Will The Real Athanasius Please Stand Up? -- By: Robert A. Case, II

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 19:4 (Fall 1976)
Article: Will The Real Athanasius Please Stand Up?
Author: Robert A. Case, II

Will The Real Athanasius Please Stand Up?

Robert A. Case, II*

Church historians, when thinking of Athanasius as standing contra mundum have almost universally thought of him as standing not only against the heathen and heretical world but also slightly askance to the apostolic theological world as well. Historians of ecclesiastical and theological affairs have too readily assigned Athanasius to a theological position cut out largely by Origen. Though the great Athanasius opposed Origenism at its worst (e.g., Arianism), the taint of being of the same Alexandrian ecclesiastical tradition and associations with the Alexandrian school of thought have kept him in the shadow of Origen. Being so consigned, Athanasius has not been given his rightful place beside Augustine as one of the two towering giants of the first half-millennium of Christendom and the father of evangelical systematic theology.

I suggest that a fresh look at Athanasius is in order by those who wish a better understanding of orthodoxy in the early Church. It is my contention that Athanasius derived his early theology not from Origen but from the second-century Fathers, leaving Origen to influence those of lesser capabilities. A study of the second-century Fathers and their theological parallels in Athanasius’ early work, The Incarnation of the Word of God, will prove that Athanasius owes far more to Irenaeus and his preceptors than to Origen and his teachers.

It goes without saying that the early Church Fathers relied heavily on the Scriptures for their theological language. It is a fact that the test of orthodoxy used in the early Church was the extent to which Scriptural language and thought forms permeated the Fathers’ writings. My purpose here is to compare how this permeation was expressed by the second-century Fathers and how it was remarkably re-expressed by Athanasius in The Incarnation of the Word of God.

1. The Influence Of The Apostolic Fathers On Athanasius’
The Incarnation

As we consider the post-apostolic Christian writers to find parallels and roots for The Incarnation as expressed by Athanasius, we are struck by the dearth of theological definitions and formulae. Kelly puts it this way:

Thus it is useless to look for any systematic treatment of the doctrine [of the incarnation] in the popular Christianity of the second century.,It is true that the Apostolic Fathers make numerous references to Christ’s work. For

*Robert Case is executive director of Christian Action Council, Washington, D.C. 283

the most part, however, they are rehearsing the cliches of catechetical ins...

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