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Athanasius wrote on Incarnation which is a very basic but the base of Christianity or in Lewis’s words, mere Christianity. Most of other religions have been having to struggle to understand the concept of the Trinity for centuries and here we are talking about the son of God, Jesus Christ the second person of the Trinity became flesh to say the humanity and set them free from their sins. Of course, here we are listening to all the disagreement and rejection from different religions such as Islam and Judaism that Jesus did not come to earth in a physical body, etc. Reading Athanasius and C.S. Lewis’s writings on Incarnation is just appears to me how these two were such masterminds with a deep understanding. There are lots of different arguments on that how the son is pre-existent, He did not become God at His baptism neither did His existence begins at the incarnation. In the following essay, I will talk about Athanasius and C.S. Lewis and their beliefs on Incarnation and their method of teaching.
Athanasius of Alexandria was born in 296 A.D. in Egypt, he grew up in a Christian rich family, and lived in the city of Alexandria with was a part of the Roman Empire. He was well educated in fact he was titled as saint Patriarch of Alexandria, Saint, and Doctor of the Church. I could not find many details on his education and family, he was serving the Bishop of Alexandria while learning about pastoring and theology. Eventually, he became the secretary and it was the begging of his fight with Arianism. The short dark skin Bishop had so many enemies and that is why they called him “Black Dwarf”.
He was an Egyptian Christian theologian who became a Bishop and served 17 years out of his 45 years of life as a Bishop. Such an incredible and faithful man of God who was facing so many heresies such as Arianism, modalism, etc. the Emperor decided to change Christianity from a persecuted religion to a sanctioned one. Arianism was created by Arius right after Christianity became officially sanctioned; it started from Alexandria and started growing up towards the eastern Empire. The Church felt the necessary need of having a council to deal with this issue and that’s how the Nicene council was born. It was not the first council in Christian history as we can see in the book of acts chapter 15 Jerusalem’s council. Gathering all the bishops from across the world and the full support of Emperor Constantine made this council more powerful and special. Athanasius was still a secretary and was not a part of the council. After the council, Arianism was still growing in the East so Athanasius decided to devote his life on teaching the Trinity.
He became a bishop on May 9th in 328. His enemies were against the election of his bishopric. He was so young to become a bishop and against some of the teachings like Trinity. He was teaching about the divinity of the Son, “we are not worshiping creature or a man but God Himself in flesh.” His teachings made lots of enemies which was including Emperor Constantine’s son which led into his first exile to Augusta Treverorum in Gaul (Germany) in 336. Athanasius spent most of his exile writing to defend the orthodoxy and the divinity of Christ. He experienced exiles five times before he dies in 273, he returned to Alexandria in 366 after his fifth exile.
On the Incarnation, Athanasius explains why God wanted to approach to human beings in a human form and a physical body. Athanasius said, “The death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished.” . Athanasius with all the pressure in the 4th century, In the early church, he was really operating and pushing the incarnation on both scripture and the teachings. Basically, he was dealing with the same objection against us, Christians that facing till today since the 4th century.
You cannot really have a revelation or theology on Incarnation if you have not read the new testament before. “In the beginning, the Word already existed. The Word was with God and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God.” We can clearly see the eternal divine of the word from the beginning of the word that even he existed before that. However, Athanasius maybe did not believe in that Jesus had a human soul, his reasons were simple and a bit overwhelming. Basically, he simply explained where the Incarnation comes from, why and the reason behind it. He perfectly explained in such a way for the reader to understand how important it is as a Christian to believe in that the word of God came on earth in flesh and suffered and crucified, but some of his ideas/ issues apply to the 4th century that may be the reason why some of them not make sense to us but again it doesn’t change the necessity of Incarnation.
C.S. Lewis said “The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.” one of my favorite part of the book is how he is bringing up 1Cor 15:55 and how Jesus provided reconciliation, as well as victory over death for those, are following Father; and again, all this requires the understanding of Christ Incarnation. This book has really drawn me closer to Jesus and even by imagining how he did shift the mindset of Jews and Gentiles in the 4th century by understanding the Incarnation of Christ.
In the history of Christianity, there are always misinterpreting, either intentional or unintentional. One of them name that always will be remembered in early church history is Athanasius for what he did. On Incarnation is a very easy but important book to read. This book is important because it sets the foundation of the church especially for the leaders.
Athanasius has mentioned the “Lordly body” when he talks about Jesus and the resurrection. “Lordly body” can easily be mistranslated but it clearly refers to the church and salvation. Christ’s work hasn’t done yet, but it is continuing within His body which is the church. All the achievements through Christ is not only in his physical body which with what he did on the cross, but it is through the body of the church.
Clive Staples Lewis (1898 –1963), was born in Belfast, Ireland. He was a lay theologian, in 1961 received a scholarship to University College, Oxford but later in 1917 joined the British army, in April 1918 he got wounded in the battle of Arras which is why he got discharged from the army in December the same year. He published his first collection of lyrics verses called “Spirits in Bondage” in 1919. Lewis decided to become an atheist in 1929, he spent days and nights with his best friends Tolkien and Hugo he had surrendered to Jesus in 1931 and converted to Christianity. During his lifetime Lewis wrote more than 30 books; In September 1939, Lewis is writing one of his books “the problem of pain” (published later in 1940) grabbed the attention of one of the directors of the British Broadcasting Corporation and convinced him that Lewis needs to share his thoughts on the radio during the war and that’s how his carrier in radio started, however, he wasn’t a fan of radio broadcasting. August 1941, at 7:45 pm, he started his broadcasting series about what Christians believe.
Lewis wasn’t a theologian however he was a great thinker, reader, and communicator which gave him a great understanding of his audience on BBC radio, especially those who did not trust scriptural or historical church authority. There are so many great stories of Lewis during his radio broadcasting and how published the series of broadcasts presenting key Christian doctrine etc, but what really touches me is how a new Christian who did not even believe in God got into a radio ministry and talked to unbelievers across the world. His story reminds me of when God gave me the opportunities not long after I converted to Christianity, started a Christian radio broadcasting, and spoke to refugees and asylum seekers all across the world. This is just amazing how use our weaknesses to glorify Him, talk to people including those been Christians or were born in a Christian family through new Christian from very interesting backgrounds Islam, Atheism, etc.
“The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, which is uncreated, eternal, came into Nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him.”
In 2 Corinthians 5:19a, Through the world, we learn how and why Christ was able to reconcile the world unto himself, which has been the center of discussion among not only Christians but also other religions trying to understand the doctrines of the Incarnation and how it has changed the future of the world. Clive was always so passionate about central Christian teachings especially about Incarnation because he was just amazed as you can feel the excitement through his writings. C.S. Lewis approached by highlighting the importance of we need to read the old books in order to understand the historical context of Athanasius.
Arius heresy, Lewis alongside of his Introduction about Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius he also tells us about the idea that was coming from Arius. Arius was attacking the Trinity by his teaching, denying the Incarnation of Christ and His sacrifice was not been sufficient. I like Lewis’s advice, he strongly suggests us instead of reading random books from different writers always find the actual source, the first-hand knowledge, some of the old books are great such as the Incarnation, and easy to understand, short and more reliable.
Lewis has mentioned many times about “Grand Miracle”.
Did God want to save humankind because we are in the image? But He is the truth, so how could He have restored us from sin and death without punishment and penalty? Does human repentance enough? So how can God, the creator cleans up our mess?
Grand Miracle and this is how God worked it out to reconcile and recreated us through the Word again. Men fail by disobeying and back to nothingness. The grand miracle is Christ and how he came into humanity and was born out of a human body.
Lewis has used the terms of “Converted Jews” in his writing so many times but he always honored Jews but he also draws the boundary for Jewish on the incarnation of Christ, he addressed about the divinity of Christ. Lewis was agreed with Jewish that Jesus was such a great teacher but also, He was God, so he had this argument with them. Lewis in his Introduction is telling us how bold Athanasius was, Athanasius knew his epitaph is going to be against the world, but he did not give up.
“…the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.” I love this quote of Lewis; in his writing, he doesn’t like to go around the bush just to make Christianity looks nice to people. What would be the main mission of the Church rather be more like Jesus! The bible in so many different verses is telling us the world was made for Christ and through Him so everything should gather together in Him. If we don’t believe and fight for (more spiritual fight rather than a physical fight) on the incarnation of Christ, then what is the point of going to the church? Unfortunately, some of the churches just want to draw people for donations or volunteers. It is easy to get caught in worldly needs such as Power, which when you read the church history from 4th century, it is easier to understand why Athanasius wrote on Incarnation and the difficulties he was facing.
Lewis in his book, mere Christianity is talking about how all the laws, cathedrals, church buildings, clergy, missions, church services, sermons, and even the Bible itself will be a waste of time if the Church’s mission is not believed and understood Incarnation and to be more like Christ. Lewis was trying to set the kingdom culture, even when he is talking about the churches that are on the wrong path, he doesn’t want to criticize the churches but rather He tells us to keep praying for them. Churches are missionaries and the mission is to draw the people into Christ, the head of the church, the body, and be a little Christ.
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