Athanasius, in his monumental treatise On the Incarnation, observes:
For that death is destroyed, and that the cross is become the victory over it, and that it has no more power but is verily dead, this is no small proof, or rather an evident warrant, that it is despised by all Christ’s disciples, and that they all take the aggressive against it and no longer fear it; but by the sing of the cross and by faith in Christ tread it down as dead.
For of old, before the divine sojourn of the Savior took place, even to the saints death was terrible, and all wept for the dead as though they perished.
But now that the Savior has raised his body, death is no longer terrible; for all who believe in Christ tread him under as nought, and choose rather to die than to deny their faith in Christ.
For they verily know that when they die they are not destroyed, but actually [begin to] live, and become incorruptible through the resurrection.
And that devil that once maliciously exulted in death, now that its pains were loosed, remained the only one truly dead. And a proof of this is, that before men believe Christ, they see in death an object of terror, and play the coward before him. But when they are gone over to Christ’s faith and teaching, their contempt for death is so great that they even eagerly rush upon it, and become witnesses for the resurrection the Saviour has accomplished against it.
For while still tender in years [i.e., while still children] they make haste to die, and not men only, but women also, exercise themselves by bodily discipline against it.
So weak has he become, that even women who were formerly deceived by him, now mock at him as dead and paralyzed.
For as when a tyrant has been defeated by a real king, and bound hand and foot, then all that pass by laugh him to scorn, buffeting and reviling him, no longer fearing his fury and barbarity, because of the king who has conquered him; so also, death having been conquered and exposed by the Saviour on the cross, and bound hand and foot, all they who are in Christ, as they pass by, trample om him, and witnessing to Christ scoff at death, jesting at him, and saying what has been written against him of old: ‘O death, where is thy victory? O grave, where is thy sting?’
- On the Incarnation §27. Translated by A. Robertson, in Christology of the Later Fathers, ed. Edward Rochie Hardy, Library of Christian Classics 3 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954), 81-82.