The theological and doxological understanding of resurrection : an examination of its centrality within the 4th century Christian orthodox understanding of Easter with particular reference to the festal letters of St. Athanasius of Alexandria
The Festal Letters of Saint Athanasius were composed in response to a decision by the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The Council of Bishops assembled primarily to confront the teachings of Arianism, which had questioned the Nature and Person of Jesus Christ. But another problem that the Council of Nicaea faced related to the celebration of Easter. For some time the Church had become divided about the proper observance not only of Easter itself, but also the Lenten Season and the post-Easter period leading to Pentecost. The Council deputed to the Bishopric of Alexandria the task of computing the correct dates for Easter to ensure unity of theological belief and doxological expression. While the practice of composing pastoral letters had already been established in Alexandria, Athanasius continued to notify the Church concerning Easter by sending Festal Letters throughout his entire period in office. In the first instance, we shall examine the historical background to these Pastoral Epistles. The theme of resurrection is then investigated in relation to three of Athanasius' main works - Contra Gentes, De Incarnatione and Contra Arianos (I - III). The third chapter particularises the concept of resurrection and the manner in which Athanasius perceives it within the Festal Letters themselves. This is complemented by an analysis of the doxological significance of resurrection within worship and especially Eucharistic practice. Chapter Five expresses the main theological realities that formed the foundation of Athanasius' soteriological beliefs. Central to these are the nature of the homoousion and the saving vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. The sixth chapter concludes appropriately with a study of immortality in relation to body and soul.