St Athanasius "On the Incarnation" (1 of 3)
A reading group for Advent, working through this classic text over a series of three evenings, examining the event & implications of the Incarnation through the eyes of a 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 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.
Which sections will we discuss each week?
In preparation for each meeting we will read approximately one third of the text. Each session will provide us with an opportunity to discuss any inspiration (or difficulties) we encounter in a reflective context.
Please read the following sections of the text in advance for each meeting…
* Dec 4th – Read sections 1-18 in advance
* Dec 11th – Read sections 19-40 in advance
* Dec 18th – Read sections 41-57 in advance
Please note that the three sessions form a single coherent series – ideally participants will be able to attend all of the sessions.
Each meeting will provide an opportunity for us to share our inspirations & wrestlings in a group 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 it 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.
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).