Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296-373) on the preexistence of the Son/Word



“[The Arians] venture to say, ‘How can the Son always exist with the Father?,’ for men come of men and are sons, after a time; and the father is thirty years old, when the son begins to be, being begotten; and in short of every son of man, it is true that he was not before his generation. And again they whisper, ‘How can the Son be Word, or the Word be God’s Image? For the word of men is composed of syllables, and only signifies the speaker’s will, and then is over and is lost.’

35. They then afresh, as if forgetting the proofs which have been already urged against them, ‘pierce themselves through’ with these bonds of irreligion, and thus argue. But the word of truth confutes them as follows:— if they were disputing concerning any man, then let them exercise reason in this human way, both concerning His Word and His Son; but if of God who created man, no longer let them entertain human thoughts, but others which are above human nature. For such as he that begets, such of necessity is the offspring; and such as is the Word’s Father, such must be also His Word. Now man, begotten in time, in time also himself begets the child; and whereas from nothing he came to be, therefore his word also is over and continues not. But God is not as man, as Scripture has said; but is existing and is ever; therefore also His Word is existing and is everlastingly with the Father, as radiance of light. And man’s word is composed of syllables, and neither lives nor operates anything, but is only significant of the speaker’s intention, and does but go forth and go by, no more to appear, since it was not at all before it was spoken; wherefore the word of man neither lives nor operates anything, nor in short is man. And this happens to it, as I said before, because man who begets it, has his nature out of nothing. But God’s Word is not merely pronounced, as one may say, nor a sound of accents, nor by His Son is meant His command; but as radiance of light, so is He perfect offspring from perfect. Hence He is God also, as being God’s Image; for ‘the Word was God’ (John 1:1) says Scripture. And man’s words avail not for operation; hence man works not by means of words but of hands, for they have being, and man’s word subsists not. But the ‘Word of God,’ as the Apostle says, ‘is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.’ (Heb. 4:12-13). He is then Framer of all, ‘and without Him was made not one thing’ (John 1:3), nor can anything be made without Him.”

– Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296-373), Against the Arians, 2.34-35


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