Last summer I had the pleasure of participating in the Third British Patristics Conference hosted by St John’s College at the University of Durham. The papers from this event are currently being gathered and edited for volume 52 of Studia Patristica, due out later this year.
Markus Vinzent, editor of the volume, has posted the titles and abstracts for the volume’s contents (almost 30 essays!) on his blog. This is my contribution:
The Instrumentalization of Christ’s Human Nature
in Athanasius of Alexandria
Darren O. Sumner, Aberdeen
The manner in which Athanasius conceives of the relationship between the Word of God and his assumed humanity is rightly described as ‘instrumentalist’. The acting agent in the life of Jesus Christ is understood to be the Logos simpliciter, who has ‘put on’ or ‘taken up’ human flesh in order to accomplish the salvation of human persons – but is, in his own eternal person, unaltered. This is striking to a post-Chalcedonian understanding of the Incarnation as a hypostatic union of two natures, divine and human, which results in the Word’s becoming a composite person whose humanity is no less important to his identity than is his divinity. The purpose of this paper is to test the sufficiency of Athanasius’ understanding of the Incarnation for Christian dogmatics. It begins by exploring Athanasius’ interpretation of a number of problematic biblical texts that seem to grant the humanity a higher status in the make-up of Christ’s person – his ignorance of something that God the Father knows (Mark 13:32), for example. Next, it considers three ways in which Athanasius guards against the hazardous conclusions one might draw from a purely instrumentalist construal of the Incarnation. For Athanasius, the humanity of the Word is not merely a tool in his hand. Finally, it considers the broader implications for dogmatics, particularly with respect to the question of divine impassibility, attempting to answer whether or not Athanasius’ safeguards sufficiently compensate for the dangers of his instrumentalism.