The Security of God’s Word: Athanasius on the Created Order

In the context of a discussion on creatio ex nihilo, Athanasius makes the following point about the power of God’s Word to sustain the whole created order from falling into utter dissolution. He writes:

“seeing that all created nature, as far as its own inner principles were concerned, to be fleeting and subject to dissolution, . . . did not leave it to be tossed in a tempest in the course of its own nature, lest it should run the risk of once more dropping out of existence; but, because He is good He guides and settles the whole Creation by His own Word, Who is Himself also God, that by the governance and providence and ordering action of the Word, Creation may have light, and be enabled to abide always securely.” [Athanasius, Against the Heathen, 41 (PG 25:84A), 26 cited by Ian McFarland]

What I find aesthetically pleasing about this, is that Athanasius, even at his early stage in Church history, had the perception to peer deeply into the inner-ground of creation and see the smiling face of Jesus Christ peering back at him. In other words, Athanasius had the theological fortitude to grasp that it wasn’t simply a naked brute power of God holding all of reality together, but instead it was His triune sustenance of it all as that found and finds concrete telos in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

This is a heavy theme that both Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth appropriate from Athanasius, and constructively develop in ways that are consonant with Athanasius’ early perception about the inner-ground of all that is. It is this rather unique Christ concentration that ends up characterizing two moderns’ theology, and for this we ought to be grateful for the prayerful meditation of Athanasius.

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