Revista Studii Teologice


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"A fost Sfântul Atanasie apolinarist?"

Was St. Athanasius an Apollinarianist?

Autor(i): Eugen MAFTEI

Summary: Was St. Athanasius an Apollinarianist?
The present article attempts to provide answers to certain questions on how St. Athanasius of Alexandria perceived the humanity of our Saviour Christ, some of them tending to equate his thinking to that of Apollinarius of Laodicea. We assert from the very beginning that the Orthodoxy and the compliance of a Holy Father’s thinking with the doctrine of the Church is ascertained by the Church itself; one’s inclusion among the Holy Fathers canon is the very guarantee of his Orthodoxy, since it is done with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and consecrated by the Church’s uninterupted Tradition. As the Fathers’ writings have also become the object of rational and textual criticism, we deem a re-evaluation of this aspect to be necessary. To be able to comprehend the theology of a Church Father, one must analyze his works as a whole, and always put references in context and take into account the influence of his times, as well as the concepts and terminology employed by the author to express certain realities. Admittedly, St. Athanasius does not explicitly assert the existence of a human soul in Christ until the Council of Alexandria, in 362, but nor does he deny it. Most often, this truth is implied and we have no reason to question the Orthodoxy of his teachings.
There is certainly no methodological account or doctrinal system of St. Ahtanasius the Great concerning the Incarnation, but one must bear in mind that he lived in a time when Church dogma was not yet established, and Christian terminology still owed much to Greek philosophy. Actually, there are no such systematizations with any of the Holy Fathers of early Christian centuries. They did not aim to write dogmatics treatises, but to respond to concrete problems that the Church faced at the time. St. Athanasius’ writings must be also viewed according to their motivation. As his first books intended mainly to oppose pagans and Arians, the most important thing was to him not to demonstrate the existence of Christ’s human soul, but to defend His divinity and the reality of Incarnation, maintaining the unity of Christ’s Person. To St. Athanasius, the Word is truly God, God who does not dwell into a man, but becomes man. And becoming man does not mean having human appearance, or turning into a man, but being truly man, at the same time remaining God. In his thought, the term sarx is tantamount to anthropos, designating the entire mankind and not only a lifeless body. So proves the fact that in order to express the mystery of Incarnation, he prefers to use the term ἐνανθρώπησις, showing that the Incarnation is not only the Word’s assuming a body, but His becoming man, of course without giving up His divinity.
St. Athanasius of Alexandria understands the phrase «the Word was made flesh» in the same way as St. John the Evangelist, that is with the meaning « the Word was made man», and this is why he says that the Scripture calls man flesh. If the Logos assumes human being in its entirety, He must also assume the feelings characteristic to this state, and not only those pertaining to the body, but also those pertaining to soul. Therefore, St. Athanasius can say that the Son of God was made flesh, and at the same time that He was afraid, He wept, He sorrowed, etc. The „flesh” he speaks about is living flesh, unseparated from the spiritual element, together with which it makes up the human being as a whole, a being that feels, thinks and acts. With this nature was the divine nature united, in the person of Christ our Saviour, without it existing before and without the Word coming to dwell in a pre-existing man; but the Word Himself is born from the womb of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, becoming man and yet remaining God unchanged. This proves an understanding superior to both the Apollinarianist conception, and the Arianist one, St. Athanasius being able to perceive within Christ the full humanity (body and soul) to which he ascribes all psycho-physical affects while maintaining unimpaired the divinity and dispassion of the Logos. The Incarnation principle presupposes an interconnection: for example, when Christ’s humanity undergoes suffering, the Word is not exterior to it, and then the Word resurrects the dead, His humanity is not exterior either. Thus, Christ does human things divinely and divine things humanly.
The Christology of St. Athanasius the Great, as well as his anthropology, is deeply soteriological. Everything is accounted for by the ultimate goal of God’s work concerning man, that is, man’s salvation. Based on this truth, his discourse is always centered on salvific economy and must be viewed in this light. St. Athanasius understood that in order to save man, Christ had to be true God and true man. Only as God could He defend death, which had become part of human nature, and could He elevate humanity above its natural state by deifying it, and only as true man could He undergo death and defeat it from inside. This is the reason why St. Athanasius focuses his arguments against the two teachings that denied either the divinity of the Logos (Arianism), or the realitaty of Incarnation (docetism). If St. Athanasius considers Christ to be true God and if he insists on a real incarnation, we do not see why he should consider Him less human, denying Him a soul and implicitly the integrity of His human nature which he actually asserts in speaking about salvation. Christ did not only save us by what he was (true God and true man), but also by what He did (He died and resurrected so that we should be resurrected). However, to carry out this mission he needed a real human nature, completely similar to the other people, so that by assuming it and freeing it from sin, He could achieve not only the salvation of his individual humanity, but of all the people.
Thus, St. Athanasius’ Christology, although not completely defined - which will be achieved by subsequent Ecumenical Councils – is in agreement with the Church’s doctrine and, moreover, lays the grounds for later elaborations.

Pagini: 107-123