As it happens, I am not a theologian nor do I play one on the Internet. There are plenty of other people willing to boldly tread where no angel has tread before (much less danced). But there are some bits o’ theology which really do have a lot of interest and mystical significance to them, as well as the kind of “sense of wonder” bogglement usually only found in good science fiction.
The facts you need to know about St. Athanasius are not many. He only saved Christianity from the Arian idea that Christ was only an extra-super-special man or minor god who was related to God, but not God Himself.
A brief and non-technical explanation of what Athanasius had to do.
From a nice Anglican biography page, a quote from Athanasius:
We were made “in the image and likeness of God.” But in course of time that image has become obscured, like a face on a very old portrait, dimmed with dust and dirt.
When a portrait is spoiled, the only way to renew it is for the subject to come back to the studio and sit for the artist all over again. That is why Christ came–to make it possible for the divine image in man to be recreated. We were made in God’s likeness; we are remade in the likeness of his Son.
To bring about this re-creation, Christ still comes to men and lives among them. In a special way he comes to his Church, his Body, to show us what the “image of God” is really like.
What a responsibility the Church has, to be Christ’s Body, showing him to those who are unwilling or unable to see him in Providence, or in Creation! Through the Word of God lived out in the Body of Christ they can come to the Father, and themselves be made again “in the likeness of God.”
Of course, it’s a tad bit ironic that Anglicans quote St. “I hate schisms and heresies and if you were wise you’d come back to the Catholic Church” Athanasius. But I’ll just be glad they still read Mother Church’s letters. Even if they never call and never write. 🙂
What kills me is how very modern he often sounds. He lived in a modern and diverse society, though, so it’s not so weird. He’d be right at home in the blogosphere. From World of Quotes:
A man’s personality actuates and quickens his whole body. If anyone said it was unsuitable for the man’s power to be in the toe, he would be thought silly, because, while granting that a man penetrates and actuates the whole of his body, he denied his presence in the part. Similarly, no one who admits the presence of the Word of God in the universe as a whole should think it unsuitable for a single human body to be by Him actuated and enlightened.
And also from there:
Human and human-minded as men were, therefore, to whichever side they looked in the sensible world, they found themselves taught the truth. Were they awe-stricken by creation? They beheld it confessing Christ as Lord. Did their minds tend to regard men as gods? The uniqueness of the Savior’s works marked Him, alone of men, as Son of God. Were they drawn to evil spirits? They saw them driven out by the Lord, and learned that the Word of God alone was God and that the evil spirits were not gods at all. Were they inclined to hero-worship and the cult of the dead? Then the fact that the Savior had risen from the dead showed them how false these other deities were, and that the Word of the Father is the one true Lord, the Lord even of death. For this reason was He both born and manifested as Man, for this He died and rose, in order that, eclipsing by His works all other human deeds, He might recall man from all the paths of error to know the Father. As He says Himself, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.”
All these quotes are fine. But I said there was one that was boggling. Here it is:
For the Son of God became man
so that we might become God.
Don’t freak too much, though! This is what Athanasius meant by it, so don’t go all Mormon or Gnostic, now. Athanasius would have to come after you and show you the error of your thoughts! (Especially since you’ll notice that Mormons and Gnostics have absolutely no problem ignoring everything else that Athanasius wrote about.)
Oddly enough, considering it’s May Day, I just came across this rather interesting article on Mary which refers to the idea that, if Mary is the model of a Christian, “her triumph is not so much unique as typical. Seen in this light the Assumption can be interpreted as having relevance to the most mundane and secular aspects of history, challenging accepted ideas about the value of the human person and the dignity of the human body.”
Stuff by St. Athanasius:
The Life of St. Antony (whom he knew)
And remember, when Athanasius argued that Christ was God, his foes said, “The world is against you, Athanasius!” But Athanasius said, “If the world is against Athanasius, then Athanasius is against the world.”
(Which, believe it or not, has become a slogan for our times, especially among non-Catholic pro-lifers.)
St. Athanasius, pray for us.