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beauty, aesthetics, atonement, cross, Athanasius


In his two-part treatise Contra Gentes-De Incarnatio, Athanasius offers an interesting apologetic for the Christian doctrine of the atonement by employing various aesthetic themes and forms of expression drawn from the classical notion of beauty found particularly in the Platonic and neo-Platonic traditions. Although Athanasius never mentions the term “beauty” in Contra Gentes-De Incarnatio, the concept certainly looms in the background. Writing against the Platonic, Epicurean, and Stoic systems of his day, Athanasius centers his apologetic on the philosophical tension evident in the doctrine of divine transcendence/immanence. This paper argues that Athanasius implicitly characterizes the tension of divine transcendence/ immanence as paradoxical in nature and, as such, is not solved but resolved in Christian doctrine of the incarnation and the culminating event of the crucifixion. For Athanasius, the aesthetic force of the crucifixion is its manifold paradox in which Christ, the God-man, conquers by being conquered, restores man's spiritual form by becoming formless, and establishes universal peace by surrendering to violence. Thus, in the Christian tradition, the divine transcendence/immanence paradox is localized and expanded in the incarnation and crucifixion event invoking an overflow of aesthetic inspiration in the heart of the believer.

Therefore, the purpose of this essay is twofold. First, it will identify certain themes in the classical definition of beauty and will examine how these themes are interwoven throughout Athanasius’ apologetic . Second, it will attempt to prove that the aesthetic superiority of the cross, as implicitly argued in Contra Gentes-De Incarnatio, is rooted in the paradoxical nature of the crucifixion event. Thus, for Athanasius, beauty shines forth through paradox.