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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

St Athanasius the Great ON THE INCARNATION OF THE WORD, Complete

Translated by Cardinal Newman.

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72 Pages

On the Incarnation of the Word

Introduction and Synopsis (14 Pages / Skip to the start of the treatise)

The tract 'against the Gentiles' leaves the reader face to face with the necessity of restoration by the Divine Word as the remedy for corrupt human nature. How this necessity is met in the Incarnation is shewn in the pages which follow. The general design of the second tract is to illustrate and confirm the doctrine of the Incarnation by shewing (1) its necessity and end, (2) the congruity of its details, (3) its truth, as against the objections of Jews and Gentiles, (4) its result. He begins by a review (recapitulating c. Gent. 2-7) of the doctrine of creation and of man's place therein. The abuse by man of his special Privilege had resulted in its loss. By foregoing the Divine Life, man had entered upon a course of endless undoing, of progressive decay, from which none could rescue him but the original bestower of his life (2-7). Then follows a description in glowing words of the Incarnation of the Divine Word and of its efficacy against the plague of corruption (8-10). With the Divine Life, man had also received, in the knowledge of God, the conscious reflex of the Divine Likeness, the faculty of reason in its highest exercise. This knowledge their moral fall dimmed and perverted. Heeding not even the means by which God sought to remind them of Himself, they fell deeper and deeper into materialism and superstition. To restore the effaced likeness the presence of the Original was requisite. Accordingly, condescending to man's sense-bound intelligence--lest men should have been created in vain in the Image of God--the Word took Flesh and became an object of Sense, that through the Seen He might reveal the Invisible (11-16).

Having dwelt (17-19) upon the meaning and purpose of the Incarnation, he proceeds to speak of the Death and Resurrection of the Incarnate Word. He, Who alone could renew the handiwork and restore the likeness and give afresh the knowledge of God, must needs, in order to pay the debt which all had incurred (to para panton opheilomenon), die in our stead, offering the sacrifice on behalf of all, so as to rise again, as our first-fruits, from the grave (20-32, note especially S:20). After speaking of the especial fitness of the Cross, once the instrument of shame, now the trophy of victory, and after meeting some difficulties connected with the manner of the Lord's Death, he passes to the Resurrection. He shews how Christ by His triumph over the grave changed (27) the relative ascendancy of Death and Life: and how the Resurrection with its momentous train of consequences, follows of necessity (31) from the Incarnation of Him in Whom was Life.

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