Friday, October 28, 2011

Some reflections on Tim Kimberly's online Athanasius biography

As mentioned in my 10-27-11 thread, though I thought Tim Kimberly's online essay, "Top Ten Theologians: #4 - Athanasius" (LINK) was "pretty good", I also stated that, "it has some important faults". This current thread will delve into two issues that I believe to be deficient.

First, the character of Athanasius -

Under the subheading, "Athansius' Foibles", Tim posted:

Historically, Athanasius is known for his godly life... In the early 20th century, however, many contemporary scholars portrayed Athanasius as very sinister T.D. Barnes states, “Like a modern gangster, he evoked widespread mistrust, proclaimed total innocence – and usually succeeded in evading conviction on specific charges.”

Barnes goes on to explain why most people haven’t heard of this side of him:

If the violence of Athanasius leaves fewer traces in the surviving sources…[the reason is] that he exercised power more efficiently and that he was successful in presenting himself to posterity as an innocent in power, as an honest, sincere and straightforward ‘man of God.’

Barnes makes an argument from silence. In order to survive and even win the day Athanasius surely needed to be a wise, resourceful and clever man. The fact that he ultimately bested his opponents in no way implies that he was more evil than they.  [Footnotes provided in the original - excluded from the above extract; interestingly enough, Tim does not provide a footnote for the above citation in italics—the quote is from Barnes', Athanasius and Constantius, p. 33.]

There is a bit more to this 'story'. Back on July 3, 2010, I posted the following:

==Though I am a huge fan of Dr. Schaff, he has not accurately portrayed Athanasius. R.P.C. Hanson, in his massive tome, The Seach for the Christian Doctrine of God provides a much more complete, and accurate, assessment of Athanasius. Chapter 9, “The Behaviour of Athanasius”, sheds considerable ‘light’ on the darker side of Athanasius. It looks as though pretty much the entire chapter is available online via Google Books (LINK - go to pages 239-273). After providing a list of charges levied against Athanasius from various ancient sources, Hanson writes:

It is remarkable how closely this evidence agrees with the list of Melitian charges against Athanasius given us by Sozomenus: causing divisions and disturbances in his diocese, preventing people entering churches, murders and imprisonments and undeserved beatings and woundings. Instead of ‘the tenderness which could not be loved’, the gentleness which made him…so patient and equitable as a peace-maker’, the majestic moral unity’ of his conduct and the freedom from anything ignoble in it, we find Athanasius behaving like an employer of thugs hired to intimidate his enemies. The evidence of papyrus 1914, Bell remarks, makes it certain that the charges of violent and unscrupulous behaviour in his see made Athanasius at Caesarea in 334, at Tyre in 335, at Serdica in 343 and many times thereafter were not baseless.” (Page 254)


We can now see why, for at least twenty years after 335, no Eastern bishops would communicate with Athanasius. He had been justly convicted of disgraceful behaviour in his see. His conviction had nothing to do with doctrinal issues. No church could be expected to tolerate behaviour like this on the part of one of its bishops.” (Pages 254, 255.)==

Just prior to the quote that Kimberly provided from Barnes' Athanasius and Constantius (p. 33), Barnes wrote:

Despite his protestations of innocence, Athanasius exercised power and protected his position in Alexandria by the systematic use of violence and intimidation. The papyrus of 335 documents in detail one small episode in which he coerced his opponents and used violence in an attempt to prevent them form attending a church council. That was not an isolated misdemeanor, but a typical example of the means by which bishops of Alexandria maintained their power in the Christian Roman Empire. (Ibid. pp. 32, 33.)

Barnes' "argument" (and Hanson's) is not "from silence", but rather, is based on the careful examination of the extant evidence.

Second, the complete lack of any reference to Athanasius' doctrine of deification (theosis) -

I am more than surprised that Kimberly completely ignored this very important aspect of Athansius' theology. Interestingly enough, one of the authors that he cites (and links to) had this to say:

We have stressed throughout this study that soteriology stands at the heart of Athanasius' theology. Christian soteriology is founded upon the premise that the Father created, through his Son, human beings in the image and likeness of his Son so that they might know him and share in a life of communion with him in that same Son through the divine life of the Holy Spirit...Athanasius' entire defence of the full divinity of the Son was based upon the principle that only if the Son of God were truly divine could humankind's salvation be ensured...Thus Athanasius' perception and articulation of the Trinity is wholly soteriological. (Thomas Gerard Weinandy, Athanasius: A Theological Introduction, p. 121.)

Note the following from the pen of Athanasius:

Athanasius - De Incarnation 54 For He was made man that we might be made God. (NPNF, second series, 4.65).

Athanasius - Defence of the Nicene Definition 3.14 ...the Word was made flesh in order to offer up this body for all, and that we, partaking of His Spirit, might be deified, a gift which we could not otherwise have gained than by His clothing Himself in our created body, for hence we derive our name of "men of God" and "men in Christ." But as we, by receiving the Spirit, do not lose our own proper substance, so the Lord, when made man for us, and bearing a body, was no less God; for He was not lessened by the envelopment of the body, but rather deified it and rendered it immortal. (NPNF, second series, 4.159).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 1.11.38 ...but rather He Himself has made us sons of the Father, and deified men by becoming Himself man. (NPNF, second series, 4.329).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 1.11.39 Therefore He was not man, and then became God, but He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us...And how can there be deifying apart from the Word and before Him? (NPNF, second series, 4.329).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 1.11.45 For He who is the Son of God, became Himself the Son of Man; and, as Word, He gives from the Father, for all things which the Father does and gives, He does and supplies through Him; and as the Son of Man, He Himself is said after the manner of men to receive what proceeds from Him, because His Body is none other than His, and is a natural recipient of grace, as has been said. For He received it as far as His man’s nature was exalted; which exaltation was its being deified. But such an exaltation the Word Himself always had according to the Father’s Godhead and perfection, which was His. (NPNF, second series, 4.333).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 2.21.70 Whence the truth shews us that the Word is not of things originate, but rather Himself their Framer. For therefore did He assume the body originate and human, that having renewed it as its Framer, he might deify it in Himself, and thus might introduce us all into the kingdom of heaven after His likeness. For man had not been deified if joined to a creature, or unless the Son were very God; nor had man been brought into the Father’s presence, unless He had been His natural and true Word who had put on the body. And as we had not been delivered from sin and the curse, unless it had been by nature human flesh, which the Word put on (for we should have had nothing common with what was foreign), so also the man had not been deified, unless the Word who became flesh had been by nature from the Father and true and proper to Him. For therefore the union was of this kind, that He might unite what is man by nature to Him who is in the nature of the Godhead, and his salvation and deification might be sure. (NPNF, second series, 4.386).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 3.25.23 And the work is perfected, because men, redeemed from sin, no longer remain dead; but being deified, have in each other, by looking at Me, the bond of charity. (NPNF, second series, 4.406).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 3.25.25 ...and as we are sons and gods because of the Word in us, so we shall be in the Son and in the Father, and we shall be accounted to have become one in Son and in Father...(NPNF, second series, 4.407).

Athanasius - Contra Arians 3.26.33 longer do these things touch the body, because of the Word who has come in it, but they are destroyed by him, and henceforth men no longer remain sinners and dead according to their proper affections, but having risen according to the Word's power, they abide ever immortal and incorruptible. Whence also, whereas the flesh is born of Mary Bearer of God [θεοτόκου], He Himself is said to have been born, who furnishes to others an origin of being; in order that He may transfer our origin into Himself, and we may no longer, as mere earth, return to earth, but as being knit into the Word from heaven, may be carried to heaven by Him. Therefor in like manner not without reason has He transferred to Himself the other affections of the body also; that we, no longer as being men, but as proper to the Word, may have share in eternal life. For no longer according to our former origin in Adam do we die; but henceforward our origin and all infirmity of flesh being transferred to the Word, we rise from the earth, the curse form sin being removed, because of Him who is in us, and who has become a curse for us. And with reason; for as we are all from earth and die in Adam, so being regenerated from above of water and Spirit, in the Christ we are all quickened; the flesh no longer earthly, but being henceforth made Word [λογωθείσης της σαρκός - this strong term is here applied to human nature generally; it is also used to describe our Lord's flesh], by reason of God's Word who for our sake 'became flesh.' (NPNF, second series, 4.412)

Athanasius - Contra Arians 3.28.48 For now the flesh had risen and put off its mortality and been deified. (He is here speaking of Christ's flesh). (NPNF, second series, 4.420).

Athanasius - Letter 60 (Ad Adelphium) And if God sent His Son brought forth from a woman, the fact causes us no shame but contrariwise glory and great grace. For He has become Man, that He might deify us in Himself, and He has been born of a woman, and begotten of a Virgin, in order to transfer to Himself our erring generation, and that we may become henceforth a holy race, and ‘partakers of the Divine Nature,’ as blessed Peter wrote. And ‘what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.’ (NPNF, second series, 4.576)

[Note: NPNF = The Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers, (second series), 1979 Eerdmans reprint.]

I think I should end here, stating that I sincerely hope the above does not detract too much from Kimberly's ongoing series.

Grace and peace,



Drake Shelton said...

David, I could use your help over at

Drake Shelton said...

Steve Hays needs some Tag Team Nicene Action!

David Waltz said...

Hi Drake,

Thanks for the link. Last night before going to sleep, I read through the entire thread, and I am not surprised in the least that you have been TRIBLOGUED !!! It is for a very good reason that I have subtitled the Triablogue blog, "The Black Hole of Christian Blogs"; not much 'light' emanating out there...

I have pretty much ceased dialogue with Steve Hays after the following exchange at Beggars All:

Answering the charge of "rape against the doctrine of God's effectual grace - Part 1 (see also the following germane threads: R.C. Sproul and "the holy rape of the soul" and R.C. Sproul: If we grant that God can save men by violating their wills...).

Not only was Steve caught lying (more than once), his entire argument turned out to be totally baseless, for one of the most prominent Reformed theologians of our day (R.C. Sproul) used the very terminology that Steve objected to. After be caught with his 'pants down around his ankles', Hays vanished from the scene; no apology was ever offered.

Anyway, the above is merely the 'tip of the iceberg' when to comes to Steve Hays' ongoing un-Christian behavior (and just plain silliness).

So, even though Steve has made some serious errors in the thread that you linked to, I believe it is counter-productive to engage in dialogue with him on his blog (it always ends up being a huge waste of time).

With that said, I am heading out town shortly for the day; I will pray as to whether or not I should type up a new thread pointing out the all too obvious mistakes that Steve made during his dialogue with you and Craig.

Grace and peace,


Ken said...

It is sad to read that Athanasius was not as holy as I thought he was. Oh well; another forgiven sinner, who was imperfect; but one whom I don't doubt is in heaven.

Do you think his behavior was worse than Cyril of Alexandria's against Nestorius? There is one that seems really bad - Cyril.

One can have sound doctrine but still have bad, sinful habits and behavior.

On the Theosis - that is one of the hardest things to understand as the wording just sound so foreign and strange.

Isn't it better to describe it as "glorification" ?

In theosis, it seems important that they communicate that we are still creatures and God is the creator and over us.

Surely that is what Athanasius meant, right ?

If so, then there is no problem.

otherwise, he is still my favorite of the ECF.

Are these some of the reasons you don't seem to like Athanasius, and you seem to disagree with him and Augustine on the Trinity.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

So good to see you back! Have you been traveling?

In your post you wrote:

==It is sad to read that Athanasius was not as holy as I thought he was. Oh well; another forgiven sinner, who was imperfect; but one whom I don't doubt is in heaven.

Do you think his behavior was worse than Cyril of Alexandria's against Nestorius? There is one that seems really bad - Cyril.==

Me: Some of the charges leveled against Athanasius are very troubling, and if true, would suggest that he was willing to engage in behavior that even Cyril avoided. But, with that said, Cyril seemed (given the extant data) to be more consistently 'heavy-handed' concerning his treatment of those who disagreed with him.

==One can have sound doctrine but still have bad, sinful habits and behavior.==

Me: Agreed.

==On the Theosis - that is one of the hardest things to understand as the wording just sound so foreign and strange.

Isn't it better to describe it as "glorification" ? ==

Me: I think the concept of theosis has some common ground with glorification, but each has important aspects that are unique to themselves.

==In theosis, it seems important that they communicate that we are still creatures and God is the creator and over us.==

Me: The Son of God, as to his person, is divine, and not human, but he assumed a full human nature without losing his divinity in that process. As I understand deification/theosis, redeemed man is deified (i.e. becomes 'partakers of the divine nature). In that process, the person of a redeemed man remains human, adding, a second nature: divinity. Irenaeus sums it up best (in what scholars term the 'exchange theory'):

"...the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself." (ANF 1.526).

==Surely that is what Athanasius meant, right ?==

Me: I believe that is correct.

==If so, then there is no problem.==

Me: I never thought there was (wink).

==Are these some of the reasons you don't seem to like Athanasius, and you seem to disagree with him and Augustine on the Trinity.==

Me: In terms of Athanasius' doctrine of God, there is not much I disagree with; it was Augustine, not Athanasius, who introduced the 'psychological model' of the Trinity, and with it, what essentially became neo-modalism.

Grace and peace,


The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

My scholarly take on the matter...

Ken said...

What is the difference between Theosis


glorification ?

glorification - I think of as entailing process of sanctification, holiness, and at death or second coming of Chrhist - having a new glorified body in heaven. (Phil. 3:20; I Cor. 15; 2 Cor. 5; I John 3:1-3)

in other words - verses about us being changed and made more and more holy and becoming like Jesus in character:

"being conformed to the image of Christ" (Romans 8:28-29; Colossians 3:9-10; Ephesians 4:20-24; 2 Cor. 3:16-18; 4:16-18) - being made more and more holy -
"partakers of the divine nature" - 2 Peter 1:4

"new creatures in Christ" - 2 Cor. 5:17

that is, we partake in the communicable attributes of God, not the incommunicable ones (God alone is God, we are children of God by adoption, not by substance)

It seems to me, the Protestant Reformed way of expressing those Scriptural truths is better than "becoming gods" or "little gods" , etc.

The Theosis language lends itself to misunderstanding.

Ken said...

Luka -
Does your linking to that comedy video intend to communicate that you think all the evidence against Athanasius is "baloney" - false?

Do you disagree with all the apparent evidence against Athanasius that David W. has amassed from Hanson and others?

I don't like it either, but what can one do in the face of evidence?

Ken said...

What is the "Psychological Model of the Trinity" ?? of Augustine ?

Do you have specific references so I can find them without having to read though every word of his works. ( I have tried for years, but always give up because of lack of time and the parts that one has to wade through that seem boring and hard to understand. His "City of God" was especially tedious and ponderous and redundant and rambling. I wish someone would condense it to the essence.

Lover = Father
Beloved = Son
Love = Holy Spirit


"God is Love" - I John 4:8


I forgot another of Augustine's illustrations of the Trinity -


Memory and mind seem the same, but I am sure you can recall easily - I would have to go back and research it a lot.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

Sorry for my somewhat belated response; my internet service was down all-day yesterday (they were upgrading the line to my house from copper to fiber-optics). Got service back this morning; it lightening fast now!!! (Well worth the down time.)

Yesterday morning, you posted:

== What is the "Psychological Model of the Trinity" ?? of Augustine ?==

Me: It is where Augustine uses analogies that are directly related to the mind. Off of the top of my head, books IX and X in his On the Trinity are some of the best examples of this model. (See pages 125 - 143 in vol. III of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers first series.)

Karl Rahner in his famous book The Trinity (pages 115 - 120) touches on some of the deficiencies of this model, even though he still retains the Latin/Western view of the Trinity.

Grace and peace,


Ken said...

Yes, I remember something about mind and memory in Augustine's analogy.

I don't quite understand the label "Psychological" (pertaining to the soul, mind, unseen, thinking, memory ?)

I need to look at that again in Augustine.

You did not comment further on my comments on the article on Jihad a couple of posts down.

And Kimberly has now put Calvin as the 3rd greatest theologian, so you were right on that.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for responding; you posted:

==Yes, I remember something about mind and memory in Augustine's analogy.

I don't quite understand the label "Psychological" (pertaining to the soul, mind, unseen, thinking, memory ?)==

Me: As you know, psychology is the "science of the mind", so I understand the label. One of these days I would like to do some research and try and find out who first used the term to describe this particular aspect of Augustine's take on the Trinity. (BTW, Augustine was also fond of describing the distinctions between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as "relations"; I think Karl Barth picked up on this.)

==You did not comment further on my comments on the article on Jihad a couple of posts down.==

Me: I thought your comments were directed to GV19, so I refrained from commenting. Also, my views on this issue (i.e. Islam, the Qur'an and jihad) have not changed since our last 'round'. In fact, if anything, the two recent scholarly articles referenced in the thread that you are referring to have further solidified my position.

==And Kimberly has now put Calvin as the 3rd greatest theologian, so you were right on that.==

Me: Yeah, I saw that. Found it a bit interesting that some thought 3rd place was too low...

Grace and peace,


Clinton LeFort said...


Here is another link I thought you may enjoy, which I found early Tuesday morning as I was researching another article on references to Maximas the Confessor in the CCC:

The link above will take you to a journal issue of affcrit, and the entire issue is dedicated to dedication. I have not read thru all of the content, but it may be of interest to you.

Clinton LeFort