The Gift of Receptivity: St Athanasius on the Security of Salvation

Adam G. Cooper, STL, STD
Senior Lecturer
John Paul II Institute of Marriage and Family

Abstract: Anxieties about the security of personal salvation are commonly thought to feature mostly in protestant and individualistic soteriologies. In such soteriologies, assurance of salvation is held to be contingent upon various subjective or psychological factors such as sincerity of decision, depth of conviction, or persistence of faith. But reflection on the question of salvation’s security is not without certain prominence in the orthodox Christian tradition. Saint Athanasius was among a number of Fathers who sought to ascertain the conditions for securing human salvation. Given that human beings are essentially prone to defection from divine grace, and that their receptivity to God’s deifying gifts is so fickle and irregular, how is the mediation of grace to human beings through Jesus Christ protected from loss? While Saint Athanasius does not overlook the role of human willing or persistence in faith, his main concern is to locate the certainty of salvation in the bodily humanity of the incarnate Word. Since that humanity is permanently receptive to grace, so that in Christ grace is ‘irrevocable’ (ametameletos), all who partake in his body share in the stability of its receptivity. By appropriating to himself our mutable physical humanity, the Word has rendered it immutable, thereby securing its freedom and making certain its capacity to attain salvation.