Originally published in Issue #20 on August 13, 2021
Recently I read St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation 📚. Athanasius was a bishop of the early-mid 300s A.D. church in Alexandria, Egypt. He was one of the most important church fathers because he was influential in discovering and explaining Trinitarian theology against the popular Arian heresy of the time (Jehovah’s Witnesses are modern Arians).
In the book, I found a peculiar “proof” that Athanasius gives supporting Jesus being the true God and Christianity being the true religion.
Of old, before the divine sojourn of the Savior, all used to weep for those dying as if they were perishing. But since the Savior’s raising the body, no longer is death fearsome, but all believers in Christ tread on it as nothing, and would rather choose to die than deny their faith in Christ. For they really know that when they die they are not destroyed, but both live and become incorruptible through the resurrection…And the proof of this is that human beings, before believing Christ, view death as fearsome and are terrified at it. But when they come to faith in him and to his teaching, they so despise death that they eagerly rush to it and become witnesses to the resurrection over it effected by the Savior. For even while they are still young in stature they hasten to die, and not only men but also women practice for it with exercises.
This “proof” that Christ has been raised is interesting. If I’m not mistaken, this was after the point that Christianity was legal in the Roman Empire, but the memory of the Christian martyrs lives on. So powerful was their commitment to Christ in the face of intense persecution, including death, that Athanasius can use their witness as proof that death is dead. And if death is dead, then Jesus lives.
Of course, people of other religions may die for what they believe to be true. Still, the witness of these Christians through their willingness to die was immense, even to the point that they would prepare and rehearse their deaths to ensure they would not deny Christ when the time came. We don’t see that in the modern west today. There are martyrs all over the globe, but by and large, the Christian church is so self-centered that we think the Kingdom of Heaven rises and falls on our political successes.
I think that we need a new revival of humility, service, and commitment to suffer for the name of Christ. That is when the church of the modern West will be at its most powerful. Those who are last will be first.