When looking at the periods that make up early Church history, some of the most formative years are between 100 A.D-700 A.D. These years are known as the Patristic period, during which Christianity grew from a small movement of believers into the dominant religion of Western civilization. Many of the greatest theologians of all time lived during this period, the most famous examples being St. Augustine and St. Ignatius. A lesser-known Patristic theologian, named St. Athanasius, wrote extensively on the prevailing theological debate of this time, which centered around the divinity of Christ. In the city of Alexandria, Egypt, St. Athanasius wrote a book called De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (On The Incarnation). On the Incarnation provides a logical and cogent defense of the divinity of Christ. In Incarnation, St. Athanasius defends the idea of the fully-man and yet fully-divine Christ, an idea that was under attack by Arianism, followers of the presbyter Arius that disavowed the divinity of Jesus. St. Athanasius, especially in Alexandria, was outnumbered by the Arian majority, who repeatedly tried to silence him, even going so far as to threaten his life. Despite this, Athanasius fought contra mundum. In Latin, this means against the world. Even though most of the Christian world had accepted this view, St. Athanasius fought for the truth, and as a result, we have one of the greatest works of Christian literature. Here is a snapshot of how Athanasius defended the divinity of Christ in his work On the Incarnation.
First and foremost, St. Athanasius argues that God who “created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1)” is one and the same as Jesus Christ. St. Athanasius says, “The renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.” John 1:1 and John 1:14 confirms this, stating that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1), and “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” According to Athanasius, Jesus is God, yet He is also of God.
Why is this necessary? The concept of being God and at the same time being of God speaks to the fundamental purpose of the Messiah. Jesus, because of His divinity, is able to act as our Passover lamb and be our salvation. He must be divine because “…He alone, being the Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.” By becoming a mortal man, Jesus “banished death from us and made us anew… [He] became visible through His works and revealed Himself as the Word of the Father, Ruler and King of the whole creation.” The Son came to Earth so that we may be redeemed in the eyes of the Father, made anew by His Sacrifice. And in the process of redeeming the world, He proclaims Himself king so that more people would be saved by His Grace.