As we approach Easter, it seemed fitting that we read some early views on the cross. Who better to start with then Athanasius, a fourth century bishop of Alexandria. He was, after all, known for writing letters around Easter. The most famous is the 39th Festal Letter. Written in 367 it is widely considered the earliest list containing all 27 books of the New Testament (see this post for a possible earlier list). He was also at the Council of Nicea. Around 318, he wrote what may be his most famous work, On the Incarnation.
That opening chapter of the work clearly states it’s purpose:
You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. … He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men.
Later in the work, Athanasius examines the question: why crucifixion?
The rest of this post contains portions of chapter 4.19-25 from CCEL.
Thus it happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished. Death there had to be, and death for all, so that the due of all might be paid. Wherefore, the Word, as I said, being Himself incapable of death, assumed a mortal body, that He might offer it as His own in place of all, and suffering for the sake of all through His union with it, might bring to nought Him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver them who all their lifetime were enslaved by the fear of death. Continue reading