Athanasius’s Argument from Evil

1.) The human race is a failed project. “If you eat it, you will die” was addressed to the whole race. He ate. In one of the darker points of agreement between faith and reason, theology and biology agree that the human race is just one more species waiting for its extinction event. This is why natural catastrophes and the madness of war (floods, genocides, sieges, earthquakes, and even our own sicknesses) foreshadow the unavoidable natural extinction event, and are interpreted by prophets as anticipations of it, in the way that peak moments in the firework show all make us wonder if we’re looking at the grand finale.

2.) But, says Athanasius, this leads to a divine dilemma:

a.) Dishonor of an image dishonors the model, but man is the image of God. The fall is not just a human catastrophe but a divine dishonor.

b.) If we can do something to help a loved one but do not do so, this is usually understood as making us either unable to help or just negligent. It “argues for limitation” as Athanasius puts it.

c.) Everyone is a natural enemy of what is opposed to its nature and mission, but the corruption of the logos in man is opposed to the nature of the incorruptible Logos and its mission to give this to human persons.

3.) But all of these concede the key premises of the Argument from Evil, the only difference being that Athanasius sees evil as occurring within a historical project that takes the extinction of the human race and its many anticipations as given, and yet as allowing for a double value. Death and the evil that anticipates it are both paths on a historical arc to a pointless annihilation and ways to become conformed to the image of the incorruptible God. This historical arc toward incorruptible existence does not negate but completely presupposes death and extinction and is impossible without it.

4.) Evil is thus an ontological grue-bleen. To turn it into an argument from evil is to see evil as ahistorical and not part of a larger story of fall and recreation, one where our being “like all other species” is presupposed. This likeness to all other species is, though the Incarnation, a means by which the corrupted logos of the human person can be conformed to the image of the incorruptible logos of the Son.

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1 Comment

  1. GeoffSmith said,

    September 10, 2016 at 11:24 am

    Thanks. I’ve always appreciated Athanasius’ and Irenaeus’ narrative style theodicies. Though, imo, they are more like theologies of creation. But I tend to view them in the context of Aquinas’ non-theodicy theodicy.


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