St Athanasius’s Physicalist Soteriology

Sometimes liberals are more right than they realize. Liberal Protestantism has long decried the Patristic Fathers as being too concerned with “physicalism,” whether it’s a physical God-man or an earthy salvation.

I remember about 4 years ago reading David Chilton’s Paradise Restored. He began almost every chapter with a quote from St Athanasius, showing how soteriology isn’t limited to the mental, intellectual level.

We will begin, then, with the creation of the world
and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you
must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been
wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the
beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between
creation and salvation;
for the One Father has
employed the same Agent for both works, effecting
the salvation of the world through the same Word
Who made it at first.
St. Athanasius, On the incarnation [11

When therefore the servants of the Chief Priests
and the Scribes saw these things, and heard from
Jesus, “Whosoever is athirst, let him come to Me and
drink” [John 7:37]; they perceived that this was not a
mere man like themselves, but that this was He Who
gave water to the saints, and that it was He Who was
announced by the prophet Isaiah. For He was truly
the splendour of the light, and the Word of God.
thus as a river from the fountain He gave drink also
of old to Paradise; but now to all men He gives the
same gift of the Spirit, and says, “If any man thirst,
let him come to Me and drink. Whosoever believeth
on Me, as saith the Scripture, rivers of living water
shall flow out of his belly” [John 7:37-38]. This was
not for man to say, but for the living God, Who truly
vouchsafes life, and gives the Holy Spirit.
St. Athanasius, Letters [xliv]

What – or rather Who was it that was needed for
such grace and such recall as we required? Who, save
the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning
had made all things out of nothing? His part it was,
and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to
incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency
of character with all.
For He alone, being
Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence
both able to re-create all, and worthy to suffer on
behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the
St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation [7]

What, then, was God to do? What else could He
possibly do, being God, but renew His image in mankind,
so that through it men might once more come to
know Him? And how could this be done save by the
coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus
Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only
made after the Image; nor could angels have done it,
for they are not the images of God. The Word of God
came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the
Image of the Father, Who could re-create man made
after the Image.

In order to effect this re-creation, however, He
had first to do away with death and corruption.
Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in
it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men
might be renewed according to the Image.

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation [13]

He it is Who was crucified with the sun and
moon as witnesses; and by His death salvation has
come to all men, and all creation has been redeemed.
St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation [37]

For the Lord touched all parts of creation, and
freed and undeceived them all from every deceit. As
St. Paul says, “Having put off from Himself the principalities
and the powers, He triumphed on the cross”
[CO1. 2:15], so that no one could possibly be any
longer deceived, but everywhere might find the very
Word of God.
St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation[45]

Much more, then, the
Word of the All-good Father was not unmindful of
the human race that He had called to be; but rather,
by the offering of His own body He abolished the
death which they had incurred, and corrected their
neglect by His own teaching. Thus by His own power
He restored the whole nature of man.

St. Athanasius, On the incarnation [101

By the sign of the cross, on the contrary, all
magic is stayed, all sorcery confounded, all the idols
are abandoned and deserted, and all senseless pleasure
ceases, as the eye of faith looks up from earth to
St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation [31]

Their so-called gods are routed by the sign of the
cross, and the crucified Saviour is proclaimed in all
the world as God and Son of God.
St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation [53]

Interestingly enough, the world-renowned Athanasius scholar, Khaled Anatolios, has remarked that physicalism/renewal of creation/theosis is Athanasius’s view of salvation.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: