Discussion Guide to 
Athanasius' On the Incarnation

If then He be not a Son, let Him be called a work, and let all that is said of works be said of Him, nor let Him and Him alone be called Son, nor Word, nor Wisdom; neither let God be called Father, but only Framer and Creator of things which by Him come to be; and let the creature be Image and Expression of His framing will, and let Him, as they would have it, be without generative nature, so that there be neither Word, nor Wisdom, no, nor Image, of His proper substance. For if He be not Son , neither is He Image . But if there be not a Son, how then say you that God is a Creator? since all things that come to be are through the Word and in Wisdom, and without This nothing can be, whereas you say He has not That in and through which He makes all things. 

For if the Divine Essence be not fruitful itself , but barren, as they hold, as a light that lightens not, and a dry fountain, are they not ashamed to speak of His possessing framing energy? and whereas they deny what is by nature, do they not blush to place before it what is by will ? But if He frames things that are external to Him and before were not, by willing them to be, and becomes their Maker, much more will He first be Father of an Offspring from His proper Essence. For if they attribute to God the willing about things which are not, why recognise they not that in God which lies above the will? now it is a something that surpasses will, that He should be by nature, and should be Father of His proper Word. If then that which comes first, which is according to nature, did not exist, as they would have it in their folly, how could that which is second come to be, which is according to will? for the Word is first, and then the creation. 

On the contrary the Word exists, whatever they affirm, those irreligious ones; for through Him did creation come to be, and God as being Maker, plainly has also His framing Word, not external, but proper to Him;—for this must be repeated. If He has the power of will, and His will is effective, and suffices for the consistence of the things that come to be, and His Word is effective, and a Framer, that Word must surely be the living Will of the Father, and an essential energy, and a real Word, in whom all things both consist and are excellently governed.

--Discourse Against the Arians 2.2

Preliminary Reading

Make sure you look back over the #27 "Historical Christological Heresies" handout. Look over any material involving Arianism, as well as #23 "Major Views of the Trinity." Be able to explain why Athanasius opposes Arius' view of Christ, as well as what separates his understanding of the trinity from various monarchial and subordinationist positions. You might also want to read the preliminary "The Life of St. Athanasius" (17-24). It connects Athanasius' struggles and convictions with the Desert Fathers, especially Antony of Egypt.

Exploratory Questions

  • Why would one's view of creation influence one's view of incarnation?

  • Why is Christ's incarnation necessary anyway?

  • Equally, why are his death and resurrection necessary?

  • Should the death of Christ be seen as a triumph? Why or why not?

Content Questions

Chapter 1

  1. How does the orthodox view of creation counter the Epicurean, Platonic, and Gnostic views?
  2. How is the doctrine of the imago dei connected to the Incarnation?
  3. Why does corruption make the Incarnation a necessity?

Sts. Athanasius and Basil of Caesarea

Chapter 2
  1. Why did Christ's exchange on our behalf need to be bodily?
  2. How has death changed as a result?

Chapter 3

  1. What are three ways to know the truth, and why does Christ reveal himself bodily?
  2. How does Christ overcome error?
  3. What are the praiseworthy paradoxes of the Incarnation?
  4. Why does his bodily existence show his mastery of creation?

Chapter 4

  1. What are the four objections to Christ's manner of death and how does Athanasius answer them?
  2. How has he come to bear our curse and ransom us from sin's power?

Chapter 5

  1. Why do so many Christians prefer martyrdom to denial of the faith?
  2. How does Christ show himself even now a living, active Lord?

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding