Friday, 1 May 2015

Sophie Cartwright: Grieving flesh and the grieving God: Christ's sorrow, embodiment, and divine (im)passibility in Athanasius of Alexandria

This paper explores Athanasius's treatment of Christ's suffering and grief in the third Oration Against the Arians through the lens of ideas about the soul's impassibility in proximate Platonist anthropology. It is argued that Athanasius's ascription of Christ's grief to Christ's flesh, or body, rather than to the Word needs to be seen in light of the common idea that human souls are passible only, or primarily, through human bodies. This idea is found, for example, in Plotinus and Gregory of Nyssa. Read in this way, Athanasius gives the Word the place in affective experience that was given to the soul in much Platonist anthropology: he deploys the notion that intelligible beings are passible through embodiment to suggest that the Word suffers through Christ's body. This needs, in turn, to be set in the context of Athanasius's claim that the Word became human: rather than protecting the Word from Christ's grief and suffering, Athanasius argues the Word became passible, and so suffered, in the incarnation. This paper thus argues that Athanasius's third Oration Against the Arians is an example of anti-subordinationist, theopaschite theology in the ‘Arian' controversy. It further suggests that Athanasius implies that his opponents' theological and Christological error is based partly on a flawed anthropology.

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