A Summary of On the Incarnation of the Word of God by St. Athanasius – Chapter by Chapter



we will now discuss the Incarnation and Divine Manifestation of the Word, in order that on account of His humiliation He may be the more reverenced… In treating of the Incarnation it is best to begin with the Creation, for then we see that the restoration of the fallen creation was fitly wrought by its Creator, and how the Father worked out its re-creation in Him through whom He had originally created it.


I. The Doctrine of Creation


Rejection of Erroneous Views of the Origin of the Universe

Rejection of the theory of the—

1. Epicuræans; spontaneous generation.

—> For this would entail mere existence without diversity of forms.

2. Platonists; formation of the world out of pre-existent matter.

—> This imputes infirmity to God, making Him not Creator, but craftsman.

3. Gnostics; dual agency in creation—matter essentially an evil, and God making the best out of it He could.

—> Holy Scripture refutes this (Matt. 19:4; John 1:3), showing that God created all things without any exception through His Word.


The True Doctrine of Creation

Such vain babblings the Christian faith condemns as godless.

The true doctrine is that God brought the universe into being out of nothing (Gen. 1:1; Sheph. Herm. Mand. 1; Hebrews 9:3).

God is the fount of goodness, and out of His own goodness He brought man into being, and, because he was by his nature incapable of continuance, He endowed him with the exceptional gift of being in God’s Image. To aid man’s free-will towards right, He further strengthened the grace given—

1. By a law;

2. By a place.

For He placed him in Paradise, and promised him celestial bliss conditionally on his perseverance in grace (Gen. 2:17); on the other hand, death was made the penalty of transgression; and not death simply, but death and the continuance in the corruption of death.

II. Reasons for the Incarnation

1. Man’s Moral Fall


The Doctrine of the Fall

It was the fall of man after his creation that brought about the Incarnation of the Word.

God made man for incorruption, but man fell away and death reigned supreme. The Word called them into being, but by turning away from their Creator, the only source of their being, they declined into a state verging on non-existence and corruption.

Man is mortal, but through his likeness to the Self-existent One, he would have been immortal, had he not fallen.


The Sad State of Man after the Fall

God not merely created man, but also gave him the grace of a likeness to the Divine life. Through envy of the devil, sin and death entered the world; and from that one fault sprang illimitable sin and wickedness, as St. Paul shows (Rom. 1:18 foll.).

For God has not only made us out of nothing, but also graced us with a life in accordance with God’s by the grace of the Word (50).


Some Remedy for the Fall was necessary

The human race was perishing by the spoiling of the likeness to God. Death reigned supreme, and this it was impossible to escape, for God had added that law because of transgression.

What, then, was to be done? Either God must be false to His word, that for sin man must die, and let man live—which would be monstrous; or, that which had once shared in the being of the Word must sink again into non-existence through corruption—which would be unfitting. For thus God’s design in creating man would be frustrated—which would be most unfitting.

All things were becoming corrupt: what was God’s goodness to do? Suffer corruption to reign over them? Why, then, was man created? For weakness would be attributed to God if His work failed under His very eyes. This would be most monstrous.

Therefore man could not be left in corruption.

man, rational (λογικός), and made after God’s Image, was disappearing, and the work wrought by God was being destroyed (52)…

It was impossible, therefore, to leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of God’s goodness (53)


Repentance alone was insufficient

And yet, God must be true to Himself and to His Word.

What, then, was God to do? Demand repentance for the transgression? But repentance would not satisfy the law which demanded death; nor would it amend a fallen nature. It would only cause cessation from sin.

Had corruption not followed from sin, repentance might have availed; but death and corruption once incurred, men lost the grace of God’s Image, and stood in need of the Word Himself, their Creator, to re-create them. No one else could re-create but the Creator. He alone could worthily guard the consistency of God, re-create everything, suffer for all, and represent all.

What else were necessary to be done, or what was needed for such grace and recal, but the Word of God, who also in the beginning had made everything out of nothing? (54)

For it was His part both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption, and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For being Word of the Father and above all, He therefore naturally was alone both able to re-create everything, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all, and to be ambassador for all with the Father (54).


The Incarnation of the Word

The Word, therefore, in His loving-kindness, visits the earth, from which He was never really absent. He sees the evil and pities mankind, and takes a body similar to ours. This He prepares for Himself in the womb of a pure and stainless virgin, and personally appropriates it.

This body He offered to the Father as a sacrifice on behalf of all, to do away with death; and by this offering He restored to us incorruption, and by His Resurrection He abolished death for ever.

He pitied our race and compassionated our weakness and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear the mastery of death—lest His creature should perish and the work of His Father in man come to naught—He takes to Himself a body, and that one like our own (55).

that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and quicken them from death by the personal appropriation of His body, and, by the grace of the resurrection, making death to completely vanish from them, as straw from fire (56).


By the Incarnation we are freed from Death

The Word, perceiving that death could not be abolished except by the death of all; and since He Himself, the Immortal Word, could not die, took a body capable of death, and in it made a sufficient death for all: He by the resurrection abolished corruption, and by the self-sacrifice obliterated death. For He by His death satisfied all that was required, since all are united with Him; and by our solidarity with Him and one another we all are clothed with His immortality, and death no longer has any power over us. The presence of an emperor in a city preserves it from attack, and similarly the presence of the Word in human nature has put an end to the plots of our enemies and the corruption of death.

Whence, by offering to death the body He Himself took as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, He forthwith obliterated death from all His peers by the offering of the equivalent (57).

thus the incorruptible Son of God, being united with all in virtue of a like nature, naturally clothed all with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the corruption itself in death no longer has force against men by virtue of the Word dwelling in them through His one body (57).

Just as when a great emperor has entered into some large city and dwelt in one of its houses, such city is naturally deemed worthy of much honour, and no enemy or bandit any longer descends upon it to overthrow it, but rather it is deemed worthy of all respect because of the emperor dwelling in one house there; so, too, is it with the Monarch of all. For having come into our region, and dwelt in one body amongst His peers, for the future all the design on the part of the enemy against mankind has collapsed, and the corruption of death which of old prevailed against them has vanished away. For the human race had utterly perished, had not the Master and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death (57-58).


The Fitness of the Incarnation

An emperor who has founded a city preserves it, even though it has been attacked through the carelessness of its own inhabitants, not regarding their want of care, but what is due to himself. So the Word who made mankind does not overlook its ruin, but by the offering of His own body removes death and corrects their carelessness by His own teaching, thus restoring man’s whole nature.

This is proved by St. Paul (2 Cor. 5:14): ‘One died for all, then all died’; and (Heb. 2:8, 9), ‘Christ tasted death for every man.’

None other than God the Word must become incarnate, as St. Paul says (Heb. 2:10), signifying that the Creator of man was the only One who should re-create him.

He assumed a body to offer it for bodies like His own, and to destroy death and the devil (Heb. 2:14). As through man death obtained the mastery, so through the Word becoming man, death was abolished and the resurrection assured (1 Cor. 15:21).

but He abolished the death they had incurred by the offering of His own body, and corrected their carelessness by His own teaching, completely restoring the whole nature of man by His power (58).

2. Man’s Intellectual Fall


God’s Care for Man: Man’s Wickedness

God, knowing that man in himself was incapable of knowing Him, took pity on him, and gave him a knowledge of Himself, lest his existence should be profitless.

Without a knowledge of Him they would not differ from irrational creatures. And why should He make man if He did not wish him to know Him?

He made man, therefore, in the likeness of the Word, that they might know Him, and through Him, the Father. Yet man, despising this gift, fell away and forgot his knowledge of God, ‘worshipping the creature rather than the Creator.’ They sacrificed to idols and worshipped dæmons, gave heed to magic and astrology; in fact, they utterly lost their conception of God, although He was revealing Himself by manifold means.

Whence, lest this should be the case, being good, He imparts to them a share of His own Image, our Lord Jesus Christ, and makes them after His own Image and likeness; in order that through such a gift of grace perceiving the Image, namely, the Word of the Father, they may be able to receive through Him a conception of the Father, and thus, coming to know their Maker, live the happy and truly blessed life (61-2).


For God in His mercy had foreseen man’s forgetfulness of the direct knowledge of Himself, and had provided also the works of creation to witness to Him. He went even further, and gave man a law and prophets, through whom man could gain more immediate knowledge about higher things.

Thus they might have preserved their knowledge of God by contemplating the Creation, or by conversing with the holy men, or by studying God’s law. For the law and the prophets, though sent to the Jews, were not for Jews only, but they were for the whole world, as a sacred means of instruction in the knowledge of God and right ordering of the soul.

Nevertheless men became as brutes.

the grace of being made after God’s Image was sufficient to make known God the Word, and through Him the Father (63).


The Fitness of the Renewal

Man having become de-rationalized, what was God to do? To keep silence and permit the deception of dæmons to succeed? If so, why had man been made in His own Image; and rational, when he might just as well have been made irrational? If he were not worthy of receiving a conception of God, why had it been given him originally? And if man did not worship his real Creator, God would be dishonoured in His creation.

A human emperor who has colonized a country which afterwards rebels, sends messages, messengers, and, if necessary, goes himself in person to reclaim his subjects, and save his own work. Much more will God save His creatures from becoming slaves to sin and destruction.

This could only be done by a renewal of the original grace by which they had been made in His own Image.

But man could not renew it, for he was only a copy; nor could angels, for not even they were likenesses of God; the Word alone, the Image of the Father, could renew the Image in man. Death and corruption, too, must be abolished, and He alone could do this.

If so, where was the advantage of man being made originally after God’s Image? for it had been better for him to be made simply an irrational creature (ἄλογον), than having once been rational (λογικόν), to live the life of irrational creatures (ἀλόγων) (65)

But how could this have been done except by the coming of the very Image Himself of God, our Saviour Jesus Christ? (66)

For it could not be through men, seeing that they are only made after the Image: nor through angels, for not even they are (God’s) images. Therefore the Word of God came in His own Person, in order that, as He was the Image of the Father, He might be able to re-create the man made after the Image. But this re-creation could not otherwise have taken place unless death and corruption had been entirely abolished. Whence He naturally took a mortal body, in order that in it death might be finally abolished, and that men might be again renewed after the Image. To satisfy this need was the part of no other than the Image of the Father (66).


The Fitness of the Incarnation of the Word

The presence of the original is necessary for the renewal of a spoiled likeness. So the Son of God came to save and renew the lost likeness in man (Luke 19:10; John 3:5). Man could not do this, for he had lost the knowledge he once had, and even the witness of Creation had not profited him. It was necessary for the Word alone to renew the instruction—and this, not through creation, for that had already failed, but by revealing Himself in a body.

the All-holy Son of the Father, being the Image of the Father, came into our sphere to renew man made after Himself (67).

Wherefore also He said to the Jews: ‘Except a man be born anew;’ not signifying, as they understood Him, the birth from women, but meaning the soul regenerated and re-created in the Image of God (67).

Wherefore, naturally, wishing to benefit men, as man He comes to dwell, taking to Himself a body like the others; and from things below (He teaches them), I mean through the works of His body, so that they who were not willing to know Him from His providence over the universe, and from His guidance of it, may, through the works done through His body, know the Word of God in the body, and through Him the Father (68-69).


The Condescension of the Word

Like a careful teacher, the Word condescended to man’s foolishness (1 Cor. 1:21), and since men were finding gods for themselves in nature, in man, and in dæmons, the Word Himself becomes man, and through His works assists them to gain higher knowledge. Creation, men, dæmons, and heroes, in different ways now pointed to Christ, whose deeds outshone every man’s, and taught men of the Father.

For as a good teacher who is concerned for his pupils, when they are unable to be benefited by the more difficult subjects, condescends to them, and teaches at least by easier methods; so also did the Word of God (69).

in order that wherever men may be attracted He may recal them (70). –> Jesus met us where we were at!


First drawing man’s attention to Himself as Man, He then led them on to know Him as God (Eph. 3:18, 19). By the self-revelation of the Word, all things have been filled with the knowledge of God.

For when once men’s intellect fell to things of sense, the Word submitted to appear through a body, that He as man might transfer men to Himself and direct their senses towards Himself (71).

The Incarnation effected two things: The destruction of death; and the re-creation of mankind.

For the Saviour, through His Incarnation, in His loving-kindness effected both these things: He made death to vanish from us, and renewed us; and, being invisible and unseen, He appeared through His works and made Himself known to be the Word of the Father, the Ruler and King of the whole creation. (71-2).

III. Aspects of the Incarnation


** The Incarnation did not circumscribe the Word **

The Word was not so circumscribed in the body as to be there only and nowhere else. He was still the energizing principle of all things as before. He was in everything, but not essentially identified with everything; being only entirely in the Father alone.

what is most marvellous, being the Word, He was not contained by anything, but rather contained all things Himself.  And as, when present in the whole creation He is essentially distinct from it all, but in it all by His power, ordering all things, and unfolding His providence over all things in all, and quickening each and everything at once, containing the universe, and not being contained, but existing wholly in His Father alone in every respect;—so also, existing in a human body and Himself quickening it, He was naturally quickening also the universe, and was present in every part, yet outside the whole (72).

–> This splendid paradox is familiar to us in the Christmas hymns. The Christian Fathers loved to dwell on the thought. Comp. Hilary (de Trin. x. 54): ‘The Infant wails, yet is in heaven. The Boy grows, yet remains ever the immeasurable God.’ Augustine (Tract xiv. in Joan. 4): ‘The Word of God lies as an Infant in swaddling clothes; He who created His Mother takes from her breast infant nourishment.’ Proclus of Cyzicus (Orat. i. 9): ‘The Selfsame is in the bosom of the Father and in the Virgin’s womb; the Selfsame is in the arms of His Mother and on the wings of the wind.’ So, too, our seventeenth-century poet Crashaw, in Steps to the Temple, ‘Heaven’s God there lies,’ and Dean Milman, in The Martyr of Antioch

‘And Thou wast laid within the narrow tomb,

Whom heaven could not contain.’

Athanasius of Alexandria. (1903). Athanasius: On the Incarnation of the Word of God. (T. H. Bindley, Trans.) (Second Edition Revised). London: The Religious Tract Society.

Now not such was the Word of God in His human nature: for He was not restrained by the body, but rather Himself controlled it; so that He not only was in it and in all things, but was at once outside the things that are, and was resting in the Father alone (73).

–> See again below, Chap. xliii. Comp. Tertullian, adv. Marc. iii. 10: ‘No substance is worthy of becoming a vestment for God; but whatsoever substance He clothes Himself withal, He makes worthy of Himself.’

The soul by acts of thought can comprehend distant objects, but cannot influence them; not so the Word, for He controlled both His own body and the whole universe, being in all things and yet essentially distinct from them.

As man, He fulfilled human duties; as Word, He quickened all things; as Son, He was with the Father.

There was nothing defiling to Him in being born of the Virgin; rather He sanctified the body.


The Works of the Incarnation

The human actions attributed to Him are those of the body of God the Word; they prove the hypostatic union, and the reality of His body.

His works proved Him to be the Son of God (John 10:37). Just as Nature witnessed to its invisible Creator, so His works witnessed to the Word in the body. His miracles prove Him to be God even to the casual observer. His miraculous birth proves Him to be the Maker of all bodies. His other miracles prove Him to be Lord of Nature.

When, therefore, the holy writers speak of Him eating and being born, understand that the body, as body, was born and nourished with suitable food, while God the Word Himself, present in the body, was ordering the universe; and through the works done in the body made Himself known to be not man, but God the Word (74-5).

–> It is very interesting to note the comprehensiveness of Athanasius’ Christology from the first. Here he anticipatorily guards against the errors of Nestorius and of Eutyches, which belonged to the next century,—the one dividing Christ into two persons, a divine and a human; and the other holding that the human nature was absorbed by the divine. The Person of Christ can only be One, that of the Son of God, and just as it is the one Person who acts or suffers, so it is His possession of Two Natures which enables Him at the same time to order the universe as God and to suffer as Man. See Hooker v. 52. This ‘cross and circulatory speech’ is distinctly Scriptural; for St. Paul speaks of the crucifixion of the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8), and conversely of the Second Man being from heaven (1 Cor. 15:47), and St. John of the Son of Man being ‘in heaven’ (John 3:13).

He who does these things is not man, but the Power and Word of God (76).

give a proof to those who beheld Him of His mastery over everything (77). –> Why Jesus performed various miracles.


The witness of Nature having been overlooked by men, the works of Christ would give them new sight; for they compel His recognition as the Power of God.

Nature herself bore testimony at the crucifixion that the sufferer was Son of God. This leads to a consideration of His death, the main point of our faith.

Thus, then, God the Word manifested Himself to men through His works (78).

IV. Aspects of the Death and Resurrection of Christ


Summary of Previous Argument

To briefly sum up the causes of the Incarnation:—

  1. No other could change corruption into incorruption but the Creator;
  2. No other could restore to man the lost Image but the express Image of the Father;
  3. No other could make mortality immortal but the very Life Itself;
  4. No other could teach us about the Father but the Son Himself.

But He came also especially that the debt of death due from all might be cancelled. By the indwelling of the Word His body became incorruptible; and thus in Christ’s body the death of all was fulfilled, and death and corruption extinguished for ever (Heb. 2:14).


Why Christ died

Now we, like seeds, die only to rise again (1 Cor. 15:53).

(First Objection.) Why did Christ choose to die by a public and dishonourable death?

Because He could not die from sickness or weakness, being the Life and Strength, who healed the sicknesses of others.

–>  Christ, being Perfect Man, could not suffer from sickness, which is a consequence of the Fall. His body, being a real human body, was mortal; but by its union with the Word it was rendered incapable of ordinary natural death.

(Second Objection.) Why did He die at all?

Because it was for that very reason that He came, and by His death comes our resurrection.

Wherefore, although Ho died on account of the ransom for all, He did not see corruption. For it rose again completely sound in all its parts, since it was the body of none other than the Life Itself (82-3).


Why Christ died at the Hands of Others

(Third Objection.) Why did He not preserve Himself from the plots of the Jews?

Because it did not become Him either to die by His own hand on Himself, or to shun death altogether. He waited for death in order to destroy it. He came to die for mankind, and therefore His death ought to come from others, and not from Himself.

His great care was about the resurrection, which was a trophy exhibited as a proof both of the obliteration of corruption, and of the immortality of all bodies.

Had He died from sickness, His healing of others would be derided.

The resurrection of the body, which He was about to fulfil, was a special care to the Lord. For this was to set it forth to all as a trophy over death, and to make sure to all that the obliteration of corruption was accomplished by Him, and to certify the incorruption of their bodies in future; as a token of which, and proof to all of the future resurrection for all, He has preserved His own body incorrupt (84).


Why Christ died a Public Death

A public death before witnesses was absolutely necessary for the assurance of the doctrine of the resurrection.


Why Christ did not choose His own Death

(Fourth Objection.) Why did He not at any rate choose an honourable death?

Because it might have been said that He only had power over the particular form of death which He might have chosen; whereas He must show Himself Conqueror over any form of death. Just as a generous wrestler behaves, who leaves the choice of his antagonists to the spectators, especially if they are hostile to him, that he may prove himself superior to all. The cross, the dishonourable death by which He did die, has proved to be the very trophy over death.

Wherefore, death came upon His body, not from Himself, but from a plot, in order that the Saviour might utterly abolish death, whatever form of it they inflicted on Him (86).

A marvellous and wonderful thing has indeed happened; for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as a dishonour, this became an honourable trophy over death itself (87).


Why Christ died on the Cross

There was a special appropriateness in the cross:

  1. To remove our curse He must die the death to which the curse was attached (Deut. 21:23).
  2. On the cross alone could He stretch forth His hands to summon and unite together Jew and Gentile (John 12:32).
  3. On the cross alone could He die a death in mid-air, and thus overcome the devil, the prince of the air, in his own region. He thus purified the air, and made a new way for us up into heaven.


Why Christ rose the Third Day

He showed His body openly to be dead, and then raised it on the third day.

He did not raise it on the same day, lest His real death should be denied; nor on the second day, lest His incorruption should not be clearly manifest; nor later than the third day, lest the identity of His body should be questioned, the events forgotten, and His disciples kept waiting for the fulfilment of His promise.

He forthwith on the third day raised it up, bearing away as a trophy and victory over death the incorruptibility and impassibility which belonged to His body (90).


By the Death of Christ, Death was overcome

That death is destroyed, the fearlessness of men in attacking it is a proof. Formerly it was a terror even to the saints, but now it is despised. The ‘pains are loosed,’ so that now children, women, and men gladly suffer it because they know its powerlessness. A conquered and bound tyrant is mocked and derided unhesitatingly by those who formerly trembled at him; so death, overcome by the Saviour, is laughed at and derided by those in Christ.

But now that the Saviour has raised His body, no longer is death terrible, but all who believe in Christ trample on it as naught, and choose rather to die than to deny their faith in Christ (92).

And here is a sure proof of this: that whereas men, before they believe Christ, regard death as horrible, and are cowardly at it, when they have come over to His faith and teaching, they so greatly despise it as even to rush zealously upon it, and become witnesses of the resurrection accomplished against it by the Saviour (92).

For as, when a tyrant has been utterly vanquished by a true emperor, and is bound hand and foot, all who pass by jeer at him, smiting and abusing him, no longer fearing his rage and cruelty, because of the victorious emperor; so also death having been conquered and branded as infamous by the Saviour on the cross, and bound hand and foot, all in Christ who pass through trample on it, and as witnesses to Christ deride death, scoffing at it, and saying the words written against it above: ‘Where, Death, is thy victory? where, Hades, thy sting? (92-3).


The Victory over Death

Man naturally fears death, but because of Christ it is despised.

Just as fire is harmless to asbestos, so death to the Christian. And any one by coming to Christ and learning in His school may test the powerlessness of death.

Comp. Irenæus (Frag. 11): ‘The work of a Christian is naught else than to study to die.’


If the sign of the cross and faith in Christ destroys all fear of death, it is plain that Christ Himself conquered death.

If death, before the advent of the Saviour, was strong and terrible, but now is weak and derided, it is clear that the Saviour’s advent destroyed it.

If men, formerly weak, now are strong against death, it is clear that the Saviour gives them a share in His victory over death.

It is possible to verify this by actual sight, therefore let no one doubt the abolition of death by the Saviour.

it is the Saviour Himself who appeared in the body, who brought death to naught, and daily exhibits trophies against it in His own disciples. For when one sees men who are by nature weak leaping forth to death and not cowering before its corruption, nor displaying fear at the descent into Hades, but with zealous soul provoking it, and not shrinking from tortures, but for Christ’s sake preferring rather than this prevent life to rush upon death: or, too, if one be a beholder of men and women and young children rushing upon and leaping forth to death for the religion of Christ; who is so simple, or who is so unbelieving, or who is so incapacitated in mind, as not to perceive and draw the conclusion that Christ to whom the men bear witness Himself bestows and gives to each the victory over death, rendering it utterly weak in each of those who hold His faith and bear the sign of the cross? (95-6).

As, then, it is possible to see with the eyes that these things are true, so when death is mocked and despised by the believers in Christ, let him no longer doubt, let no one be wanting in faith, that by Christ death was brought to naught, and its corruption destroyed and made to cease (96).


The Resurrection proved by Christ’s Power and Works

Death being slain, there only remained to raise His body as a proof of it.

The miracles of grace, the withdrawal of the heathen from idolatry, and the moral reformation of men, are the work of One who lives; for activity belongs only to the living.

To say that the idols and dæmons are living, but that He who is driving them away is dead, is preposterous.

the proof through evident facts is more effective than words to those whose intellectual sight is unimpaired (96-7).

For since the Saviour is effecting such great things amongst men, and is daily invisibly persuading so great a number on all sides, both from the dwellers in Greece and foreign lands, to embrace His faith, and all to be obedient to His teaching; has any one still any doubt that the resurrection has been accomplished by the Saviour, and that Christ lives, or rather is Himself the Life? Is it, indeed, the part of a dead man to be piercing through the minds of men, so that they deny their ancestral laws and reverence the teaching of Christ? Or how, if at least He is no longer working (for this is the property of one dead), does He stop the working of those who are working and living, so that the adulterer no longer commits adultery, and the manslayer no longer commits murder, and the unrighteous no longer is avaricious, and the impious for the future becomes pious? Or how, if He did not rise again, but is still dead, does He drive away and persecute and cast down the false gods deemed by unbelievers to be alive, and the dæmons they worship? For where Christ is named, and His faith, there all idolatry is destroyed, and every deceit of dæmons is refuted, and no dæmon ever endures the name, but on merely hearing it flees and departs. Now this is not the work of a dead man but of a living—and especially of God (97-8).


Those who disbelieve in the resurrection convict themselves, for their gods ought to persecute Christ, whereas Christ is persecuting them and proving them to be dead.

Death and the dæmons are daily being proved to be weakened and dead. Disbelief implies ignorance of the power of the Word. For if Christ took a body it must die for all; but being the Temple of Life it could not remain dead, but arose from the dead, and its works are the proof of its resurrection.

For if it be true that one dead effects nothing, while the Saviour effects such great things daily,—drawing men to piety, persuading them to virtue, teaching them concerning immortality, leading them on to thirst for heavenly things, unveiling the knowledge of the Father, inspiring the power against death, manifesting Himself to each, destroying the godlessness of idolatry (99).

For the Son of God ‘is living and active’ and is working every day and effects the salvation of all (99).

For it could not escape dying, inasmuch as it was mortal and offered to death on behalf of all, for which sake the Saviour prepared it for Himself: on the other hand, it could not remain dead, because it had become the very temple of Life (100).


Is it because He is not seen that His resurrection is disbelieved? But God is invisible even in creation: He is known by His works only. Similarly, Christ’s works prove now that He is alive, and therefore risen.

A blind man learns that the sun has risen because he feels its heat, so the unbelievers must recognize that Christ is living by seeing the power of believers.

If He were dead, the dæmons would not obey Him, but they cry out that He is alive, and obey His behests.

The Word, then, took a body, and taught men of the Father: by His death He abolished death, and graced all with incorruption by the promise of the resurrection, raising His own body as its first fruits.

For it is the proper nature of God not to be seen, but to be known from His works, as has been said above (100).

By the confession of the dæmons, then, and the daily witness of His works, it is manifest, and let no one impudently resist the truth, that the Saviour has raised His own body, and that He is the true Son of God, having His being from Him as from a Father, His own Word and Wisdom and Power; who in the last times for the salvation of all took a body, and taught the world concerning the Father, and brought to naught death, and freely graced all with incorruption through the promise of the resurrection, having raised His own body as its firstfruits and shown it forth as a trophy over death and its corruption by the sign of the cross (101-2).


I. Refutation of the Jews

1. From Prophecies


The Argument from Prophecies respecting Christ

The proof of the resurrection and of the victory over death being clear, let us now refute the unbelief of Jews and the derision of Greeks, who attack the unseemliness of the cross and of the Incarnation of God the Word.

The refutation of the Jews lies in their own Scriptures, which clearly predict the coming of a Man (Isaiah 7:14; Num. 24:5–7, 17; Isaiah 8:4), who was also Lord of all (Isaiah 19:1; Hos. 11:1).


Prophecies of Christ’s Passion

Nor were His death for all, and the plots and insults of the Jews, left unpredicted (Isaiah 53:3–10), but were exactly foretold.


Prophecies of the Cross and of the Conversion of the Gentiles

The Cross, too, is conspicuously mentioned by Moses (Deut. 28:66), and the Prophets (Jer. 11:19; Psa. 22:16–18); and likewise is the turning of the nations to the knowledge of God foresaid (Isaiah 11:10).

The facts of Christ’s life alone—His virgin-birth, with the witness of the star—satisfy the prophecies.


The Unique Eminence of Christ’s Birth and Kingship

Christ alone reigned as King from His birth, spoiling His enemies. He alone is it upon whom the nations place their hope. His death alone took place for the salvation of all, upon a cross.


The unparalleled Death of Christ

Christ alone of recorded holy men suffered crucifixion for the salvation of all. He alone is the Life of all, whose generation is untraceable, and whose descent from heaven was signified by a star in the heavens, whose birth in Judæa attracted the worship of men from Persia, at whose arrival in Egypt the idols quaked, at whose crucifixion creation shuddered, and by whose death creation was ransomed.


The further Witness of Prophecy

Can the Jews explain who it is of whom Isaiah (65:1, 2) says that He was made manifest out of obscurity and stretched forth His hands upon the cross? Or how can they face his other prophecy (35:3–6), which declares His sojourn here, and the signs and time of His advent, when alone the unparalleled miracles of healing spoken of by the prophet took place? Even the Jews of Christ’s time confessed that One who did such works must be from God (John 9:32, 33).


The Prophecy of Daniel

Daniel (9:24, 25) foretold the exact time of Christ’s advent, and that after it prophecy should fail and Jerusalem fall. This was not referable to the Babylonish captivity, for prophecy flourished during it and after it.

2. From present facts


The Testimony of Facts that Christ has come

Jerusalem stood, and prophecy and vision existed, until the time of Christ’s advent; since then they have ceased to exist.

The Gentiles are being converted to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses.

What more could the expected Christ do than the Saviour has accomplished? The nations are called; prophecy and vision have ceased; the godlessness of idolatry is refuted; death is destroyed.

There is, therefore, no excuse left for the Jews.

For what more, when He is come, has He to do who is expected by them? To call the nations? But they are already called. To make prophecy, king, and vision cease? This, too, has already happened. To refute the godlessness of idolatry? It is already refuted and condemned. Or to bring to naught death? It is done already (117).

II. Refutation of the Gentiles

1. From Philosophical Arguments


The Bodily Manifestation of the Word involves no Absurdity

The Gentiles scoff; but let us silence them on reasonable grounds.

Do they admit the existence of the Word? If not, they need not scoff at that of which they are ignorant. If they do (as they do) admit that He manifests Himself in the organic whole of the universe, why should He not also in a single body?


Just as the power which is in the whole body is also in the toe; so the Power which energizes the whole universe is also in the part of it.

If it is not monstrous for the Word to be in creation, neither is it for Him to be in a created body. If He is (as He is) in the whole, He is also in the part; and why should He not manifest Himself in that wherein He is?

The mind is present throughout the whole body, but is made known by a part—the tongue, without the essence of mind suffering detraction; so there is nothing unfitting in the Word, present in all things, using a bodily instrument.

For man, as I said before, is also a part of the whole. By no means, then, is it unfitting for the Word to be in man, since all things are illuminated and moved and live by Him and in Him, as even their own writers say: ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being (120-1).


Reasons for the assumption of Human Nature by the Word

‘Why did Christ not use a nobler instrument than a human body?’

Because He came, not to dazzle men and parade Himself, but to heal and to teach.

the Lord came not to parade Himself, but to heal and teach those who were suffering (122).

Now no part of creation had wandered as to the apprehension of God but man alone (122).

Besides, man alone of His creatures had strayed; and if man could not recognize Him in the whole working of the universe, at least they should not be ignorant of Him as working in a part of it; namely, a human body. And as by being in creation He did not share its essential nature, so neither by being in the body did He partake of the things of the body, but rather sanctified the body.

For as He is in the universe, yet does not essentially partake at all of creation, but rather the universe shares in His own power; so also, while He used the body as an instrument, He shared not in the things of the body, but rather Himself sanctified even the body (123-4).

If Plato can say (Polit. 273) without absurdity that ‘God rescued the world when He saw it in danger of collapsing,’ surely we may say with equal propriety that ‘the Word appeared as man to save mankind.’


‘God created man by a word, and He might have restored him by a word.’

But creation out of nothing is a different thing altogether from the restoration of what is already in existence.

It was man, as already made, that was in a state of corruption and needing salvation, and therefore the Word very fitly used a human instrument. The corruption had become a context of the body; death was woven in with man’s nature; and it was necessary for life to be woven in to counteract the corruption of death. Therefore the Word became Incarnate that He might win back mortal man to immortality.

Stubble enwrapt with asbestos does not fear fire; so the body endued with Christ does not fear death.

* But since death was woven in with the body, and was overmastering it as coexisting in it, it was necessary also that the life should be woven in with the body, in order that the body, by being indued with the antidote of life, might throw off the corruption (125). *

for this reason He put on a body, that finding death there He might obliterate it (126).


God works in man as in creation, so that everything may be ‘filled with the knowledge of the Lord.’

The order of the heavens, the weakness of man, the defeat of the dæmons, and the obedience of the natural elements, alike bear their testimony to the Word their Creator and Master. Every part of creation has been touched by Him, and man may recognize His Divinity on every side. If these arguments seem inadequate, let the Gentiles look at facts.

Fitly, therefore, did the Word of God assume a body, and use it as a human instrument, both to quicken the body and to work in man just as He is known in creation by His works, and to show Himself everywhere, no part being left destitute of His own Divine energy and of a knowledge of Him (127).

Thus man, hemmed round on every side and beholding the Divine working of the Word unfolded everywhere—that is, in heaven, in Hades, in man, upon earth—no longer suffers deception concerning God, but worships the Word alone, and through Him rightly comes to know the Father (128).

–> argument against greeks based on “considerations of reasonableness” (128).

2. From present facts


The Decline of Idolatry

From the date of the Incarnation idols, soothsaying, hero-worship, demoniacal agencies, magic, and Greek philosophy are being deserted. And whereas the ancient worships were various and local, the worship of Christ is one and universal.

And finally, when has the wisdom of the Greeks become foolishness, except when the true Wisdom of God manifested Itself on earth (129).

But now throughout the whole world men are abandoning the superstition of idols and fleeing to Christ, and, worshipping Him as God, they through Him come to know the Father whom they knew not (129).

Christ alone is worshipped as One and everywhere the Same by all: and that which the weakness of idols could not effect—namely, to persuade those dwelling near—this Christ has done, not only persuading those near, but also absolutely all the world to honour One and the Same Lord, and through Him God, His Father (130).


The Decline of the Oracles, Magic, and Philosophy

Since the advent of Christ the oracles are forsaken and dumb, and the soothsayer has no place. Dæmoniacal apparitions, likewise, are driven away by the sign of the cross. The supposed gods prove to be but mortal men, and magic is utterly confuted. And philosophy, which could not persuade even a very few people about immortality, has been eclipsed by the simple teaching of Christ, who has persuaded vast numbers of people to despise death and look for eternal happiness.

Christ alone is made known among men as the true God, God the Word of God (131).

whereas the wise among the Greeks wrote such great things and were unable to persuade even a few from neighbouring places concerning immortality and the life of virtue, Christ alone by simple language and by men of no eloquent speech has persuaded full assemblies of men throughout the whole world to be insensible of death, and to be sensible of immortal things; to overlook the temporal and to gaze stedfastly at the eternal; to regard earthly glory as nothing and to exert themselves only for the heavenly (131).


The Witness of Christ’s Works to His Godhead

Christian continence may be learnt from the virgins and celibates; Christian faith in immortality from the army of martyrs.

Any one who wills may test the power of the cross and of Christ’s name in the midst of dæmoniacal deceits.

If He is a more man, He transcends the power of all other men; if He is a magician, He brings to naught all magic; if He is a dæmon, He expels all dæmons. Christ by His power shows Himself above all these, and that He is truly and indeed Son of God.

But these our assertions do not rest merely upon words, but they have the witness of their truth in experience itself. For let him that wills it come up and behold the proof of virtue in the virgins of Christ, and in the young men who make self-control a point of conscience; and the assurance of immortality in the great band of His martyrs. And let him who wishes to have experience of what we have just said come, and in the midst of the pretence of the dæmons and of the deceit of the oracles and of the wonders of magic, let him use the sign of the cross—that cross which is the subject of derision amongst them—and merely name Christ, and he will see how by it dæmons flee, soothsaying ceases, and all magic and witchcraft is brought to naught (132).

–>  These frequent appeals to the collapse of dæmoniacal power at the naming of Christ are common to the early Christian Apologists, and must have had a very real controversial value at the time. See Tertullian, Apol. 23, 37, 43, de Test. anim. 3, ad Scap, 2, de Spect. 29, de idol. 11, de coron. 11.

But if His cross has won the victory over absolutely all magic, and over even the name of it, it must be plain that the Saviour is not a magician whom even those dæmons called upon by the other magicians flee from as their Master (133).

If, therefore, the Saviour is neither simply a man, nor a magician, nor some dæmon, but by His own Godhead has brought to naught and put into the shade the fictions of poets and the pretence of dæmons and the wisdom of the Greeks, it must be manifest, and owned by all, that He is truly Son of God, being Word and Wisdom and Power of the Father. Hence His works are not human, but are perceived to be superhuman and truly God’s works, both from what is actually apparent, and from their comparison with those of other men (133-4).


Christ’s Works are unparalleled

His birth and miracles far exceed any previous wonders among men. Asclepius, Heracles, and Dionysus were deified because they did wondrous deeds; but contrast their works with those of Christ—with the marvels at His death, with the prevalence of His worship, and its power.


Who of all wise men, emperors and tyrants, even in his lifetime prevailed universally, as Christ has done after His death, over the whole world?

What little the sophists did was counteracted by their controversies and rivalries, and by their inability to convince more than a very few even during their lifetime; whereas Christ draws all men to Himself everywhere, and at His name dæmons flee.

The resurrection of the body was never dreamt of even in legend, showing the impotence of philosophy, and leaving it open for Christ to display His power.

For where the Name of the Saviour is named, there every dæmon is expelled. And who so stript men of their natural passions so that fornicators become chaste, murderers no longer grasp the sword, and those formerly held by cowardice become courageous?And, in fine, who persuaded men from among the barbarians and men belonging to the nations in various places to lay aside madness and to mind peace, except the faith of Christ and the sign of the cross? And who else so assured men of immortality as the Cross of Christ and the resurrection of His body? (136).


The Moral Power of Christ

Christ’s teaching worked apparent impossibilities in morals all over the world.

He persuaded the intellect, and made men cease from idolatry and sin; and instead of chronic warfare amongst idolatrous nations, there is now peace amongst followers of Christ’s teaching.

Who, again, of men, after his death, or even during his lifetime, taught concerning virginity, and that this virtue was not impossible among men? But Christ our Saviour and King of all had such power in His teaching concerning this, that children not yet arrived at legal age promise that virginity which is beyond the law (137).


Christ’s Divine Teaching brings Peace

Peace is brought in by Christ, in accordance with scriptural prophecy (Isaiah 2:4).

Wars were kindled by dæmons in fear for themselves, but are put as end to by Christ.

Christ’s disciples, no longer warring amongst themselves, are ranged in united opposition to the powers of evil.

Who, then, is He who has done this, or who is it who has united in peace those who hated one another, but the beloved Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, the common Saviour of all, who in His own love underwent all things for our salvation? (138).

so that in youth they have self-control, in temptations they endure, in labours they are stedfast, under insult are patient, and being despoiled despise it; and what at least is marvellous, they despise even death, and become martyrs of Christ (140).


Christ’s Divinity revealed through His Mighty Works

How marvellous is the power of Christ which at the first blow shattered every stronghold of heathendom at once! Works such as these are not those of man, but of God. Had this been really recognized, ‘They would not have crucified the Lord of Glory’ (1 Cor. 2:8).

And those who are considered gods amongst them are driven away by the sign of the cross, and the Crucified Saviour in all the world is proclaimed to be God and Son of God (140-1).


The Glorious Nature and Magnitude of Christ’s Works

As God is known to us from His works, so is the Incarnate Word from His works. By becoming Man He makes us partakers of the being of God.

It is as impossible to enumerate all the Saviour’s beneficent works as it is to count the ocean waves; it is better to mention one, and leave the whole to be marvelled at by him who will behold them.

test them whether they be man’s or God’s (141). –> Athanasius asks the reader to test the works of Christ.

** For He became Man that we might be made God (142). **

–>  This strong expression is a not uncommon one in Athanasius’ writings. Irenæus also speaks of Christ ‘raising again humanity into God by His incarnation’ (v. 1, comp. iv. 63–8), and Clement of Alexandria, ‘He who is God became man that we might become God’ (Protrept i. 8), and Origen has the same thought, ‘From Christ began the union of the Divine with the human nature, in order that the human, by communion with the Divine, might rise to be Divine’ (contr. Cels. iii. 28). Comp. Augustine (Serm. 166, 3), ‘Deus enim deum te vult facere,’ and Thomas Aquinas, ‘The Only-begotten Son of God, wishing us to be partakers of His own Divinity, assumed our nature and became Man that men might become gods’ (Psa. 82:6, John 10:34). The idea is a true paraphrase of St. Peter’s teaching (2 Pet. 1:4), ‘Ye may become partakers of the Divine nature,’ and of St. Paul’s, ‘We are members of His Body’ (Eph. 5:30). The facts of the solidarity of the human race and its vital incorporation in the Word through His Incarnation, and the personal indwelling of Christ in the members of His Church, help us to realize this transcendent mystery.


Summary of Foregoing Proofs

By the advent of the Saviour, then, paganism decreases, philosophy declines, all dæmoniacal deceits perish. The faith of Christ, on the other hand, spreads, and opposition to it decays.

As the darkness vanishes before the sun, so heathen darkness prevails no longer, and the whole earth is illuminated by Christ’s teaching.

The appearance of the true emperor exposes the usurpers; so the advent of Christ has exposed and silenced the usurpation of dæmons and idols.

The Son of God, the Only-Begotten Word, alone remains, while temporal things are vanishing away.

since the Saviour’s sojourn among us idolatry no longer has increased, but what there is of it is becoming less and gradually ceasing: and that no longer is the wisdom of the Greeks flourishing, but thenceforth what exists of it is disappearing: and that dæmons no longer deceive with impostures and oracles and magical arts, but if they only dare to attempt it, they are put to shame by the sign of the cross (143-4).

And, in brief, behold how the teaching of the Saviour is everywhere increasing; and all idolatry and everything opposing the faith of Christ is daily becoming less and utterly weak, and falling into decay. And, beholding this, worship the Saviour, who is above all and mighty, the Word of God; and condemn those who by Him are being defeated and extinguished (144).

Now this is a proof that Christ is God, the Word and Power of God. For, human things ceasing, and the Word of Christ remaining, it is plain to all that the things which are ceasing are temporary, but that He who remains is God, and true Son of God, the Only-begotten Word (145).



Search the Scriptures, O Macarius, and follow out the ideas suggested in this outline. Learn to look and be prepared for His second and glorious advent.

Let this, then, be our offering to thee, O Christ-loving man, as an elementary statement and sketch, briefly treated, of the faith of Christ and of His Divine Manifestation to us (145).

And thou wilt know also of His second glorious and truly Divine Manifestation to us, when He is to come no longer with lowliness, but in His own proper glory; no longer in abasement, but in His own proper grandeur; no longer to suffer, but henceforth to bestow on all the fruit of His own cross—I mean, of course, the resurrection and incorruptibility: and no longer is He to be judged, but will judge all according to what each practised in the body, whether good or evil; then for the good is laid up the kingdom of heaven, and for those who practised evil eternal fire and outer darkness (146).


Above all, imitate the lives of the saints, for so only can you understand their writings, and know what God has imparted to them. Then the reward of the saints will be yours.

But for the investigation and true knowledge of the Scriptures there is need of a good life and a pure soul and Christian virtue, in order that the mind, guiding its path by means of it, may be able to attain what it grasps at, and comprehend it as far as it is within the reach of human nature to learn concerning God the Word. For without a pure mind and the imitation of the life led by the saints one could not apprehend the words of the saints (147).


It may be interesting to tabulate the similes used by Athanasius in the foregoing treatise:—

1. As stubble vanishes before fire, so death before the Resurrection (ch. 8).

2. As an emperor preserves a city by residing in it in person, so Christ preserves the human race by His indwelling in it (ch. 9).

3. As an emperor provides for a colony founded by himself, and, if necessary, goes to it in person, so Christ sent messengers, and finally came Himself to mankind (ch. 10).

4. As a portrait, obliterated by stains, must be restored from the original, so none but the Image of the Father’s essence could restore the Image in man (ch. 14).

5. As a good teacher condescends to the capacities of his pupils, so Christ ‘meets halfway’ mankind occupied in things of sense (ch. 15).

6. Man by acts of thought cannot influence things at a distance; not so Christ, who moves and energizes everything, though distinct from the whole κατʼ οὐσίαν (ch. 17).

7. At the sun is not contaminated by touching things of earth, nor dimmed by darkness, but enlightens and purifies all things, so Christ is not defiled by His contact with the body, but rather hallows it (ch. 17).

8. As seeds do not perish by being sown, but rise up again, so men, dissolved by death, will rise again by the grace of Christ’s Resurrection (ch. 21).

9. As a generous wrestler does not choose his own antagonists, but lets his enemies choose them, so Christ did not devise His own mode of death, but accepted it at the hand of His enemies, to prove His superiority to every form of death (ch. 24).

10. As the conquered tyrant is no longer feared, but mocked, so Death, overcome by Christ, is attacked and despised (ch. 27).

11. As asbestos wrapt around a combustible material renders it incombustible, so faith in Christ preserves from the power of Death (ch. 28).

12. As the sight of a downtrodden serpent, or of a child being able to play with a lion, proves that it is either powerless or dead, so the fact of Christians sporting with Death proves Death’s impotence (ch. 29).

13. As straw is combustible unless wrapt in asbestos, so the body, unless endued with Christ, would be consumed by corruption (ch. 44).

14. As one looking upon the waves of the sea is dazzled by their recurrence, and cannot comprehend all in one view, so one cannot comprehend all the works of Christ, but only a part, and even that only partially (ch. 54).

15. As a deceiver may falsely impersonate an emperor who lives in seclusion until the latter appears and convicts him, so the deceits of idols paraded as gods and demanded divine honour until the true Word of God appeared and exposed them (ch. 55).

16. As, in order to see the light of the sun, a light and clean eye is necessary, so, in order to comprehend the writings of the saints, a saintly life is necessary (ch. 57).

17. As, in order to see a city or country, one must visit it, so, in order to understand the revelations of God, one must be associated in life with the recipients of the revelations (ch. 57).

Athanasius of Alexandria. (1903). Athanasius: On the Incarnation of the Word of God. (T. H. Bindley, Trans.) (Second Edition Revised, pp. 149–151). London: The Religious Tract Society.

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