Note on the Significance of Athanasius's Statement:
Contenders: Bishop Arius (256 -- 336)
Athanasius (296 -- 373)
there are not three "persons" in the Godhead, co-eternal and
co-essential, but one only, the "Father".
the Son is only a creature, made out of nothing like all creatures.
the Son is called "God" only figuratively, only by an extension of
the Son is not Son by nature, but only by adoption: God foresaw his merits.
the Son's creatureliness is unique: he is peculiarly associated with the Father,
but his nature is not that of the Father.
apostles attest that Jesus Christ was sent by God, was from God,
and is of God the Father. What
does this mean?
must look at two heresies that surfaced in the early church (and have been found
in the church ever after.)
Jesus Christ is only apparently divine.
Jesus Christ is only apparently human.
that Jesus is the man chosen for a special divine sonship through the descent of
the Holy Spirit upon him at his baptism; i.e., JC is not "begotten"
but rather "created".
that JC is not God-Incarnate, but rather something closer to a prophet (albeit
the supreme prophet) indwelt by the Spirit.
that there is no internal relation between the Father and the Son, but merely an
external, vocational relation that Jesus fulfilled in doing the work of the
Ebionites sought to say how God was in Christ so as to recognize Christ's
uniqueness (according to the church's understanding), without compromising the
transcendence of God.
they insisted that JC does not embody in his own person the real person or the
saving activity of God among humankind.
JC is not the focus of faith (as he plainly is in the NT); rather, the focus of
faith is that Father to whom Jesus directed us in his teaching.
(Jesus ultimately points away from himself to God, never to himself as
God -- said the Ebionites.)
Docetists sought to explain how God became man in JC so as to give full weight
to his divine reality, yet without compromising the unchangeability of God
through union with human flesh.
(i) the human nature and the suffering of Christ were treated as unreal, (ii)
the gospel was reduced from the saving word to the merely ideational, (iii) the
objective and historical reality of Christ was undermined.
docetic christology can never affirm that in JC God has taken upon himself the human
consequences of sin and absorbed these into himself so as to effect atonement
(i.e., that in Jesus Christ God and man are inseparably united for our
salvation), therefore docetic christology always tends toward speculation or
mythological constructs projected onto God.
both Ebionite and Docetic christologies posit an antithesis between
divine truth and physical (historical) event.
(The apostles, on the contrary, insist that "The Word become flesh,
full of grace and truth...".)
- in both Ebionite and Docetic christologies JC is contrasted with
God or placed alongside God, and this the NT never does!
According to the apostles, Jesus Christ is the effectual presence
if JC were not God, he couldn't reveal God to us, for only through God
may we know God.
if JC were not man, he couldn't be our saviour, for only as one with us
is God savingly at work in our actual human existence.
say the same thing)
if JC wasn't really God then there was no divine reality in anything he said or
if JC wasn't really man then what God did in him has no saving relevance for
contradicts both of these essential poles, and puts forth both Ebionite
and Docetic christologies; i.e., JC is neither unambiguously human with our
humanity nor unambiguously God with God's divinity: JC is a sort of "third
seeing what Arius was expounding, wrote, "begotten of the Father, only
begotten, from the substance of the Father...true God of true God, begotten, not
made, of one substance with the Father...".
Just to be sure that everyone knew what was meant, the proponents of the
"homoousios" ("same substance") attached a canon to the
Nicene Creed: "It is anathema
to say (i) `There was when he (the Son) was not.'
(ii) `Before being begotten he was not.' (iii) `He came into existence
out of nothing.'
other words, the crucial section of the Nicene Creed mirrored the apostles'
insistence that faith in Christ coincides perfectly with faith in God.
because of the uncompromisable transcendence of God, the being of God is
unknowable and incommunicable. Therefore
there can be no Son who is eternally of the same nature as the Father himself.
like all things created out of nothing, the being of the Son is different
from the being of the Father. Therefore
the Father is incomprehensible to the Son, and therefore the Son cannot have or
mediate any authentic knowledge of God, since the Son can only know what the Son
has a capacity to know.
the Son is a creature, he is unlike all other creatures: the Son is neither
properly divine nor properly creaturely.
insisted: "JC is a Son of the Father only by an act of the Father's will."
insisted: "JC is the Son of the Father from his very being,
essential nature and reality as God.
"God, in that he ever is, ever is the Father of the Son."
Greek letter iota -- i -- is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet.
How important is it? What is
the difference between asking someone to run
your business and asking her to ruin
in Greek means "same'; in Latin "homo" means "man"!)
in Greek means "being".)
= "of the same being/nature/substance"; "homoiousios"
= "of similar being/nature/substance.")
question answered by the Nicene Creed (Athanasius): is the Son of the same
nature as the Father, or merely like the Father?"
Plainly, if only "like", the next question is "How much
like? A little bit like or a lot
be sure, "homoousios"is not itself a biblical term.
Nevertheless, said Athanasius, "It breathes the spirit of
scripture." In other words,
what is really important isn't the actual words of scripture but the meanings
which they convey and the realities to which they point.
of the truth of "homoousios", whatever we say of the Father we can say
of the Son, except "Father"; and whatever we say of the Son we can say
of the Father, except "Son".
detraction from the Son detracts from the Father, since to deny the deity of the
Son is to deny that God is eternally and intrinsically Father.
(I.e., the Father is Father in that he is the eternal Father of the
eternal Son, not because he is the Father of believers.)
"homoousios" was a bulwark against both unitarianism
(God is eternally triune) and polytheism
(because the Father and the Son have the same nature, the Son isn't a
second deity; and because the Father doesn't need the world to be Father -- or
to be love -- pagan deities tended to need the world to be who they were.)
The Gospel-Significance of "Homoousios"
gospel significance of "h." is highlighted by one question: "What
is implied if F. and S. are not of one being?"
God is utterly unknowable, since (said Arius) no creaturely being
can mediate knowledge of God. To say
the same thing: it then cannot be held that there is oneness between what the
gospel presents as the revelation of God and God himself.
"Revelation" would be no more than human fantasizing projected
The gospel is not the self-communication of God, nor the self-bestowal
of God. (I.e., God reveals and
bestows "something", but not himself.)
In JC God has not condescended to us, and his love (so-called) has
stopped short of becoming one with us.
There is no ontological -- and therefore no epistemological -- connexion
between the love of Jesus and the love of God.
The supreme mockery then is that God is said to love us in Jesus, but God
is not actually that love in himself. (According
to the apostles, to believe in JC is to believe in God himself, not merely in a
truth about God.)
is -- or might be -- a dark, unknown God behind the back of JC.
Athanasius insisted, "The knowledge of the F. through the S.,
and of the S. from the F., is one and the same."
The acts of JC are not the acts of God.
I.e., if JC is not God, then there is no final authority or validity for
anything he said or did for human beings. "No
creature can ever be saved by a creature." (Athanasius)
giver of grace and the gift of grace are not the same.
Grace is a created medium between God and man.
(In truth, grace is the self-giving of God in the incarnate one, in whom
giver and gift are indissolubly one. Otherwise
grace is regarded as a detachable quality, a "thing".)
On the last day we shall be judged by a God who is arbitrary in that he
bears no relation to JC and all that the latter stood for.
What Jesus does on the cross is simply a judicial transaction that
punishes a third party. What Jesus
does on the cross is not done by him as representative man, and therefore no
provision is made for the humanity of all humankind.
insisted that "The whole Christ (God and man) became a curse for
us." I.e., to save us God
cursed our fallen humanity and cursed himself in cursing it.
"It was not just a man who suffered and died for us, but the Lord
as man; not just the life of a man that was offered to save us, but the
life of God as man." Athanasius'
pithiest statement in this regard was, "Our resurrection is stored up in
Barth maintained that at the time of the Nicene controversy the Athanasian
"homoousios" was the most significant theological statement since the
do we think? Where is the church
the later 500s Gregory of Nyssa journeyed to