Orationes Contra Arianos I-III
Oration I begins by identifying the problem as Arius and his teaching. This is the emergence of Athanasius' polemical strategy of casting his opponents as 'Arians', even though from I.32 onwards he is going to treat Asterius as his main opponent. Nonetheless, Athanasius does begin with a restatement of Arius' teachings, from the Thalia in I.5-7. He then goes on to establish and defend certain principles: that the Son is eternal, uncreated (I.11f), but this does not make him a brother to the Father, a second unoriginate (I.14), rather a Son properly, not in name only (I.15-16); Athanasius lays down the general theological rule that speech and analogies about God must be understood with reference to their object, God, and so do not imply material or creaturely connotations. In I.17-21 he considers image language, and defends the attribution to the Son of the properties of God. He then returns to insisting that human analogies applied to God cannot carry with them creaturely concepts. In I.30-31 he begins to confront those tricky 'Arian' dichotomies: originate or unoriginate? Athanasius answer begins the move to distinguish between unoriginate and unbegotten. In I.32 Asterius appears as a named opponent, and it is in fact with Asterius and 'Eusebian' theology more generally that Athanasius is going to deal.
From I.37 onwards, the focus shifts to exegesis of disputed texts. This shows and reminds us that at stake is an exegetical argument. Philippians 2 is one of the first battlegrounds. Athanasius rejects the idea that the Son is promoted as a reward for his obedience, instead speaking of the self-abasement of the Word in becoming human, but his exaltation as a feature of the economy and the assumed humanity.
I.46 treats of the anointing in Ps 45:7-8, which Athanasius treats in conjunction with Christ's baptism, which he sees as anointing for us, indeed the anointing of our humanity in him. The 'wherefores' that we encounter speak not of the basis for, but the end for which, Christ does these things.
I.53 is beautiful, as Athanasius turns to Pr 8:22, Heb 1:4, 3:1, Acts 2:36 and their use to show that the Son is a creature. Athanasius responds with careful exegesis about the time of these statements, the aspect of comparison, and the subject matter to be considered.
II.3 contains the well known statement, “let them not question about the terms... For terms do not disparage his nature; rather that Nature draws to Itself those terms and changes them. For terms are not prior to essence, but essences are first, and terms second.” Here Athanasius is asserting his fundamental principle for how we can speak about God, which is part of the key controversy of the 4th, not merely theology, but the appropriate grammar of theological talk.
So in II.1-11 Athanasius shows how this principle fits with scripture, and how 'made' when applied to the Son must either mean 'beget' in an eternal sense, or else refer to the assumption of the flesh by the divine Word. This is then applied to the interpretation of Acts 2:36, in reference to the economy and the humanity (II.11-18), before Athanasius comes to that sticky Pr 8:22 again.
Athanasius begins with one of those tricky 'Arian' questions: “did he who is make from that which was not one that was not or one that was?” (II.18). In II.19 Athanasius reinforces the absolute distinction of Creator/creation, which makes the claim that the Son is 'a creature yet not as the other creatures' virtually worthless – he would be exactly as the other creatures. In II.21 Athanasius presents the inseparability of operations, which would make the Son the maker of himself as a creature, which is likewise absurd.
Athanasius then spends considerable time arguing for the eternity of the Son, his non-created status, that he is proper to the Father's essence, and not a Son nor Wisdom nor Word by participation, but in nature. It is only in II.44 that he comes back to Pr 8:22 to actually deal with the verse. Having already established the eternality of the Son, Athanasius understands 'created' here to mean 'begotten', by the principles already established (II.44); he also makes not of 'for the works', which qualification is teleological, and so refers the verse to the economy and incarnation (II.50). He then moves into further discussion of made/begotten language, and its reference to men and to the Son. For Athanasius, we are made first, then adopted. The Son is begotten eternally, and then 'made' Man for our sakes, that we might indeed by adopted by participation. This is soteriologically grounded in II.69: creature cannot save creature, but God alone had to take human flesh to do so.
The final section of Oration 2 treats more of the theme of Wisdom.
Oration 3 begins with a treatment of Jn 14:10, upon which Athanasius takes umbrage with Asterius' reading of it. Asterius seems to read it in line with Acts 17:28, so that the Christ's statement in Jn 14:10 is no more than the rest of us might make, a union we might all have with God. Athanasius' response is that the “ whole Being of the Son is proper to the Father's essence” (III.3), and that the Father and Son share all properties, except being Father and Son (III.4). III.7 responds to the charge that God speaks of himself 'alone' or 'only', that such statements include the Son, and are against idolatry. III.10f responds to the claim that Father and Son are one in will and judgment, that such a unity is no more than angels and saints could be said to have. The heart of the opponents' argument is that the Son is a creature, like us more than he is like God, and Athanasius' key response is that they should then be consistent and stop worshipping him!
From III.26 onwards, Athanasius treats texts from the Gospel referring to the Son receiving, not knowing, etc.. Again the issue is exegetical – the 'Arians' use such verses univocally to refer to the Son, without respect to context, time, subject; Athanasius' continual response is partitive exegesis, that such things are said economically. Otherwise the whole foundation of the incarnation and atonement simply falls apart. So in III.29 he writes “And this [double] scope is to be found throughout inspired Scripture” - the double focus that provides the basis for partitive exegesis.
Texts like Mt 11:27, Jn 3:35 are not written to show the Son's deficiency, but his dependence and generation from the Father. It is not that he lacks these things, but that he as received them eternally. (III.35f)
From III.59 Athanasius takes up the debate about the Son's being either by will or by necessity. Again, the dichotomy is false. He is of the essence, neither involuntarily, nor forced, but his being cannot be extrinsic or external to God, lest he cease to be God.