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Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought (Routledge Early Church Monographs) Paperback – 9 Dec 2004


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"Anatolios's book is arguably the best exposition of Athanasius's thought in recent times."-"Anglican Theological Review "Throughout the book, Anatolios reads closely and carefully, and it is a pleasure to participate in his insights...[T]his fascinating and very readable book ought to be required reading for anyone wishing to gain insight into the Great Athanasius and his time...."-Peter Bouteneff "St. Vladimir 's Theological Quarterly --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Khaled Anatolios is Associate Professor of Historical Theology, at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, in Cambridge, MA. He is the author of Athanasius. The Coherence of his Thought (Routledge1998). --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Athanasius - Nicaean Attack Dog 16 Aug 2008
By Richard Hill - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book's value for the reader is twofold; first, the new translations done by Anatolios contemporize the language over the publicly available texts of the Nicene Fathers: "Thou then, as a man of learning, in spite of their subterfuges, didst convict them of talking to no purpose; and they in devising them were but acting suitably to their own evil disposition;" compare this to "But you, as a learned and articulate man, convicted them of talking nonsense, despite their pretences. Nevertheless, in the invention of these pretences of theirs, they are not acting inconsistently with their own evil minds" (178). This work removes one cumbersome hindrance to reading Athanasius and allows the passion of the scholar to inspire his contemporary readers. In addition, Anatolios has provided extensive explanatory endnotes, bibliography, and most importantly, a rich, thorough introduction.

Athanasius was bishop of the most cosmopolitan city in fourth century Egypt, Alexandria. He was made bishop at age thirty, just three years after the Council of Nicaea, which he attended as a secretary to his bishop. It is that council that he defended vehemently against any attackers. One selection included here is "On the Council of Nicaea" in which he defends the Council's position against Eusebians who criticized the Council on the use of unscriptural terms to explain the Scripture. Athanasius habitually identified his enemies with the Arians, as he does in this writing, in order to immediately identify them as holding heretical views, and then, step by step, he decimates their arguments. For Athanasius, the subject matter was of such ultimate importance, it justified the use of such tactics.

The hallmarks of his theology were the guide for inclusion in this volume. They include defense of the Council of Nicaea, the divinity and humanity of Christ, divinity of the Holy Spirit and Christian Worship, all of which are represented in this text. This book is such an excellent introduction to Athanasius and by extension, the fourth century debates in the Church, that it makes this reviewer consider that the entire series may do the same for the other Fathers of the Church.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
When ideas could get you banished. Or killed. 15 Oct 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Anatolios' new book on Athanasius is part biography (about 85 pages) and part fine translation of Athanasius' most important works.

Athanasius lived at a pivotal moment in Christian history. When he was a child, the last, great persecution against Christians swept across the Roman empire. But within a decade Constantine would alter the status of Christians in the ancient world forever.

Athanasius also lived in one of the great intellectual and religious centers of the ancient world, Alexandria. He was apparently born to great wealth and to pagan parents. This, at least, is the story that has come down to us. Certainly the evidence of his writings argues that he must have had a fine education.

What is known for certain is that by the time he was 30 or so Athanasius was a deacon and "the principal secretary of Bishop Alexander at the Council of Nicaea of 325" (p 5).

Nicaea was the first great council of the Catholic church, and it deliberated on such questions as the date of Easter, but mostly, of course, it dealt with the problem of Arianism.

What will shock modern readers is Athanasius' treatment of his opponents. He says he is "amazed at the perversity of the heretics...they have fallen into such a pit of impiety that they are no longer in possession of their senses" (p 236). There is nothing mealy mouthed or politically correct about Athanasius.

Indeed, Athansaius was "quite convinced that the denial of the full divinity of the Son simply deconstructs the whole edifice of Christian faith" (p 36). And he was glad to be banished rather than alter the smallest bit of the faith he believed in.

This was at a time when thousands of Christians had been martyred for their faith. Some of the bishops who attended Nicaea were missing limbs due to the persecution.

Athanasius wrote, "For the faith which the council confessed in writing is that of the Catholic Church, and this is what was vindicated...when they...condemned the Arian heresy" (p 206).

Reading Athanasius' passionate logic about the status of the Son to the Father is enlightening and convincing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Superb monograph 17 Feb 2014
By Jacob - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Broader thesis: “My position is that Athanasius’s theological vision is Irenaean” (Anatolios 4; loc. 126). The distance and (convergence) between God and man: “The theme of the immediate presence of God to creation implies an anthropology that conceives human being in terms of receptivity to this presence of God (23; loc. 477). Further, “to say that creatures are “external” to God means in fact that they participate in God” (107; loc. 2230) This is interesting because his gloss of Irenaeus begins to sound a lot like the Sophiological project of Sergei Bulgakov.

On various Platonisms: He notes on a Scriptural view “there arises no need to set up a kind of buffer zone of mediation to protect divine transcendence” (15; loc. 314). This is a great statement that will eventually run counter to later Ps. Dionysian tendencies to see a hierarchy of mediation. “Athanasius wants to reiterate that the original purpose of creation included the overcoming, from the divine side, of the ontological chasm that separates God and creatures” (42; loc. 880). See Michael Horton’s essays on overcoming estrangement; foreign to a covenant ontology. Anatolios is careful to say that Athanasius doesn’t hold to the neo-Platonic chain of being ontology, otherwise he couldn’t maintain the thesis of continuity between Irenaeus and Athanasius. But on the other hand, Ath. certainly comes close: “For immediately after establishing that the Son’s participation of the Father constitutes an identity of essence, he goes on to establish a kind of chain of participation in which our participation of the Son amounts to a participation of the Father” (111; loc. 2318)

Indeed, while Athanasius rightly rejects the “chain of being” ontology explicitly, he seems to default back to some form of it at times. Anatolios notes, “Thus while it is intrinsic to the definition of created nature to relapse into the nothingness whence it came….” (167; loc. 3463). This is fully in line with the Eastern view’s seeing the problem as ontological, not ethical. Our problem on this gloss is finitude and the perpetual slide into non-being.

The Logos and the Body

Anatolios will take his thesis and apply it to the inter-relation of the Logos and the body. Broadly speaking, and Anatolios does not ultimately challenges this, the Alexandrian tradition saw the Logos as instrumentalizing the human nature. This is beyond dispute. (See Bruce McCormack’s various essays for a lucid discussion). Anatolios, however, cautions interpreters against interpreting this thesis in too literal and crude a fashion, pace Grillmeier. Rather, Anatolios argues that we should see such instrumentalization in an “active-passive” paradigm. Perhaps he is correct but I don’t see how this is really any different materially than the other theses.

Later on in the monograph, though, Anatolios does admit that “the interaction of passibility and impassibility in Christ is conceived not so much in terms of feeling and non-feeling, but of activity and passivity” (157; loc. 3292). If that’s true, and I think it is, then it is hard to see the material difference between his view and other interpreters’ (Grillmeier, Hanson).

Extra-calvinisticum: “in relation to both the world and the body, the Word is both in all and outside all...the Word is outside the cosmos and his human body insofar as his relation to it, while quite intrinsic, is one of activity, not passivity” (80; loc. 1684ff).

Logos as Subject

Anatolios suggests that we see the relation of Word to “body” as one of a grammatical subject rather than an organic model. In a move that sounds almost word-for-word in line with the Westminster Confession of Faith, Anatolios notes that the “characteristics of both humanity and divinity, in Christ, are predicated of a single grammatical subject” (81; loc. 1708). He is not saying (although perhaps not ultimately denying, either) that the characteristics of one nature are predicated to the other nature.

I don’t think that Anatolios fully solves all the problems, and his quite lucid discussion merely highlights a tension in Christologies that operate off of classical metaphysics. On one hand he wants to show that the Word really did take on human suffering as “his own,” even as “His body’s own,” but does this really advance the discussion? There is still a “0” acting as a metaphysical placeholder between the two natures. I am not faulting either Anatolios of Athanasius for that. Impassibility must be maintained, but Anatolios’s reading isn’t as novel as he makes it to be. If he says suffering is “predicated” to the Word (147; loc 3074, and I agree), then one must ask if since there is a unity between the two natures, how does this “perturbation” not flow to the divine nature? To be fair, this wasn’t Athanasius’ main point so one can’t fault him too hard for not really answering it. However, it would be one of the main points in later Alexandrian and Cyrillene debates and it fully impacts the analogy of a fire and iron (in fact, it shows the analogy to be quite flawed).

Anatolios expands on this meaning by saying that the human attributes are “transformed” by the Word (151; loc. 3162). That’s fully in line with later Eastern theology but it does seem to jeopardize the humanity of Christ.

Athanasius and Barth

It is popular among recent interpreters of Athanasius to compare him favorably as the “proto-Barth” (pace Williams). Anatolios puts a stop to this, but he is not critiquing Barth on the lines where Reformed thinkers would. Anatolios notes that Athanasius held to a form of the analogia entis (211; loc. 4409). Barth did not; indeed, he called it an invention of the Antichrist. Anatolios then proceeds to give a fairly accurate exposition of Barth’s theology in contrast with Athanasius. Problematically, we cannot follow Athanasius on this particular point. Whatever Barth’s faults may be, he emphasized preaching, proclamation, and salvation as an “extra-nos” announcement. On Barth’s (and the Protestant’s) gloss, good news is first of all a proclamation. It is in fact, news. For Athanasius (and the later Orthodox) it is something God begins to do in us. True, Anatolios does affirm that God alone bridges the gap between created and Creator, but he doesn’t do it by a proclamation, but by a process of transformation.

Analysis and Conclusion

As a monograph of Athanasius, this is superb. It is well-written and interacts with the best scholarship. I do not think Anatolios’s reading of Athanasius, for whatever merits it may have, is really all that different from Hanson’s and Grillmeier’s. True, he does correct some of the cruder readings, but the fundamental point remains the same: Athanasius saw the Logos as instrumentalizing the human nature. He had to if he wanted to maintain deification soteriology. Further, this places a strain on just how much “activity” Athanasius could logically place on the human side (and eventually this paradigm would “snap” at the 6th Ecumenical Council). For he had earlier written, "The power of free choice (he proairesis) thus conditions the active-passive paradigm model, insofar as it is meant to lead humanity into an active clinging to the prior beneficent activity of the Word” (61; loc. 1287). This may very well be so, but one wonders how it could have been with regard to Christ's human nature.
9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Good introduction to Athanasius 15 Mar 2007
By Greg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
St Athanasius was one of the earliest Church fathers, along with St Iranaeus and St Ignatius and St Clement of Rome. Athanasius was one of the key architects of incarnational theology, which argued for the first time that Jesus was not merely a man teaching wisdom or a divine being come to Earth, but was the human incarnation of God, the perfect fusion of divine and human in one person. Athanasius's famous dictum was 'God became man so that man may become God', echoeing Iranaeus's anti-Gnostic polemic against the evils of the material world and flesh, as well as fighting the Arian notion of Jesus simply being another creature of God.

This work includes some of Athansius's major theological works, and gives a useful introduction to his thought.
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