Charismatic Apologetics in St. Athanasius

Tony SigA passage to which I imagine I will return for more reflection struck me as interesting on a few levels.

What we have said is, indeed, no small proof of the destruction of death and of the fact that the cross of the Lord is the monument to His victory. But the resurrection of the body to immortality, which results henceforward from the work of Christ, the common Savior and true Life of all, is more effectively proved by facts than by words to those whose mental vision is sound. For, if, as we have shown, death was destroyed and everybody tramples on it because of Christ, how much more did He Himself first trample and destroy it in His own body! Death having been slain by Him, then, what other issue could there be than the resurrection of His body and its open demonstration as the monument of His victory? How could the destruction of death have been manifested at all, had not the Lord’s body been raised? But if anyone finds even this insufficient, let him find proof of what has been said in present facts.

Dead men cannot take effective action; their power of influence on others lasts only till the grave. Deeds and actions that energize others belong only to the living. Well, then, look at the facts in this case. The Savior is working mightily among men, every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching. Can anyone, in face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life? Does a dead man prick the consciences of men, so that they throw all the traditions of their fathers to the winds and bow down before the teaching of Christ?

If He is no longer active in the world, as He must needs be if He is dead, how is it that He makes the living to cease from their activities, the adulterer from his adultery, the murderer from murdering, the unjust from avarice, while the profane and godless man becomes religious? If He did not rise, but is still dead, how is it that He routs and persecutes and overthrows the false gods, whom unbelievers think to be alive, and the evil spirits whom they worship? For where Christ is named, idolatry is destroyed and the fraud of evil spirits is exposed; indeed, no such spirit can endure that Name, but takes to flight on sound of it. This is the work of One Who lives, not of one dead; and, more than that, it is the work of God. It would be absurd to say that the evil spirits whom He drives out and the idols which He destroys are alive, but that He Who drives out and destroys, and Whom they themselves acknowledge to be Son of God, is dead.”

There’s a lot to unpack here and I don’t have time to do it but I want to draw attention to how St. Athanasius sees “proof” of Christ’s resurrection in his charismatic work; converting people from paganism; converting their habits and lives; casting out demons, et. al.

“My Father is still working, and I am working” indeed!

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7 Comments

  1. ADH,

    As a Pentecostal, I’ve learned to distrust claims like these, for they are so easily ‘faked’; at the same time, I know there is something right about them. After all, if the Gospel isn’t changing our lives in concrete ways, then Christ clearly is not Lord. I suppose the question we should ask is What kind of change is being accomplished? Or the changes ‘cosmetic’ or deep, at the level of our humanness? Also, we must recognize that these are not ‘proofs’, even if they are evidences of Christ’s lordship and our faithfulness to him.

    Reply

    1. Chris,

      As one raised a Pentecostal, I’m more than aware of how often such claims are as you say. But my interest isn’t necessarily on the historicity or authenticity of those about whom Athanasius is speaking, but more on a textual level; how is he envisaging the work of Christ? I didn’t really mean ‘proof’ in some sort of ‘open and shut case’ but it is presented as ‘proof’ by Athanasius. In which case perhaps we can question how we have tended to ‘prove’ Christ’s resurrection, as it has already been questioned by critical philosophy anyway, and ask whether or not if such ‘methods’ would work today; and if not, then why don’t they work?

      I would perhaps answer that with another look at Ephraim Radner’s account of ecclesial pneumatalogial abandonment.

      But these are all things I’ve only just begun to think about so don’t hold me to it.

      Reply

      1. As another little note, I’m not necessarily endorsing this as proscriptive for Church practice. Really it’s a provocation, a testing of patristic waters, a first stab at venturing out into Patristic interpretation and historical theology. What was Athanasius saying, ya know? That kind of thing.

        Reply

  2. Well first off I would say you have to contrast St. Athanasius with one of his chief adversaries Arius. The “proof” is in changing peoples minds that this is the only reality that there is in fact an after life. This is how one conquers death and is better able to conquer this present life.

    Christ conquers the adulterer, the murder, the thief etc. to lead productive lives. I think the trust is that the invisible God should be know through His works and this is done through His people overcoming death in their earthly lives.

    Reply

  3. He puts a lot of weight, not merely the reality of the Resurrection, but on it’s physicality; Christ didn’t just “come back to life” and ascend into heaven, but overpowered death and is ardently at work in the world.

    Reply

  4. ADH,

    I didn’t at all meant to criticize your position or your reading of Athanasius. I apologize if that is what came across.

    You’ll see on my blog, that I also responded to Jamie Smith’s post on testimony!

    Reply

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