Thursday, September 12, 2013

Like Father, Like Son: Athanasius on the Deity of Jesus

Its so simple, its profound. There are many arguments against Arianism (the denial of the full deity and eternality of Jesus), but the best I have come across thus far comes from the warrior who fought against Arianism in the 4th Century, Athanasius. In his book, The Great Theologians, Gerald McDermott shows how the immutability of God the Father alone is enough to defend the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity along with the full deity of the Son.
But "one of the most important breakthroughs and one of the most significant insights in the whole history of Christian doctrine" was Athanasius's rejection of the Greek assumption that the Father by himself has and is all that is God. In place of this definition of God, Athanasius produced his own - that God is by nature, from eternity, Father. This means that he has always had a Son. The Son could not have been created at some point in time, such that there was a time when he was not. For then God would not have been God, who by definition and nature is Father.

Therefore when we call God "Father," we at once signify the Son's existence. In the same way, Athanasius argued, when we speak of the sun, we assume the sun's radiance. Or when we talk about a fountain, we immediately picture water springing from it. Therefore "the whole being of the Son is proper to the Father's ousia [being], as radiance from light and a stream from a fountain."

This preserves the distinction of persons in the Trinity while retaining the oneness. It shows that the Father and the Son are not identical in who they are, but they are identical in what they are. They are two different persons (the Spirit is the third) but the same one God: the same being. (41-42)
I wrote in my copy of McDermott's book here, "Brilliant! Absolutely Brilliant!"

For more:
"The Great Theologians" by Gerald McDermott: A Review 
The Great Theologians: An Interview with Gerald McDermott
Some Things Never Change: Origen on the Frustration of Preaching
4 Lessons From the Most Influential Theologian Ever
The Greatest Theologians
Theologians I Have Been Influenced By - The Dead
Theologians I Have Been Influenced By - The Living
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