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Advent Reading Group - "On the Incarnation" by St Athanasius
Monday 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd December 2024 @ 7pm

Advent Reading Group - "On the Incarnation" by St Athanasius


A reading group for Advent 2024 meeting online to work through the classic text "On the Incarnation" by St Athanasius, examining the event & implications of the Incarnation through the eyes of this key Early Church figure.

St Athanasius (c. 295-373 AD) is intimately connected with the fourth century formation of the doctrine of the Trinity.  His writings speak powerfully of the full divinity of God made man in Christ, and the implications of this event for humanity.

His small book “On the Incarnation” is still seen today as a classic exposition on the topic, and is perhaps especially important for Western Christians, since it has a typically Eastern (Orthodox) focus on the salvific impact of the Incarnation.

In reading this text together the hope is that we will be challenged to examine our own perspective and take some inspiration from one of the ancient classics of the Early Church.

If you've never read a text from the earliest centuries of the Church before, this is an excellent place to start!  Absolutely no previous knowledge of Church history or theology is assumed.

Meeting Series
We'll meet on Monday nights (2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd December 2024) at 7 - 8:15pm UK time (a link to the online meeting will be provided closer to the time).

The initial session on 2nd December will provide an introduction to St Athanasius, his life & times, and the fourth century context in which he lived.  For each of the remaining three sessions the intention is that participants will read a third of the text in advance (about 20 pages of a typical paperback book each time). We'll divide the text as follows:

  • Dec 9th - Read sections 1-19 beforehand
  • Dec 16th - Read sections 20-40 beforehand
  • Dec 23rd - Read sections 41-57 beforehand

Please note that the three sessions form a single coherent series – ideally participants will be able to attend all of them.

Having read the relevant sections in advance, each session will then provide an opportunity for us to come together and share something of the inspiration and/or wrestling we’ve encountered from that portion of the work in a reflective setting.

It will really help if, as you read, you could make a note of the exact section number and ideally copy out/ highlight/ bookmark the exact passage(s) which strike/ inspire/ perplex you and come prepared to read them out.

If you do find yourself wrestling with something as you read, someone else is almost certainly thinking exactly the same thing, so please do flag it for discussion.

One particular topic you might like to keep in mind before and during your reading is your own understanding of "soteriology" - what is the human problem, how does Christ save us/me, and into what are we/I saved?  As you read, compare your thoughts with the vision set out by Athanasius.

Which edition of the text?
Many editions of "On the Incarnation" by St Athanasius have been published over the years, and any of them will do.  All editions are divided into the same sections as listed above, so even if participants are using different versions, we'll all be able to locate the same passages.

You can get a free online version of the text from the CCEL website ("On the Incarnation" starts here in the HTML version and from p.258 in the PDF version). This is from the "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers" series of texts.  Free is always good, however this is written in Victorian English, so if you can find the money for a more recent version you'll find it significantly easier to follow!

The edition I'd recommend is the most recent one published by St Vladimir's Seminary Press in 2011.  This features a translation made by a leading contemporary Patristic scholar (John Behr) and also has the Greek text on the facing page (in case you can read a little Greek). You may find a new or secondhand copy cheaper from Abebooks.

Whichever edition you choose (unless it's the "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers" one), try to get hold of a copy which has the superb introduction by C.S. Lewis on the relevance of reading Early Church books today. Worth searching out! (The 2011 edition has this intro).

Any questions?
If you have any questions about this series of meetings, please get in touch.

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