Athanasius and Barth

In his influential Arius: Heresy and Tradition, Rowan Williams compares the theology of Athanasius with that of Karl Barth.  Wiliams writes:

Both insist that there is no gap conceivable between God as he acts towards us—as the Father of Jesus Christ—and that activity in and by which God is eternally what he is. Athanasius’ refusal to separate the divine will from the divine nature in considering the generation of the Son is an implicit denial that God’s nature can be an object of thought in itself, passive to the human mind. God is knowable solely because he is active; what can be said of him can be said because he “utters” himself as Word or Son. So too for Barth: theology has no power over that of which it speaks, because it is essentially response to the free address of God. Yet that address is not an arbitrary or momentary act, but expresses God’s eternal “self-determination” as trinity. To encounter God at all is to encounter him in his freedom; and when we grasp what that freedom means—that no created circumstance affects or determines God—we understand that what he freely does he everlastingly does. He is never without his saving Word, never a merely potential Father, Redeemer and Reconciler. If he acts, he acts eternally and he acts consistently; and since nothing beyond him can determine this action, what he does cannot be other than “enactment” of what he is. On the foundation of God’s “faithfulness to himself,” the life of human faith is built. Its dependence on God alone gives it an identity and a locus standi in principle free from any political and intellectual totalitarianism in its environment.

~pg. 238

This theology of the cross also gives a Lutheran or perhaps an Evangelical reading of the Greek father.


Augustinian Metaphors in Athanasius’s Theology

As then the light from the Sun which illumines the world could never be supposed, by men of sound mind, to do so without the Sun, since the Sun’s light is united to the Sun by nature; and as, if the Light were to say: I have received from the Sun the power of illumining all things, and of giving growth and strength to them by the heat that is in me, no one will be mad enough to think that the mention of the Sun is meant to separate him from what is his nature, namely the light; so piety would have us perceive that the Divine Essence of the Word is united by nature to His own Father.

~ Illud Omnia, &c. 4

This is but one more counterexample to the “Western” and “essence” hypothesis that supposes all direct talk about the divine essence uniting the persons to be an Augustinian development.  Athanasius is using the same solar metaphor that will also appear in Gregory of Nyssa.