The Word, then, visited that earth in which He was yet always present; and saw all
these evils. He takes a body of our Nature, and that of a spotless Virgin, in whose
womb He makes it His own, wherein to reveal Himself, conquer death, and restore
life. For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word
of God comes to our realm, howbeit he was not far from us before. For no past of
Creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere, remaining present
with His own Father. But He comes in condescension to shew loving-kindness upon
us, and to visit us. 2. And seeing the race of rational creatures in the way to
perish, and death reigning over them by corruption; seeing, too, that the threat
against transgression gave a firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and
that it was monstrous that before the law was fulfilled it should fall through:
seeing, once more, the unseemliness of what was come to pass: that the things
whereof He Himself was Artificer were passing away: seeing, further, the exceeding
wickedness of men, and how by little and little they had increased it to an
intolerable pitch against themselves: and seeing, lastly, how all men were under
penalty of death: He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and
condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the
mastery — lest the creature should perish, and His Father’s handiwork in men be
spent for nought — He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort
from ours. 3. For He did not simply will to become embodied, or will merely to
For if He willed merely to appear, He was able to effect His divine appearance by
some other and higher means as well. But He takes a body of our kind, and not
merely so, but from a spotless and stainless virgin, knowing not a man, a body
clean and in very truth pure from intercourse of men. For being Himself mighty, and
Artificer of everything, He prepares the body in the Virgin as a temple unto Himself,
and makes it His very own as an instrument, in it manifested, and in it dwelling. 4.
And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty
of the corruption of death He gave ‘it over to death in the stead of all, and offered
it to the Father — doing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to the end that,
firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might
be undone (inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord’s body, and had no
longer holding-ground against men, his peers), and that, secondly, whereas men
had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and
quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the
Resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from floe fire.
A portrait once effaced must be restored from the original. Thus the
Son of the Father came to seek, save, and regenerate. No other way
was possible. Blinded himself, man could not see to heal. The witness of creation
had failed to preserve Him, and could not bring
Him back. The Word done could do so. But how? only by revealing
Himself as man. For as, when the likeness painted on a panel has been effaced by
stains from without, he whose likeness it is must needs come once more to enable
the portrait to be renewed on the same wood: for, for the sake of his picture, even
the mere wood on which it is painted is not thrown away, but the outline is
renewed upon it; 2. in the same way also the most holy Son of the Father, being
the Image of the Father, came to our region to renew man once made in His
likeness, and find him, as one lost, by the remission of sins; as He says Himself in
the Gospels: “I came to find and to save the lost.” Whence He said to the Jews
also: “Except a man be born
again,” not meaning, as they thought, birth front woman, but speaking of the soul
born and created anew in the likeness of God’s image. 3. But since wild idolatry
and godlessness occupied the world, and the knowledge of God was hid, whose
part was it to teach the world concerning the Father? Man’s, might one say? But it
was not in man’s power to penetrate everywhere beneath the sun; for neither had
they the physical strength to run so far, nor would they be able to claim credence in
this matter, nor were they sufficient by themselves to withstand the deceit and
impositions of evil spirits. 4. For where all were smitten and confused in soul from
demoniacal deceit, and the vanity of idols, how was it possible for them to win over
man’s soul and man’s mind whereas they cannot even see them? Or how can a man
convert what he does not see? 5. But perhaps one might say creation was enough;
but if creation were enough, these great evils would never have come to pass. For
creation was there already, and all the same, men were groveling in the same error
God. 6. Who, then, was needed. save the Word of God, that sees both soul and
mind, and that gives movement to all things in creation, and by them makes known
the Father? For He who by His own Providence and ordering of all things was
teaching men concerning the Father, He it was that could renew this same teaching
as well. 7. How, then, could this have been done? Perhaps one might say, that the
same means were open as before, for Him to shew forth the truth about the Father
once more by means of the work of creation. But this was no longer a sure means.
Quite the contrary; for men missed seeing this before, and have turned their eyes
no longer upward but downward. 8. Whence, naturally, willing to profit men, He
sojourns here as man, taking to Himself a body like the others, and from things of
earth, that is by the works of His body [He teaches them], so that they who would
not know Him from His Providence and rule over all things, may even from the
works done by His actual body know the Word of God which is in the body, and
through Him the Father.
St. Athanasius the Great