The Ark: Gregory and Athanasius

Saint Athanasius the Great (and also my patron saint)

In our previous post, we looked at what Saint Dionysius of Alexandria about the Ark of the Covenant. Saint Gregory the Wonderworker and Saint Athanasius the Great didn’t have a lot to say, but what they said (or might have said) is worth looking into, so I’ve combined them into a single post.

Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus

Saint Gregory the Wonder Worker, in his first homily on the Annunciation, draws a parallel between the Archangel Gabriel’s annunciation to the Theotokos and the Prophet David’s famous psalm, perhaps revealing its prophetic nature. In doing so, he elucidates the typological relationship between the Ark and the Mother of God:

Come, then, you too, dearly beloved, and let us chant the melody which has been taught us by the inspired harp of David, and say, Arise, O Lord, into Your rest; You, and the ark of Your sanctuary [cf. Psalm 131:8 OSB]. For the holy Virgin is in truth an ark, wrought with gold both within and without, that has received the whole treasury of the sanctuary.1

Saints Dionysius and Gregory, contemporaries and both students of Origen, seem to have arrived at slightly different views on the the ark’s typology. Saint Gregory seems to be the first of the Fathers to have undeniably identified the ark as a type of the Theotokos.

Saint Athanasius the Great

Saint Athanasius rose to prominence in the middle of the fourth century. While nothing is certain, several references are made to the Ark as type of the Theotokos in works attributed to Saint Athanasius. In a homily on the Annunciation, classified by Migne as a spurious work, the Theotokos is called the “Ark of Sanctification.”2 O’Carroll mentions two additional homilies attributed to St. Athanasius, also casting some doubt on the authenticity of the attribution. In one the Virgin is called “Ark of the New Covenant,” and in a homily on the Presentation of our Lord, “Ark of Sanctification.”3

In our next post, we’ll take a look at some of the poetry of Saint Ephrem the Syrian. Saint Ephrem’s thoughts are perhaps the most intriguing of the Fathers we will examine.

Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, The First Homily On the Annunciation to the Holy Virgin Mary, trans. S.D.F. Salmond, from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 6, Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886), revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

Thomas Livius, The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries, (London: Burns and Oates, Limited 1893), p. 80.

Michael O’Carroll, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, <Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers 2000>, p. 50.

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