.; the question of the teaching of Athan. upon the natural endowments of man belongs specially to the Introd. to de Incarnatione, where it will be briefly discussed). Accordingly their infraction of the divine command (by turning their minds, c. Gent. to lower things instead of to the θεωρία τῶν θείων), logically involved them in non-existence (de Incar. , but actually, inasmuch as the likeness of God was only gradually lost, in φθόρα, regarded as a process toward non-existence. This again involved men in increasing ignorance of God, by the gradual obliteration of the εἰκών, the indwelling Logos, by virtue of which alone men could read the open book of God’s manifestation of Himself in the Universe. It is evident that the pathological point of view here prevails over the purely ethical: the perversion of man’s will merges in the general idea of φθόρα, the first need of man is a change in his nature; or rather the renewed infusion of that higher and divine nature which he has gradually lost.

(b) Accordingly the mere presence of the Word in a human body, the mere fact of the Incarnation, is the essential factor in our restoration. But if so, what was the special need of the Cross? Athanasius felt, as we have already mentioned, the supremacy of the Cross as the purpose of the Saviour’s coming, but he does not in fact give to it the central place in his system of thought which it occupies in his instincts. Man had involved himself in the sentence of death; death must therefore take place to satisfy this sentence; the Saviour’s death, then, put an end to death regarded as penal and as symptomatic of man’s φθόρα. It must be confessed that Athanasius does not penetrate to the full meaning of S. Paul. The latter also ascribed a central import to the mere fact of the Incarnation, but primarily in relation to sin; and the destruction of the practical power of sin stands indissolubly correlated (Rom. viii. with the removal of guilt and so with the Righteousness of God realising itself in the propitiation of the blood of Christ.

To Athanasius nature is the central, will a secondary or implied factor in the problem. The aspect of the death of Christ most repeatedly dwelt upon is that in it death spent its force against human nature, that the ‘corruption’ of mankind might run its full course and be spent in the Lord’s body, and so cease for the future. Of this Victory over death and the demons the Resurrection is the trophy. His death is therefore to us, and have a portion in the divine nature, are in fact deified (cf. de Incarn. 5and note there). This last thought, which became the common property of Eastern theology, goes back through Origen and Hippolytus to Irenæus. On the whole, its presentation in Athanasius is more akin to the Asiatic than to the Origenist form of the conception. To Origen, man’s highest destiny could only be the return to his original source and condition: to Irenæus and the Asiatics, man had been created for a destiny which he had never realised; the interruption in the history of our race introduced by sin was repaired by the Incarnation, which carried back the race to a new head, and so carried it forward to a destiny of which under its original head it was incapable. To Origen the Incarnation was a restoration to, to Irenæus and to Athanasius, an advance upon, the original state of man. labours to prove the contrary, but he does not convince.)

(c) This leads us to the important observation that momentous as are to Athanasius the consequences of the introduction of sin into the world, he yet makes no such vast difference between the condition of fallen and unfallen men as has commonly been assumed to exist. The latter state was inferior to that of the members of Christ, while the immense consequences of its forfeiture came about only by a gradual course of deterioration, and in different degrees in different cases. The only difference of kind between the two conditions is in the universal reign of Death since the (partial) forfeiture of the τοῦ: and even this difference is a subtle one; for man’s existence in Paradise was not one of ἀφθαρσία except prospectively. He enjoyed present happiness, with promise of ἀφθαρσία in heaven. That is, death would have taken place, but not death as unredeemed mankind know it. In other words, man was created not so much in a state of perfection as with a capacity for perfection and with a destiny to correspond with such capacity. This destination remains in force even after man has failed to correspond to it, and is in fact assigned by Athanasius as the reason why the Incarnation was a necessity on God’s part. Accordingly, while man was created through the Word, the Word became Flesh that man might receive the yet higher dignity of Sonship; and while even before the Incarnation some men were de facto pure from sin involved in is even stronger, they were yet θνητοί and; whereas those in Christ die, no longer, but to live again.

(d) The above slight sketch of the Athanasian doctrine of man’s need of redemption and of the satisfaction of that need brings to light a system free from much that causes many modern thinkers to stumble at the current doctrine of the original state and the religious history of mankind. That mankind did not start upon their development with a perfect nature, but have fought their way up from an undeveloped stage through many lower phases of development; that this development has been infinitely varied and complex, and that sin and its attendant consequences have a pathological aspect which practically is as important as the forensic aspect, are commonplaces of modern thought, resting upon the wider knowledge of our age, and hard to reconcile with the (to us) traditional theological account of these things. The Athanasian account of them leaves room for the results of modern knowledge, or at least does not rudely clash with the instincts of the modern anthropologist. The recovery of the Athanasian point of view is prima facie again. At what cost is it obtained? Does its recognition involve us in mere naturalism veiled under religious forms of speech? That was certainly not the mind of Athanasius, nor does his system really lend itself to such a result. To begin with, the divine destiny of man from the first is an essential principle with our writer. Man was made and is still exclusively destined for knowledge of and fellowship with his Creator. Secondly the means, and the only means, to this end is Christ the Incarnate Son of God. In Him the religious history of mankind has its centre, and from Him it proceeds upon its new course, or rather is enabled once more to run the course designed for it from the first. How far Athanasius exhausted the significance of this fact may be a question; that he placed the fact itself in the centre is his lasting service to Christian thought.

(e) The categories of Athanasius in dealing with the question before us are primarily physical, i.e., on the one hand cosmological, on the other pathological. But it is well before leaving the subject to insist that this was not exclusively the case. The purpose of the Incarnation was at once to renew us, and to make known the Father; or as he elsewhere puts it. The idea of ἀφθαρσία which so often stands with him for the summum bonum imparted to us in Christ, involves a moral and spiritual restoration of our nature, not merely the physical supersession of.

 
3  Fundamental Ideas of God, the World, and Creation

The Athanasian idea of God has been singled out for special recognition in recent times; he has been claimed, and on the whole with justice, as a witness for the immanence of God in the universe in contrast to the insistence in many Christian systems on God’s transcendence or remoteness from all created things. The problem was one which Christian thought was decisively compelled to face by the Arian controversy. The Apologists and Alexandrians had partially succeeded in the problem expressed in the dying words of Plotinus, ‘to bring the God which is within into harmony with the God which is in the universe,’ or rather to reconcile the transcendence with the immanence of God. But their success was only partial: the immanence of the Word had been emphasised, but in contrast with the transcendence of the Father. This could not be more than a temporary resting-place for the Christian mind, and Arius forced a solution. That solution was found by Athanasius. The mediatorial work of the Logos is not necessary as though nature could not bear the untempered hand of the Father. The Divine Will is the direct and sole source of all things, and the idea of a mediatorial nature is inconsistent with the true idea of God, comparing carefully. ‘All things created are capable of sustaining God’s absolute hand. The hand which fashioned Adam now also and ever is fashioning and giving entire consistence to those who come after him.’ The immanence, or intimate presence and unceasing agency of God in nature, does not belong to the Word as distinct from the Father, but to the Father in and through the Word, in a word to God as God. This is a point which marks an advance upon anything that we find in the earliest writings of Athanasius, and upon the theology of his preceptor Alexander, to whom, amongst other not very clear formulæ, the Word is; Alexander cannot distinguish; Father and Son are Greek. This is indeed the principal particular in which Athanasius left the modified Origenism of his age, and of his own school, behind. If on the other hand he resembled Arius in drawing a sharper line than had been drawn previously between the one God and the World, it must also be remembered that his God was not the far off purely transcendent God of Arius, but a God not far from every one of us.

That God is beyond all essence is a thought common to Origen and the Platonists, but adopted by Athanasius with a difference, marked by the addition of γενητῆς. That God created all things out of pure bounty of being is common to Origen and Philo, being taken by the latter from Plato’s Timæus. The Universe, and especially the human soul, reflects the being of its Author. Hence there are two main paths by which man can arrive at the knowledge of God, the book of the Universe, and the contemplation or self-knowledge of the soul itself. So far Athanasius is on common ground with the Platonists; but he takes up distinctively Christian ground, firstly, in emphasising the insufficiency of these proofs after sin has clouded the soul’s vision, and, above all, in insisting on the divine Incarnation as the sole remedy for this inability, as the sole means by which man as he is can reach a true knowledge of God. Religion not philosophy is the sphere in which the God of Athanasius is manifest to man. Here, again, Athanasius is ‘Christo-centric.’ With Origen, Athanasius refuses to allow evil any substantive existence; evil resides in the will only, and is the result of the abuse of its power of free choice. The evil in the Universe is mainly the work of demons, who have aggravated the consequences of human sin also. On the other hand, the evil does not extend beyond the sphere of personal agency, and the Providence of God. exercises untiring care over the whole. The problem of suffering and death in the animal creation is not discussed by him; he touches very incidentally, on the deliverance of creation in connection with Rom.

 
4 Vehicles of Revelation; Scripture, the Church, Tradition

(a) The supreme and unique revelation of God to man is in the Person of the Incarnate Son. But though unique the Incarnation is not solitary. Before it there was the divine institution of the Law and the Prophets, the former a typical anticipation (de Incarn. 40. of the destined reality, and along with the latter ‘for all the world a holy school of the knowledge of God and the conduct of the soul.’ After it there is the history of the life and teaching of Christ and the writings of His first Disciples, left on record for the instruction of all ages. Athanasius again and again applies to the Scriptures the terms Greek. The implications of this as bearing on the literal exactness of Scripture he nowhere draws out. His strongest language is incidental to a controversial point: he maintains that ‘there is no hyperbola in Scripture; all is strictly true,’ but he proceeds on the strength of that principle to allegorise the verse he is discussing. In  Gent, he treats the account of Eden and the Fall as figurative. But in his later writings there is, so far as I know, nothing to match this. In fact, although he always employs the allegorical method, sometimes rather strangely, we discern, especially in his later writings, a tendency toward a more literal exegesis than was usual in the Alexandrian school. His discussion, e.g., of the sinlessness of Christ contrasts in this respect with that of his master Alexander, who appeals, following Origen’s somewhat startling allegorical application, a text nowhere used by Ath. in this way. This is doubtless largely due to the pressure of the controversy with the Arians, who certainly had more to gain than their opponents from the prevalent unhistorical methods of exegesis, as we see from the use made by them. Accordingly Athanasius complains loudly of their exegesis. on the primary necessity of always conscientiously studying the circumstances of time and place, the person addressed, the subject matter, and purpose of the writer, in order not to miss the true sense. This rule is the same as applies   to the interpretation of any writings whatever, and carries with it the strict subordination of the allegorical to the historical sense, contended for by the later school of Antioch, and now accepted by all reasonable Christians.

(b) The Canon of Scripture accepted by Athanasius has long been known from the fragments of the thirty-ninth Festal Letter. The New Testament Canon comprises all the books received at the present day, but in the older order, viz., Gospels, Acts, Catholic Epistles, Pauline Epistles, Apocalypse. The Old Testament canon is remarkable in several ways. The number of books is 2corresponding to the Alexandrian Jewish reckoning, not to the (probably) older Jewish or Talmudic reckoning of 2This at once excludes from the Canon proper the so-called ‘Apocrypha,’ with the exception of the additions to Daniel, and of Baruch and ‘the Epistle,’ which are counted as one book with Jeremiah. The latter is also the case with Lamentations, while on the other hand the number of is preserved by the reckoning of Ruth as a separate book from Judges to make up for the exclusion of Esther. This last point is archaic, and brings Athanasius into connection with Melito (171 a.d.), who gives a Canon which he has obtained by careful enquiry in Palestine. This Canon agrees with that of Athanasius except with regard to the order assigned to ‘Esdras’ (i.e. Ezra and Nehemiah, placed by M. at the end), to ‘the twelve in one book’ (placed by M. after Jer.), and Daniel (placed by M. before Ezekiel). Now, Esther is nowhere mentioned in the N.T., and the Rabbinical discussions as to whether Esther ‘defiled the hands’ (i.e. was ‘canonical’) went on to the time of R. Akiba (†135), an older, and even of R. Juda ‘the holy’ (150–210), a younger, contemporary of Melito. The latter, therefore, may represent the penultimate stage in the history of the Hebrew canon before its close in the second century. Here, then, Ath. represents an earlier stage of opinion than Origen, who gives the finally fixed Hebrew Canon of his own time, but puts Esther at the end. As to the number of books, Athan. agrees with Josephus, Melito, Origen, and with Jerome, who, however, knows of the other reckoning of 2Athanasius enumerates, as ‘outside the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us,’ Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Esther, Judith, and Tobit, as well as what is called the Teaching of the Apostles and the Shepherd. In practice, however, he quotes several of the latter as ‘Scripture’ (Wisdom repeatedly so, see index to this vol.); ‘The Shepherd’ is ‘most profitable,’ and quoted for the Unity of the Creator be his genuine work. He also quotes 1 Esdras for the praise of Truth, and 2 Esdras once, as a ‘prophet.’ ‘Daniel’ includes Susanna and Bel and the Dragon.

(c) On the sufficiency of Scripture for the establishment of all necessary doctrine Athanasius insists repeatedly and emphatically; and he follows up precept by example. ‘His works are a continuous appeal to Scripture.’ There is no passage in his writings which recognises tradition as supplementing Scripture, i.e., as sanctioning articles of faith not contained in Scripture. Tradition is recognised as authoritative in two ways. In other words, tradition with Athanasius is a formal, not a material, source of doctrine. His language exemplifies the necessity of distinguishing, in the case of strong patristic utterances on the authority of tradition, between different senses of the word. Often it means simply truth conveyed in Scripture, and in that sense ‘handed down’ from the first, as for example  Apol.  ‘the Gospel tradition,’ and Letter, where Scripture is ‘divinæ traditionis caput et origo.’). Moreover, tradition as distinct from Scripture is with Athanasius not a secret unwritten body of teaching handed down orally, but is to be found in the documents of antiquity and the writings of the Fathers, such as those to whom he appeals in de Decr., &c. That ‘the appeal of Athanasius was to Scripture, that of the Arians to tradition’ (Gwatkin) is an overstatement, in part supported by the pre-Nicene history of the word. The rejection of this word by the Antiochene Council (in 268–is met by Athanasius, de Synod. 43, sqq., partly by an appeal to still older witnesses in its favour, partly by the observation that ‘writing in simplicity the Fathers arrived not at accuracy concerning the ὁμοούσιον, but spoke of the word as they understood it,’ an argument strangely like that of the Homœans that the Fathers adopted the word ‘in simplicity.’

(d) Connected with the function and authority of tradition is that of the Church. On the essential idea of the Church there is little or nothing of definite statement. The term ‘Catholic Church’ is of course commonly used, both of the Church as a whole, and of the orthodox body in this or that place. The unity of the Church is emphatically dwelt on in the opening of the encyclical written in the name of Alexander as the reason for communicating the deposition of Arius at Alexandria to the Church at large. ‘The joyful mother of children’ is interpreted of the Gentile Church, ‘made to keep house', joyful ‘because her children are saved through faith in Christ,’ whereas those of the ‘synagogue’ are likewise interpreted of the Church as gathered from all nations; similarly the Ethiopians. gives a quite different and more allegorical sense, referring the verse to baptism). The full perfection of the Church is referred by Athanasius not to the (even ideal) Church on earth but to the Church in heaven. The kingdom of God’ is explained as ‘the enjoyment of the good things of the future, namely the contemplation and knowledge of God so far as man’s soul is capable of it,’ while the city in the de Titulis, but in the Expositio the Church glorified by ‘the indwelling of the Only-begotten.’ In all this we miss any decisive utterance as to the doctrinal authority of the Church except in so far as the recognition of such authority is involved in what has been cited above in favour of tradition. It may be said that the conditions which lead the mind to throw upon the Church the weight of responsibility for what is believed were absent in the case of Athanasius as indeed in the earlier Greek Church generally.

But Athanasius was far from undervaluing the evidence of the Church’s tradition. The organ by which the tradition of the Church does its work is the teaching function of her officers, especially of the Episcopate. But to provide against erroneous teaching on the part of bishops, as well as to provide for the due administration of matters affecting the Church generally, and for ecclesiastical legislation, some authority beyond that of the individual bishop is necessary. This necessity is met, in the Church as conceived by Athanasius, in two ways, firstly by Councils, secondly in the pre-eminent authority of certain sees which exercise some sort of jurisdiction over their neighbours. Neither of these resources of Church organisation meets us, in Athanasius, in a completely organised shape. A word must be said about each separately, then about their correlation.

(α) Synods. Synods as a part of the machinery of the Church grew up spontaneously. The meeting of the ‘Apostles and Elders’ at Jerusalem exemplifies the only way in which a practical resolution on a matter affecting a number of persons with independent rights can possibly be arrived at, viz., by mutual discussion and agreement. Long before the age of Athanasius it had been recognised in the Church that the bishops were the persons exclusively entitled to represent their flocks for such a purpose; in other words, Councils of bishops had come to constitute the legislative and judicial body in the Church. Both of these functions, and especially the latter, involved the further prerogative of judging of doctrine, as in the case of Paul of Samosata. But the whole system had grown up out of occasional emergencies, and no recognised laws existed to define the extent of conciliar authority, or the relations between one Council and another should their decisions conflict. Not even the area covered by the jurisdiction of a given Council was defined. We see a Synod at Arles deciding a case affecting Africa, and reviewing the decision of a previous Synod at Rome; a Council at Tyre trying the case of a bishop of Alexandria; a Council at Sardica in the West deposing bishops in the East, and restoring those whom Eastern Synods had deposed; we find Acacius and his fellows deposed at Seleucia, then in a few weeks deposing their deposers at Constantinople; Meletius appointed and deposed by the same Synod at Antioch in 36and in the following year resuming his see without question. All is chaos. The extent to which a Synod succeeds in enforcing its decisions depends on the extent to which it obtains de facto recognition. The canons of the Council of Antioch, are accepted as Church law, while its creeds are condemned as Arian.

We look in vain for any statement of principle on the part of Athanasius to reduce this confusion to order. The classical passage in his writings is the letter he has preserved from Julius of Rome to the Eastern bishops. The Easterns insist strongly on the authority of Councils, in the interests of their deposition of Athanasius at Tyre. Julius can only reply by invoking an old-established custom of the Church, ratified, he says, at Nicæa, that the decisions of one Council may be revised by another; a process which leads to no finality. The Sardican canons of three years later drew up, for judicial purposes only, a system of procedure, devolving on Julius (or possibly on the Roman bishop for the time being) the duty of deciding, upon the initiative of the parties concerned, whether in the case of a deposed bishop a new trial of the case was desirable, and permitting him to take part in such new trial by his deputies. But Athanasius never alludes to any such procedure, nor to the canons in question.

The absence of any a priori law relating to the authority of Synods applies to general as well as to local Councils. The conception of a general Council did not give rise to Nicæa, but vice versa. The precedent for great Councils had already been set at Antioch (268–and Arles; the latter in fact seems to be indirectly called by S. Augustine plenarium universæ ecclesiæ concilium; but the widely representative character of the Nicene Council, and the impressive circumstances under which it met, stamped upon it from the first a recognised character of its own. Again and again. Athanasius presses the Arians with their rejection of the decision of a ‘world-wide’ Council, contrasting it against the idea that any new creed is necessary or to be desired in addition to the Nicene. But in doing so, he does not suggest by a syllable that the Council was formally and a priori infallible, independently of the character of its decision as faithfully corresponding to the tradition of the Apostles. Its authority is secondary to that of Scripture, and its scriptural character is its justification (ib.). In short, Mr. Gwatkin speaks within the mark when he disclaims for Athan. any mechanical theory of conciliar infallibility. To admit this candidly is not to depreciate, but to acknowledge, the value of the great Synod of Nicæa; and to acknowledge it, not on the technical grounds of later ecclesiastical law, but on grounds which are those of Athanasius himself.

(β) Jurisdiction of bishops over bishops. The fully-developed and organised ‘patriarchal’ system does not meet us in the Nicene age. The bishops of important towns, however, exercise a very real, though not definable authority over their neighbours. This is especially true of Imperial residences. The migration of Eusebius to Nicomedia and afterwards to Constantinople broke through the time-honoured rule of the Church, but set the precedent commonly followed ever afterwards. In Egypt, although the name ‘patriarch’ was as yet unheard, the authority of the Bishop of Alexandria was almost absolute. The name ‘archbishop’ is here used for the first time. It is first applied apparently to Meletius, in his list of clergy, but at a later date (about 35to Athanasius in a contemporary inscription. At the beginning of his episcopate we find him requested to ordain in a diocese of Upper Egypt by its bishop. He sends bishops on deputations, and exercises ordinary jurisdiction over bishops and people of Libya and Pentapolis. This was a condition of things dating at least from the time of Dionysius (p. 17note . In particular he had practically the appointment of bishops for all Egypt, so that in the course of his long episcopate all the Egyptian sees were manned by his faithful adherents. The mention of Dionysius suggests the question of the relation of the see of Alexandria to that of Rome, and of the latter to the Church generally. On the former point, what is necessary will be said in the Introd. to the de Sent. Dion. With regard to the wider question, Athanasius expresses reverence for that bishopric ‘because it is an Apostolic throne,’ and ‘for Rome, because it is the metropolis of Romania’. That is his only utterance on the subject. Such reverence ought, he says, to have secured Liberius from the treatment to which he had been subjected. The language cited excludes the idea of any divinely-given headship of the Church vested in the Roman bishop, for his object is to magnify the outrageous conduct of Constantius and the Arians. Still less can anything be elicited from the account given by Ath. of the case of the Dionysii, or of his own relations to successive Roman bishops. He speaks of them as his beloved brothers and fellow-ministers and cordially. welcomes their sympathy and powerful support, without any thought of jurisdiction. But he furnishes us with materials, in the letter of Julius, for estimating not his own view of the Roman see, but that held by its occupant. The origin of the proceedings was the endeavour of the Easterns to procure recognition at Rome and in the West for their own nominee to the bishopric of Alexandria. They had requested Julius to hold a Council, ‘and to be himself the judge if he so pleased’. This was intended to frighten Athanasius, but not in the least, as the sequel shews, to submit the decisions of a Council to revision by a single bishop. Julius summoned a Council as described above, and at the end of a long period of delay and controversy sent a letter expressing his view of the case to the Orientals. This document has been already discussed (p. xliv.). It forms an important landmark in the history of papal claims, standing at least as significantly in contrast with those of the successors of Julius, as with those of his predecessors.

(γ) Bishops and Councils. The superiority of councils to single bishops (including those of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch) was questioned by no one in this age. Julius claims the support, not of authority inherent in his see, but of canons, and on the basis of them claims a voice in matters affecting the Church at large, not in his own name, but in that of ‘us all, that so a just sentence might proceed from all. Again, just as the judgment of his predecessor Melchiades and his council was revised at Arles in 31so the case of Athanasius and Marcellus was reheard at the Council of Sardica three years after the decision of Julius and his council. The council was the supreme organ of the Church for legislative, judicial, and doctrinal purposes; had any other of superior or even equal rank been recognised, or had the authority of councils themselves been defined a priori by a system of Church law, the confusion of the fourth century would not have arisen. Whether or no the age would have gained, we at least should have been the losers.

 
5 Content of Revelation. God Three in One and the Incarnation

To dwell at length on the theology of Athanasius under this head is unnecessary here, not because there is little to say, but partly because what there is to say has been to some extent anticipated above, partly because the history of his life and work is the best exposition of what he believed and taught. That his theology on these central subjects was profoundly moulded by the Nicene formula is (to the present writer at least) the primary fact. This of course presupposes that the Nicene faith found in him a character and mind prepared to become its interpreter and embodiment; and that this was so his pre-Nicene writings sufficiently shew.

For instance, his progressive stress on the Unity of the Godhead in Father, Son, and Spirit is but the following up of the thought expressed de Incarn. It may be noted that he argues also from the idea of the Trinity to the coessential Godhead of of differentiating the relation of the Spirit to the Father from the γέννησις of the Son by a confession of ignorance and a censure upon those who assume that they can search out the deep things of God. The principle might be applied to this point which is laid down de Decr. 1that ‘an act’ belonging to the essence of God, cannot, by virtue of the simplicity of the Divine Nature, be more than one: the ‘act’ therefore of divine nature of which we do not know cannot apply to the Spirit but only to the Son. But I do not recollect any passage in which Athanasius draws this conclusion from his own premises. The language of Athanasius on the procession of the Spirit is unstudied. he appears to adopt the ‘procession’ of the Spirit from the Father through the Son. In Serap, he speaks of the Spirit as Greek, just as the Word is. His language on the subject, expressing the idea common to East and West (under the cloud of logomachies which envelop the subject) might possibly furnish the basis of an ‘eirenicon’ between the two separated portions of Christendom. In explaining the ‘theophanies’ of the Old Testament, Athanasius takes a position intermediate between that of the Apologists, &c. who referred them to the Word, and that of Augustine who referred them to Angels only. According to Athanasius the ‘Angel’ was and was not the Word: regarded as visible he was an Angel simply, but the Voice was the Divine utterance through the Word.

Lastly, it must again be insisted that in his polemic against Arianism Athanasius is centrally soteriological. It is unnecessary to collect passages in support of what will be fully appreciated only after a thorough study of the controversial treatises. The essence of his position is comprised in his paraphrase of St. Peter’s address to the Jews. With regard to the Incarnation, it may be admitted that Athanasius uses language which might have been modified had he had later controversies in view. His common use of Greek for the Manhood of Christ (see below, p. 8 might be alleged by the Nestorian, his comparison of it to the vesture of the High Priest by the Apollinarian or Monophysite partisan. But at least his use of either class of expressions shews that he did not hold the doctrine associated in later times with the other. Moreover, while from first to last he is explicitly clear as to the seat of personality in Christ, which is uniformly assigned to the Divine Logos, the integrity of the manhood of Christ is no less distinctly asserted. He uses σῶμα and ἄνθρωπος indifferently during the earlier stages of the conflict, ignoring or failing to notice the peculiarity of the Luciano-Arian Christology. But from 3onward the full integrity of the Saviour’s humanity, is energetically asserted against the theory of Apollinarius and those akin to it. Some corollaries of this doctrine must now be mentioned.

The question of the sinlessness of Christ is not discussed by Athanasius ex professo until the controversy with Apollinarianism. In the earlier Arian controversy the question was in reality involved, partly by the Arian theory of the πρεπτότης of the Word, partly by the correlated theory of Greek, and Athanasius instinctively falls back on the consideration that the Personality of the Son, if Divine, is necessarily sinless. the question is more thoroughly analysed. The complete psychological identity of Christ’s human nature with our own is maintained along with the absolute moral identity of His will.

With regard to the human knowledge of Christ, the texts Mark, lie at the foundation of his discussion Orat. iii. 42–5The Arians appealed to these passages to support the contention that the Word, or Son of God in His Divine nature, was ignorant of ‘the Day,’ and advanced in knowledge. The whole argument of Athan. in reply is directed to shewing that these passages apply not to the Word or Son in Himself, but to the Son Incarnate. He knows as God, is ignorant as man. Omniscience is the attribute of Godhead, ignorance is proper to man. The Incarnation was not the sphere of advancement to the Word, but of humiliation and condescension; but the Manhood advanced in wisdom as it did in stature also, for advance belongs to man. That is the decisive and clear-cut position of Athanasius on this subject (which the notes there vainly seek to accommodate to the rash dogmatism of the schools). Athanasius appeals to the utterances of Christ which imply knowledge transcending human limitations in order to shew that such knowledge, or rather all knowledge, was possessed by the Word; in other words such utterances belong to the class of ‘divine’ not to that of ‘human’ phenomena in the life of Christ. So far as His human nature was concerned, He assumed its limitations of knowledge equally with all else that belongs to the physical and mental endowments of man. Why then was not Divine Omniscience exerted by Him at all times? This question is answered as all questions must be which arise out of any limitation of the Omnipotence of God in the Manhood of Christ. It was ‘for our profit, as I at least think’ (ib. 48). The very idea of the Incarnation is that of a limiting of the Divine under human conditions, the Divine being manifested in Christ only so far as the Wisdom of God has judged it necessary in order to carry out the purpose of His coming. In other words, Athanasius regarded the ignorance of Christ as ‘economical’ only in so far as the Incarnation is itself an οἰκονομία, a measured revelation, at once a veiling and a manifestation, of all that is in God. That the divine Omniscience wielded in the man Christ Jesus an adequate instrument for its own manifestation Athanasius firmly holds: the exact extent to which such manifestation was carried, the reserve of miraculous power or knowledge with which that Instrument was used, must be explained not by reference to the human mind, will, or character of Christ, but to the Divine Will and Wisdom which alone has both effected our redemption and knows the secrets of its bringing about. With Athanasius, we may quote St. Paul.

It may be observed before leaving this point that Athanasius takes occasion to distinguish two senses of the words ‘the Son,’ as referring on the one hand to the eternal, on the other to the human existence of Christ. To the latter he limits Mark xiii. 3the point is of importance in view of his relation to Marcellus.

As a further corollary of the Incarnation we may notice his frequent use of the word θεοτόκος as an epithet or as a name for the Virgin Mary. The translation ‘Mother of God’ is of course erroneous. ‘God-bearer’, the literal equivalent, is scarcely idiomatic English. The perpetual virginity of Mary is maintained incidentally, but there is an entire absence in his writings not only of worship of the Virgin, but of ‘Mariology,’ i.e., of the tendency to assign to her a personal agency, or any peculiar place, in the work of Redemption. Further, the argument of Orat. that the sending of Christ in the flesh for the first time (λοιπόν) liberated human nature from sin, and enabled the requirement of God’s law to be fulfilled in man (an argument strictly within the lines of Rom. viii. , would be absolutely wrecked by the doctrine of the freedom of Mary from original sin (‘immaculate conception’). If that doctrine be held, sin was ‘condemned in the flesh’ (i.e., first deposed from its place in human nature, see Gifford or Meyer-Weiss in loc.), not by the sending of Christ, but by the congenital sinlessness of Mary. If the Arians had only known of the latter doctrine, they would have had an easy reply to that powerful passage.

 
6 Derivative Doctrines. Grace and the Means of Grace; The Christian Life; The Last Things

The idea of Grace is important to the theological system of Athanasius, in view of the central place occupied in that system by the idea of restoration and new creation as the specific work of Christ upon His fellow-men. But, in common with the Greek Fathers generally, he does not analyse its operation, nor endeavour to fix its relation to free will. The divine predestination relates (for anything that Ath. says) not to individuals so much as to the Purpose of God, before all ages, to repair the foreseen evil of man’s fall by the Incarnation. On the general subject of Sacraments and their efficacy, he says little or nothing. The initiatory rite of Baptism makes us sons of God, and is the only complete renewal to be looked for in this life, Serap. iv. It is accompanied by confession of faith in the Trinity, and the baptism administered by Arians who do not really hold this faith is therefore in peril of losing its value. The grace of the Spirit conferred at baptism will be finally withdrawn from the wicked at the last judgment. In the de Trin. et Sp. S. baptism is coupled with the imposition of hands as one rite. On the Eucharist there is an important passage, which must be given in full. He has been speaking of sin against the Holy Spirit, which latter name he applies to the Saviour’s Divine Personality. He proceeds to illustrate this by John.

‘For here also He has used both terms of Himself, flesh and spirit; and He distinguished the spirit from what is of the flesh in order that they might believe not only in what was visible in Him, but in what was invisible, and so understand that what He says is not fleshly, but spiritual. For for how many would the body suffice as food, for it to become meat even for the whole world? But this is why He mentioned the ascending of the Son of Man into heaven; namely, to draw them off from their corporeal idea, and that from thenceforth they might understand that the aforesaid flesh was heavenly from above, and spiritual meat, to be given at His hands. For ‘what I have said unto you,’ says He, ‘is spirit and life;’ as much as to say, ‘what is manifested, and to be given for the salvation of the world, is the flesh which I wear. But this, and the blood from it, shall be given to you spiritually at My hands as meat, so as to be imparted spiritually in each one, and to become for all a preservative to resurrection of life eternal.’

Beyond this he does not define the relation of the outward and visible in the Eucharist to the spiritual and inward. The reality of the Eucharistic gift is insisted on as strongly as its spirituality in such passages as ad Max. and the comment on Matt, ‘See to it, therefore, Deacon, that thou do not administer to the unworthy the purple of the sinless body,’ and the protest of the Egyptian bishops that their churches ‘are adorned only by the blood of Christ and by the pious worship of Him.’ The Holy Table is expressly stated to have been made of wood, and was situated in a space called the Greek. The Eucharist was celebrated in most places every Sunday, but not on week-days. To celebrate the Eucharist was the office of the bishop or presbyter was held by Athanasius to be a layman only, and therefore incapable of offering the Eucharist. The sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist is not touched upon, except in the somewhat strange fragment from an Oratio de defunctis, which contains the words Greek. He insists on the finality of the sacrifice of the Cross. On repentance and the confession of sins there is little to quote. He strongly asserts the efficacy of repentance, and explains Heb. vi. of the unique cleansing and restoring power of baptism. A catena on Jeremiah preserves a fragment, which compares the ministry of the priest in baptism to that in confession.

On the Christian ministry again there is little direct teaching. The ordinations by the presbyter Colluthus. The letter (4to Dracontius contains vigorous and beautiful passages on the responsibility of the Ministry. On the principles of Christian conduct there is much to be gathered from obiter dicta in the writings of Athanasius. His description of the revival of religious life at Alexandria in 34and the exhortations in the Easter letters, are the most conspicuous passages for this purpose. In particular, he insists on the necessity of a holy life and pure mind for the apprehension of divine things, and especially for the study of the Scriptures. He strongly recommends the discipline of fasting, in which, as compared with other churches (Rome especially), the Alexandrian Christians were lax (Letter but he warns them in his first Easter letter to fast ‘not only with the body, but also with the soul.’ He also dwells on the essential difference of spirit between Christian festivals and Jewish observance of days. Christ is the true Festival, embracing the whole of the Christian life (Letters He lays stress on love to our neighbour, and especially on kindness to the poor. On one important practical point he is very emphatic: ‘Persecution is a device of the devil’. This summary judgment was unfortunately less in accordance with the spirit of the times than with the Spirit of Christ.

The ascetic teaching of Athanasius must be reserved for the introduction to the Vita Antoni. His eschatology calls for discussion in connection with the language of the de Incarnatione, and will be briefly noticed in the introduction to that tract. With regard to prayers for the departed, he distinguishes the careless, whose friends God will move to assist them with their prayers, from the utterly wicked who are beyond the help of prayer.