Athanasius and the Vitality of Theology

Some good will have been done if we can convery some of the essential vitality of theology through the [life and theology] of Athanasius (b. c. 297, Patriarch of Alexandria, d. 373).

Too many well intentioned persons, not a few of them clergy and ministers, decry theology. ‘Leave it to the learned fellows in the colleges to talk about the Three Persons and the One God; plain men like you must get on with the real work of life.’

That is really sorry nonsense. Sometimes it is no better than sychophantic cant. Why should anybody be concerned to deny that the happiest and most desirable activity of mankind is conversation about God? Is God a dull subject? No. The only condition for enjoying the great felicity of talking about God is that you attend with care to the subject, that you use your imagination and your reason, and that you remember that you are talking about your Father.

Perhaps the trouble is that some of us who talk about God are dull dogs. In that case dulness comes mighty near to treachery. Perhaps we are less in touch with material realities than we ought to be. Perhaps we sometimes witness to a God who could never have had the patience to make a caterpillar or the sense of humour to have made a hippopotamus; to a Christ who never built chairs and tables; to a Holy Spirit who really is the harmless gas that the hymn-writers make him out to be.

But whatever you want to say of us, you may not say it of God, nor of theology, nor of Athanasius….For bad doctrine, easy-going, lazy doctrine, is poison to the life of the church. See a church weakening, losing its grip on realities, appealing to a smaller and more exclusive class of people year by year, becoming more and more like a society of queer [sic] people, and you will always find the source of the trouble in bad doctrine and shoddy thinking.

In this particular case the danger of man’s being persuaded to believe that Jesus Christ was not fully God as well as fully man; for it was easier to believe that he was either than to believe that he was both. But no good ever came of trying to bypass the difficulties and slacken the tensions that Christian doctrine presents to the mind.

Erik Routley, 1957, The wisdom of the Fathers, p. 43-46

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