by John Stamps
Imagine you’re Bergil, a 10 year old boy living in the city of Minas Tirith in the Kingdom of Gondor in Middle Earth. Minas Tirith has lost its sheen and splendor. The Golden Age is long gone. A great civil war tore apart the nation. A great plague swept through Middle Earth. The White Tree, symbol of Gondor’s greatness, died a long time ago. No seedling was found to replace it. The dead tree was left standing as a sign of hope against hope that once again the White Tree might spring to life and Gondor will be made great again. Every day you stare at that dead tree and you long for the rightful king to return to Minas Tirith and set things right. Then one day Aragorn of Arathorn, the rightful heir of Isildur, strides through the gates into your city. The king has returned. How do you feel?
St Athanasius concludes §§9-10 of his De Incarnatione with a similar parable. The incarnation of God the Word is like the return of the rightful king into his city. He rescued it from vicious enemies and bandits who held it captive. His adversaries fled the city in fear of savage retribution. Great honor is now bestowed upon the king’s palace and upon his city.
But before we start unpacking St Athanasius, first you must complete a homework exercise. Grab your copy of St Athanasius and read through §9-10. Boldly underline each and every instance of “every” and “all.”1
Are you finished? Let’s grade your answers. I’ll let St Athanasius do most of the talking. I’ll chime in where I need to.
The Son of God is the King, Master, and Savior of all
And now the very corruption of death no longer holds ground (χώραν) against human beings because of the indwelling Word, in them through the one body. As when a great king has entered some large city and made his dwelling in one of the houses in it, such a city is certainly made worthy of high honor, and no longer does any enemy or bandit descend upon it, but it is rather reckoned worthy of all care because of the king’s having taken residence in one of its houses; so also does it happen with the King of all (ἐπὶ τοῦ πάντων βασιλέως). Coming himself into our place (χώραν), and dwelling in a body like the others, every design of the enemy against human beings has henceforth stopped, and the corruption of death, which had prevailed formerly against them, perished. For the race of human beings would have been utterly dissolved had not the Master and Savior of all, the Son of God (ὁ πάντων δεσπότης καὶ Σωτὴρ), come for the completion of death. Truly this great work supremely befitted the goodness of God. For if a king constructed a house or a city, and it is attacked by bandits because of the carelessness of its inhabitants, he in no way abandons it, but avenges and saves it as his own work, having regard not for the carelessness of the inhabitants but what is fitting and appropriate (πρέπον) for Himself. (§§9-10)
The King, Master, and Savior of all has come bodily right onto our turf (χώραν) and has stopped death in its tracks. This is the first startling assertion St Athanasius makes in his little parable. Christ has conquered. Christ is the victor. The Son of God is the Master and Savior of all. If Jesus is not King of all, then He is not King at all, seems to be the argument of St Athanasius. There is not one outlying corner of the universe where Jesus does not reign over all.
The Word of God is in our midst. He shares a body with us, all of us, all human beings. But just as important, we are one body in Him. The very same Logos dwells with us, through the one body. “The body, fashioned from the Virgin, in which the Word dwells, as seen in the light of his Passion, cannot be separated from the body of Christ, that is, those who by faith in the Cross are no longer subject to the corruption of death.”2 God the Word has only one body and we are saved in Him.
But Jesus of Nazareth is not Aragorn of Arathorn. He doesn’t enter His city to smite His enemies hip and thigh. Yes, there is a final battle and yes, evil is defeated. But He does not fight the malicious orcs of Mordor with the Sword that was Broken.3 His crucifixion is His triumph. He came to fulfill and to end death by His own death. His crucifixion is the fulfillment and the goal (τέλος) of His life. He had no other reason for existence than to be the Crucified and Risen King. He was promised as King, born as King, heralded as King, rejected and judged as King, and resurrected as King. Profound biblical theology is at work here: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw, drag, pull, tug, and attract4 all human beings to myself” (John 12:32).
If the King had not come, surely we all would have perished — we would have been dissolved — in death and corruption. If our city is besieged by enemies because we have neglected its defenses, who better to rescue the city from attack than the King himself? But the King has come. And He has triumphed over the grave and over death. This action is fitting, appropriate, suitable, and even reasonable for the King. It’s what a King does for His people. A good King loves and serves His people, even giving up His life if it was necessary. And in this case, His death was necessary.
The Word of God, crucified and risen, is the Savior of all human beings. Every time I read this, I get startled by its universal sweep and scope. St Athanasius here echoes the magnificent claims of 1 Timothy 4:10: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” To underline this point, St Athanasius repeats this description in §§15, 19, 21, 30, 37, 49, 51, 52, and 53.
The Logos above all died for all to stop corruption from all
For this reason He takes to himself a body capable of death, in order that it, participating in the Word who is above all (ἐπὶ πάντων), might be sufficient for death on behalf of all (ἀντὶ πάντων), and through the indwelling Word would remain incorruptible, and so corruption might henceforth cease from all (ἀπὸ πάντων) by the grace of the resurrection. (§9)
The Creator of all things is the Redeemer of all things. His death on behalf of all is fitting, suitable, and sufficient. “The Savior takes a body to die, for it is only through death itself that death is overthrown and life resurrected.”5 The death of the incarnate Word, who is above all, is spacious enough (ἱκανὸν) to cover everybody. God is not stingy. He doesn’t dole out redemption with an eyedropper. The grace of His resurrection stops the stench of corruption. The sweet smell of God’s grace covers us all. The God Word who rules all things and stops the corruption of all things gives grace to all things.
The holy offering free from all stain abolished death from all
Whence, by offering to death the body He had taken to himself, as an offering holy and free of all (παντὸς) spot, he immediately abolished death from all (ἀπὸ πάντων) like him, by the offering of a like. (§9)
We clicked the biblical kaleidoscope and now St Athanasius shows us a new image. The indwelling Word is Himself the offering. The offering holy and without blemish has no other purpose than to destroy, ruin, and disfigure (ἀφανίζω) death. In the reckoning of St Athanasius, the power of the cross and resurrection has obliterated death. He echoes the liturgy of sacrifice and burnt offerings so familiar to us from pondering Israel’s holy scriptures. “The Word offers his body freely, as a pure sacrifice, for had he died as all other human beings have died, that is, as a result of the condemnation, nothing would have been achieved, and death would have retained its dominion.”6
The Word of God doesn’t offer an El Cheapo-Cheapo second-hand external sacrifice like Cain did. He offers the very best gift He can possibly offer. He offers Himself for us. He gives His life as a reconciling exchange for the entire world.
The God Word above all and with all clothed us all with incorruption
For being above all (ὑπὲρ πάντας), the Word of God consequently, by offering his own temple and his bodily instrument as a substitute for all (ἀντίψυχον ὑπὲρ πάντων), fulfilled in death that which was required; and, being conjoined with all (τοῖς πᾶσιν) through the like [body], the incorruptible Son of God consequently clothed all (πάντας ἐνέδυσεν) with incorruptibility in the promise concerning the resurrection. (§9)
The transcendent Word of God is above all. The entire created universe, all things visible and invisible, is below Him. He created the entire universe. He owns it by right. But He is not trapped in His transcendence. He comes to us bodily, in the incarnation. As a human being with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto, He is with us all. He shares solidarity with us, even unto death itself. He takes our place, He substitutes for us, His life for our life. To be more specific, He substitutes for all of our lives. St Athanasius uses a most odd word here to describe how the God Word has defeated death — ἀντίψυχον.
It’s not a New Testament word, for example, like “ransom” (λύτρον) in Mark 10:45. It’s not an Old Testament word either. In the Bible, “substitute” is found in one book of the Bible — 4 Maccabees. It explains why the martyrs faced death in the way that they did. They were willing to substitute life-for-life. Their death was an expiation. The martyrs were willing to swap their life for the life of the Jewish nation. To them, it was an eminently reasonable exchange. Martyrdom in 4 Maccabees is proof positive that devout reason is sovereign over the emotions. Their exchange — life-for-life — was worth it. They exchanged their life as purification for the nation. Their death makes sense to themselves as they bravely faced suffering, torture, and death at the hands of evil tyrants.
You know, O God, that though I might have saved myself, I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law. Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment (δίκῃ) suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange (ἀντίψῡχος) for theirs.” And after he said this, the holy man died nobly in his tortures, and by reason he resisted even to the very tortures of death for the sake of the law. (4 Mac 6:27-30)
These, then, who have been consecrated for the sake of God, are honored, not only with this honor, but also by the fact that because of them our enemies did not rule over our nation, the tyrant was punished, and the homeland purified — they having become, as it were, a ransom (ἀντίψῡχος) for the sin of our nation. And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an expiation, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been afflicted. (4 Macc 17:20-22)
St Athanasius, so it seems to me, has deeply digested 4 Maccabees. The central message of 4 Maccabees is we must be reasonable, we must be philosophical, and we must make sure that our devout reason is sovereign over our fickle human emotions. For the most part, 4 Maccabees describes the very model of Christian self-control. But St Athanasius has also expanded and subtly subverted 4 Maccabees. Look at what he says and, most important, what he doesn’t say.
The Word of God is indeed a substitute for us. But His substitution is unique. Because He is God, He can substitute for all. His substitution is not just for the sin of the nation. He is the substitute for all human beings. The God Word is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.7 God is unable to save less than all, just because of His nature as love.
Just to be master of the blatantly obvious, His substitution isn’t punishment. The Father does not exact vengeance upon the Son. He is not punished to satisfy God’s dikē.8 His life-for-life substitutionary death isn’t penal substitution. The Son isn’t being punished for us to quench the wrath of the Father. St Athanasius conspicuously avoids and otherwise ignores that language. If you don’t believe me, just riffle through De Incarnatione. Punishment just isn’t there. Athanasius writes not a single syllable about God’s wrath and vengeance on humans. Our old friend Lucretius the Epicurean philosopher would be surprised and perhaps disappointed. He wouldn’t find a target for his a-theology in St Athanasius.
The death of the Son of God in His lordly body transmits immortality and incorruption to us. The grace of the resurrection has covered all human beings (πάντας) with the spotless garments of incorruption. The Son of God has clothed all of us with beauty and glory. We become what He is. His lordly body communicates life to us. Now we pick up where we left off in section §10.
The God Word of the all-good Father restored all of us
How much more the God Word of the all-good Father (ὁ τοῦ παναγάθου Θεὸς Λόγος Πατρὸς) did not neglect the race of human beings, created by Himself, which was going to corruption, but He blotted out the death which had occurred through the offering of His own body, and correcting their carelessness by His own teaching, restoring every aspect of human beings (πάντα τὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων) by His own power. (§10)
The goodness of God created us and it is the goodness of God that has restored us.
There is no conflict between the God Word and the all-good Father. The Father is all good. In Him there is no shadow of evil. There is no darkness in the Father. The Father is goodness Himself. The Son does not placate the Father’s wrath. There is no punishment. The Father and the Son are united in their love of creation. He does not abandon us into corruption. He has restored the whole of human nature.
The all-good God does not need us so that He could become more God than He already is. The love and mutual indwelling between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is unimaginably rich and infinitely full. God is not cheap. He is not proud. He is not self-seeking. He is not self-aggrandizing. God does not act in human history for His own self-advancement.9
Switching gears to the God Word, His embodiment and enfleshment is not an act of self-advancement or self-exaltation. His life, crucifixion, and resurrection are for us and for our salvation. There is no self-promotion in God the Son. He emptied Himself of His divine prerogatives, taking the form of a slave.
The God Word sets right what has gone wrong. What corrects our negligence is the teaching of the God Word. He illumines us.10 His doctrine doesn’t go in one ear and pass out the other. His teaching was not like that of the scribes. His authority lies with Himself and not His ability to footnote. His teaching is with authority. What He says, He enacts.
Christ died for all on behalf of all, therefore all died
One may be convinced of these things by the theologians of the Savior himself, taking their writings, which say, “For the love of Christ constrains us, as we judge this, that if one died for all (ὑπὲρ πάντων), then all (πάντες) died; and he died for all (ὑπὲρ πάντων) that that we should no longer live for ourselves but for him who died and rose” from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5.14–15). And again, “We see Jesus who, for a little while, was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the passion of death, that by the grace of God he might taste death on behalf of all (ὑπὲρ παντὸς)” (Heb 2.9). (§10)
It is needless to say but I’ll say it anyway. St Athanasius does not limit at-one-ment. In Christ we all died, for He died for all. Death no longer holds power over us.
The Savior’s death for all makes our own death a fait accompli. Yes we have died. But we died in Him first.
Everyman indeed dies, as the 15th century morality play reminds us so painfully. But we do not die alone. Christ dies with us and for us. He tastes death for Everyman. Christ has died for all.
The God Word is the purpose, gift, and agent of all things
Then, he also points out the reason why it was necessary for none other than the God Word to be incarnate, saying,
For it was fitting that He, for whom are all things (δἰ ὃν τὰ πάντα) and through whom are all things (δἰ οὗ τὰ πάντα), in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Heb 2.10). (§10)
It was theologically, biblically, and ontologically necessary (δεῖν) for the God Word to be en-human-ated (ἐν-ανθρωπῆσαι).11 No one else could do it. Human beings cannot be deified if Christ was not en-human-ated. The God Word gives us what is His. He became like us so that we can become like Him. This gift is for all human beings, because the God Word is the Lord of all. God’s economy is gifts all the way down, grace on top of grace.
The incarnation of the Logos was not just necessary. It fits everything we know about God’s goodness, love, and care for His creation. All created things, visible and invisible, are the Father’s gift to the Son, for the Son to give it to us. All things are for Him and then He gives them to us. All things are through Him and through no other. The God Word co-creates with the Father. The Father creates all things, but He creates them through the agency of the Son.
But the God Word doesn’t stay isolated in His sovereignty. To bring us to glory, the Father sends the Son to become perfected by suffering for us. The Son doesn’t need glorification. But we do. Even though He can heal at a distance — like He did with the Syro-Phoenician woman and the Roman centurion — He was not “hands-off” with us. The Son is not remote or external to us. He became fully human, suffered for us in the crucifixion, and carried our sorrows in His very own body. “He takes on these sufferings for us.”12
The God Word delivers us from the devil who enslaved us all our lives
Saying this, he means that it was for none other to bring human beings out from the corruption that had occurred except the God Word who had also created them in the beginning. And that the Word himself also took to himself a body as a sacrifice for similar bodies, this they indicated, saying,
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of them, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is the devil, and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong (διὰ παντὸς) bondage (Heb 2.14–15). (§10)
The devil has enslaved us because we humans fear death. The fear of death dominates us. We fear the unknown. We pursue momentary pleasures because we cannot see beyond the horizon of our own lives. The devil holds the power of the fear of death over us because we are deeply afraid to die. We dare not miss out on one moment of pleasure if all we are is worm food. But St Athanasius reminds us, we are creatures created in God’s very own image. We are all destined for nothing less than theosis.
And once the devil has us in his grip, he refuses to let us go. That is, unless he is destroyed.
The Logos becomes flesh and blood to defeat the devil — not in outer space — but in this very arena we live in. Christ is victorious over the devil. Christ — not the devil — has the power over death. He has rescued us from slavery.
All died in Adam but in Christ all will be resurrected
For since through human beings death had seized human beings, for this reason, again, through the incarnation of the God Word there occurred the dissolution of death and the resurrection of life, as the Christ-bearing man says, “For as by a human being came death, by a human being has come also the resurrection of the dead; for as in Adam all (πάντες) die, so in Christ shall all (πάντες) be made alive” and that which follows (1 Cor 15.21–22). (§10)
St Athanasius reminds us there is a symmetry of death and life. We died in Adam, every one of us. But we shall be resurrected in Christ, every one of us. By one man death held all human beings captive. And by the Word-made-human death is destroyed and life is raised up brand-new.
But of course, this good news comes from a very old letter. St Paul — that wondrous herald of good news — himself the Christ-bearer — had proclaimed this good news to us in his letters. In Christ, we shall all be made alive.
It will all pan out in the end
For now we no longer die as those condemned, but as those who will arise do we await the common resurrection of all (τὴν κοινὴν πάντων ἀνάστασιν), which God, who wrought and granted this, “in His own time will reveal” (1 Tim 6.15; Titus 1.3). (§10)
St Athanasius proclaims no bogus “realized” eschatology. The Christian faith is no mysticism that lifts us out of this physical existence. Our immortal souls do not slip the surly bonds of earth as we fly yonder into the clouds of eternity. Our faith is incarnational through and through. God saves us with our bodies. That’s what “resurrection” means.
We still die. But we do not die with a sentence of death hanging over our heads. We don’t confront death as if we were facing a firing squad at first light. Orthodox monks are fond of the paradox: “If you die before you die, then you won’t die when you die.” We don’t die an idiotic death, signifying nothing. We die in Christ.
We die in the sure and certain hope that God the Father will resurrect us — all of us — in His own good time. We can live our lives in the shalom of God and we can die with hope. Through the resurrection, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Through the resurrection, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. We face death with the confidence that no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in — tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword — we know our Master, Lord, and Savior faced death in the body just like we do. Through His resurrection, we know He passed from death to resurrection life. The crucified and risen Lord is our pioneer and leader. We become what He is. Our death is His death. His life is our life.
This, therefore, is the first cause of the incarnation of the Savior. One might also recognize that His gracious advent consistently occurred from the following.
Why did the God Word take on a body and become a flesh and blood human being? Through His own good will, He became en-human-ated because He loved humankind. Through the goodness of God the Father, the Son revealed Himself to us — not because He needed to but because we needed Him to. The Lord came to us and appeared among us — for us humans and for our salvation. You and I were the purpose of His embodiment. Out of His great love for us, He was born as a genuine human being, yet born of a virgin — lived a genuine human life, yet sinless — died a genuinely human death, yet vicious, cruel, and shameful — and was genuinely raised from the dead on the third day. All this is the first cause of the incarnation.
St Athanasius lets us know we have now finished the first major section of De Incarnatione §§3-10. We are now ready to plunge into §§11-19.
But here is the $64,000 question. Does St Athanasius believe in universal salvation13 through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Son of God, God the Word, our Master, Lord, and King? You tell me.14
 If you can read Greek, underline each and every variation of πᾶς, πᾶσα, πᾶν.
 John Behr, The Nicene Faith, I:186.
 Boromir’s dream:
Seek for the Sword that was broken: In Imladris it dwells; There shall be counsels taken Stronger than Morgul-spells. There shall be shown a token That Doom is near at hand, For Isildur’s Bane shall waken, And the Halfling forth shall stand.
 Ἕλκω as defined in the Bauer-Danker-Ardnt-Gingrich (BDAG) lexicon.
 John Behr, II:197. St Peter drags (εἵλκυσεν) the catch of 153 fish to the shore in John 21:11. Yes, our Lord — the Master Fisherman — and St Peter — a pretty good fisherman himself — are going to do whatever it takes to draw, drag, pull, tug, or attract us into His kingdom as well.
 Behr, II:198.
 Fr John Behr argues that “the slaying of the paschal lamb was not a sacrifice for the purpose of atoning for sin or a sacrifice of expiation.” Quoting John Ashton, he explains, “the purpose of the slaying of the paschal lamb ‘was not sacrificial but apotropaic.'” So what does “apotropaic” mean?
“Christ’s life-giving death on the cross… is not understood by John as a response to sin but rather as principally deriving from the love that God himself is and has for the world.” Fr John Behr’s rich discussion is found in John the Theologian and his Paschal Gospel, pp. 191-192.
When the blood and water pours out of Jesus’ side, the Archon of this cosmos has been cast out (John 12:31-36). In His life-giving crucifixion, He draws all humans to Himself. He lays down His very own life to give life to the world.
 According to BDAG, the primary definition of δίκη is “punishment meted out as legal penalty, punishment, penalty.” The secondary definition is “Justice personified as a deity.” BDAG even cites 4 Maccabees as an instance of this secondary definition.
 Peter Leithart’s wonderful book on St Athanasius repeatedly stresses throughout there is no self-advancement and self-promotion in God (for example, pp. 85, 90, 131-134,153). Pondering St Athanasius is the best refutation of Hegel’s needy God that I know of. For Hegel, the Gospel story is not about us, it’s about God. The story of God’s incarnation and suffering fulfills God. Hegel’s philosophy underwrites the metaphysics of Auschwitz if indeed God needs our suffering to become Himself. No wonder history is a sacrificial slaughter-bench. Hegel’s God needs it to be that way. But of course we know the Gospel story is for us men (okay, let’s update the language of the Nicene Creed just a wee bit for the 21st century) and for our salvation.
 Ilaria Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis, pages 247-248.
 Ramelli, p. 244. Ramelli’s insistence that “inhumanation” is the correct rendering of ἐνανθρώπησις in the title of St Athanasius’s De incarnatione betrays that she is not a native speaker of English. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of “inhuman” is “lacking pity, kindness, or mercy : SAVAGE.” It’s the wrong denotation. I prefer a weird hyphenated translation like “en-human-ation” instead.
 Leithart, p. 143.
 And just in case you were wondering, “it will all pan out in the end” is a bad pun on the nominative neuter singular of πᾶς, πᾶσα, πᾶν.
 Now would be a pretty good time to read and ponder David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved. If we don’t go whole hog with Hart, then surely Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev expresses the glorious triumph of the Orthodox phronema when he writes:
We do not know if everyone followed Christ when he rose from hell, nor do we know if everyone will follow him to the eschatological heavenly kingdom when he will become ‘all in all.’ We do know that, since Christ’s descent, the way to resurrection has been opened for ‘all flesh,’ salvation has been granted to every human being, and the gates of paradise have been opened for all who wish to enter through them. This is the faith of the early church, inherited from the first generation of Christians and cherished by Orthodox tradition. This is the never-extinguished hope of all those who believe in Christ, who once and for all conquered death, destroyed hell, and granted resurrection to the entire human race. (Christ the Conqueror of Hell, p. 218)