Monday, January 30, 2012

Athanasius and the Hyper-Preterists 1

Hyper-preterists typically believe that Satan has been completely defeated: "In chapter 20 [of Revelation] judgment is set, Satan is cast into the lake of fire; and Jesus takes his glorious bride unto himself! This all happened in 70 AD with the full destruction of the Theocracy of Israel, the persecuting city of Jerusalem, the Old Heavens and Earth" [source].  This is not to be confused with other millennial positions that hold Satan is bound now in such a way that while he is still troublesome, he cannot stop the spread of the gospel, and will be eventually cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).

As with my earlier Spurgeon entries,  what I've noticed is that many of those involved with hyper-preterism appear to look for anything written by anybody and use it as proof for their position. Consider the following from Athanasius as found on a hyper-preterist blog:
More FULFILLED ESCHATOLOGY from Early Church Father, Athanasius...
"Now that THE DEVIL, that tyrant against the whole world IS SLAIN...NO MORE DOES DEATH REIGN...now that death and the kingdom of the devil IS ABOLISHED, everything is entirely filled with joy and gladness. God is no longer known ONLY IN JUDEA (Old Covenant - FS), but in ALL THE EARTH (New Covenant - FS)..."(The Festal Letters, 4:3)
It's very simple for a hyper-preterist: Athanasius is saying almost exactly what they are about the total defeat of Satan. Sure, there's probably some differences, but Athanasius is more or less saying the same thing about the defeat of Satan... or is he?

When one searches the extant writings from Athanasius, it becomes apparent rather quickly that more often than not Satan is portrayed as an active enemy of the church. For instance, "But the mind of man is prone to evil exceedingly; moreover, our adversary the devil, envying us the possession of such great blessings, goeth about seeking to snatch away the seed of the word which is sown within us"[source]. What's going on then? How can Athanasius say that Satan is slain and abolished on the one hand and then say elsewhere that he's out and about seeking to do harm?

The easy way out is to simply say Athanasius contradicted himself. This possibility of course is not out of the question. But when I look up quotes like this, I don't automatically assume that Athansius was so muddleheaded that he would posit two completely contradictory notions. It could be like Augustine or Luther that his position changed over time. It could be one of the texts in question has variants or is spurious. In this case though, I think if one follows the train of thought and allows for the use of hyperbole, the notion that Satan is defeated and that he's also still active isn't such a stretch in interpreting Athanasius.

The context of this quote can be found here. The source for the quote is a Festal letter, or more commonly known as an Easter letter. He begins by pointing out, "For although the date of this letter is later than that usual for this announcement, it should still be considered well-timed, since our enemies having been put to shame and reproved by the Church, because they persecuted us without a cause, we may now sing a festal song of praise." This notion of "defeated enemies" will find its way right up until the quote in question. He mentions Judith "when having first exercised herself in fastings and prayers, she overcame the enemies, and killed Olophernes." Then Esther: "when destruction was about to come on all her race, and the nation of Israel was ready to perish, defeated the fury of the tyrant by no other means than by fasting and prayer to God, and changed the ruin of her people into safety." And then a conclusion:
Now as those days are considered feasts for Israel, so also in old time feasts were appointed when an enemy was slain, or a conspiracy against the people broken up, and Israel delivered. Therefore blessed Moses of old time ordained the great feast of the Passover, and our celebration of it, because, namely, Pharaoh was killed, and the people were delivered from bondage. For in those times it was especially, when those who tyrannized over the people had been slain, that temporal feasts and holidays were observed in Judaea.
Feasts celebrated the defeat of enemies. Easter is a celebration feast. Christ has risen from the dead, conquering his enemies. Here is where the hyper-preterist quote occurs, which I've bolded. Athanasius states:
Now, however, that the devil, that tyrant against the whole world, is slain, we do not approach a temporal feast, my beloved, but an eternal and heavenly. Not in shadows do we shew it forth, but we come to it in truth. For they being filled with the flesh of a dumb lamb, accomplished the feast, and having anointed their door-posts with the blood, implored aid against the destroyer. But now we, eating of the Word of the Father, and having the lintels of our hearts sealed with the blood of the New Testament, acknowledge the grace given us from the Savior, who said, ‘Behold, I have given unto you to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.’ For no more does death reign; but instead of death henceforth is life, since our Lord said, ‘I am the life;’ so that everything is filled with joy and gladness; as it is written, ‘The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice.’ For when death reigned, ‘sitting down by the rivers of Babylon, we wept,’ and mourned, because we felt the bitterness of captivity; but now that death and the kingdom of the devil is abolished, everything is entirely filled with joy and gladness. And God is no longer known only in Judaea, but in all the earth, ‘their voice hath gone forth, and the knowledge of Him hath filled all the earth.’ What follows, my beloved, is obvious; that we should approach such a feast, not with filthy raiment, but having clothed our minds with pure garments. For we need in this to put on our Lord Jesus, that we may be able to celebrate the feast with Him. Now we are clothed with Him when we love virtue, and are enemies to wickedness, when we exercise ourselves in temperance and mortify lasciviousness, when we love righteousness before iniquity, when we honor sufficiency, and have strength of mind, when we do not forget the poor, but open our doors to all men, when we assist humble-mindedness, but hate pride.
The language of Athanasius is filled with celebratory hyperbole. Satan, the enemy of Christ and the church was indeed defeated by the resurrection. The enemy was conquered and "slain." Death was also defeated because Christ rose from the dead. The irony as I see it is that hyper-preterists often attack dispensationalists for a rigid literal hermaneutic. But here with Athanasius, they do the very thing they decry. They ignore a typical use of language only meant to express a basic point about the impact and importance of Easter.

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