Thursday, July 3, 2014

Athanasias and the Incarnation

Athanasius, On the Incarnation 5.28:
Every one is by nature afraid of death and of bodily dissolution; the marvel of marvels is that he who is enfolded in the faith of the cross despises this natural fear and for the sake of the cross is no longer cowardly in face of it. The natural property of fire is to burn. Suppose, then, that there was a substance such as the Indian asbestos is said to be, which had no fear of being burnt, but rather displayed the impotence of the fire by proving itself unburnable. If anyone doubted the truth of this, all he need do would be to wrap himself up in the substance in question and then touch the fire. Or, again, to revert to our former figure, if anyone wanted to see the tyrant bound and helpless, who used to be such a terror to others, he could do so simply by going into the country of the tyrant's conqueror. Even so, if anyone still doubts the conquest of death, after so many proofs and so many martyrdoms in Christ and such daily scorn of death by His truest servants, he certainly does well to marvel at so great a thing, but he must not be obstinate in unbelief and disregard of plain facts. No, he must be like the man who wants to prove the property of the asbestos, and like him who enters the conqueror's dominions to see the tyrant bound. He must embrace the faith of Christ, this disbeliever in the conquest of death, and come to His teaching.
What I find interesting about this is Athanasius' emphasis on the fear of death. He speaks about physical manifestation of nature. Fire. Burning. Bodily dissolution. Very fitting imagery.

When the body dies, it decays. It 'stinketh.' The brain shuts down. The flesh corrupts. The bones begin to rot. To fear this, in some sense, is the human experience. We all die. We all see corruption. 

And yet, this is not the end.


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