Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Athenagoras of Athens on the Christian God

In this defense of the Christian faith against pagan criticisms, written in Greek around the year 177 and addressed to the Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius Antonius and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, Athenagoras sets outs the main features of the gospel in a lucid and reasoned manner. The early Christians were accused of atheism on account of their refusal to worship the emperor. In this extract, in which Athenagoras explains what Christians believe about God, important anticipations of later thinking of the Trinity can be detected. The work is known by various names, including Apologia, Legatio and Supplicatio pro Christianis. In excerpted of his writing he wrote,

“So we are not atheists, in that we acknowledge one God, who is uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, and without limit. He is apprehended only by the intellect and the mind, and is surrounded by light, beauty, spirit, and indescribable power. The universe was created and ordered, and is presently sustained, through his Logos (that is, Jesus Christ)… For we acknowledge also a “Son of God.” Nobody should think it ridiculous that God should have a Son. Although the pagan poets, in their frictions, represent the gods as being no better than human beings, we do not think in the same way as they do concerning either God the Father or God the Son. For the Son of God is the Logos of the Father, both in thought and in reality. It was through his action, and after his pattern, that all things were made, in that the Father and the Son are one…

[The Son] is the first creation of the Father – not meaning that he was brought into existence, in that, from the beginning, God, who is the eternal mind (nous), had the Logos within himself, being eternally of the character of the Logos (logikos). Rather, it is meant that he came forth to be the pattern and motivating power of all physical things… We affirm that the Holy Spirit, who was active in the prophets, is an effluence of God, who flows from him and returns to him, like a beam of the sun.”
[Source: Apologia, X, 1-4; in Athenagoras: Legatio and De Resurrectionem ed. W. R. Schoedel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), pp. 20-2.]

I [Jesus Christ] and my Father are one” (John 10:30)

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