“Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, and the Self-Gift of God” (5/2/2019) Memorial of St. Athanasius
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
Jesus is the One who comes from above and is above all. He has come to testify to what he has seen and heard from the Father. The one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit. There is no rationing of the gift when it comes to God. He holds nothing back but gives all. As Jesus says, “The Father loves the Son and has given everything to him.” In Jesus, God has come to us and has given himself fully to us, he has held nothing back.
If Jesus were only a man, and not also true God, the gift to us would not be complete. But because Jesus is God, not only does the Father love the Son and give everything to him, but also the Son loves us and has given everything to us.
And so we see the Christological debates of the early Church were not just abstract speculation. They touch on this mystery of God’s complete self-giving love to us in Jesus Christ. St. Athanasius spent his life defending and promoting the Nicene Creed and Jesus’ true divinity. For God’s self-giving love is at stake here.
If Jesus were simply the highest prophet, we might learn more things about God, but it would not be a self-revelation of God himself like we have in Jesus. If Jesus were simply the highest priest, we might receive more graces from God, but it would not be a giving of God’s own self like we have in Jesus. But since Jesus is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, in Him we have a self-manifestation of God Himself and a giving of God’s very self. And God’s complete self-gift to us continues on today especially in the Eucharist.
St. Athanasius, in one of his Easter Letters, explains how what God accomplished in the Paschal Mystery continues to work itself out in the Liturgy. In a dozen lines, he says this about the celebration of Easter:
“The time is now at hand when we enter on a new beginning: the blessed Passover, in which the Lord was sacrificed. We feed as on the food of life, we constantly refresh our souls with his precious blood, as from a fountain.
Yet we are always thirsting, burning to be satisfied. But he himself is present for those who thirst and in his goodness invites them to the feast day. Our Savior repeats his words: If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
He quenched the thirst not only of those who came to him then. Whenever anyone seeks him he is freely admitted to the presence of the Savior. The grace of the feast is not restricted to one occasion. Its rays of glory never set. It is always at hand….Moreover, my friends, the God who first established this feast for us allows us to celebrate it each year. He who gave up his Son to death for our salvation, from the same motive gives us this feast, which is commemorated every year.”
Athanasius points out that God the Father’s motivation is the same in giving us his Son in the Paschal Mystery and in giving us the celebration of it in Easter and in the Mass. In this Eucharist, God is working out the same mystery of salvation he began two thousand years ago. Here we receive the self-gift of God Himself. “For God so loved the world that he gave [us] his only-begotten Son” (Jn 3:16).