Beginning Athanasius

I have begun my reading of On the Incarnation by St Athanasius. I read it for the first time back in the late 70s when I was in seminary and then re-read it again in the late 80s on the encouragement of T. F. Thomas, followed by his Against the Arians. Suffice it to say, I have forgotten most of what I once “knew” about Athanasian theology. It is a pleasure to finally return to it.

I am reading through it quickly (I’m about half-way through) and then will read it again a second time much more slowly. I also intend to read some secondary literature on Athanasius, particularly John Behr’s discussion of the De Incarnatione Verbi Dei in his Nicene Faith and Khaled Anatolios’s discussion of Athanasius in his book Retrieving Nicaea. I mention this because all of this reading means that I will not be able to start blogging on Athanasius for at least a week, if not longer. It takes me time to read, reflect, and then to write. I ask you to please be patient. In the meantime I will continue to provide, every other day or so, theological and spiritual citations for your meditation.

I come to De Incarnatione with a number of questions. I am particularly interested in comparing St Athanasius with St Gregory Nazianzen, in whose orations I was immersed for over nine months. I note one difference already–the absence of Eunomius. The Eunomian heresy compelled the Cappadocians to emphasize the incomprehensibility of God; but Athanasius did not have to respond to this heresy. As a result, he emphasizes the renewal of our knowledge of God through the Incarnation: Jesus has come to make his Father known.

Much, much more later …

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6 Responses to Beginning Athanasius

  1. Lasseter says:

    If you’ll permit a comment that is on somewhat of a tangent, this post and your mention of the numerous sources you would like to consult calls to my mind how fortunate it is to have the resources we have now for the study of Patristics. It also makes me wonder about what was available even to educated men back in the day, and one thing in particular. Early in childhood I was taught that our American Founding Fathers were scholarly and educated men, knowledgeable in the Classics, knew the ancient languages and studied from them, and so on, but very recently I also learned from his private letters that Thomas Jefferson despised St. Athanasios. He thought Trinitarian theology was nonsense, and he believed that Athanasios had enforced it upon others by threat of violence. I wonder what sort of sources President Jefferson consulted, when he decided to learn about such things. He didn’t have the Internet to lead him astray.

    In any case, between the numerous blogs on Orthodoxy, which are essentially free, and a great many translations and secondary sources, many of which are inexpensive, we live in an age where learning about Orthodoxy is remarkably convenient. Odd enough, although one can find the occasional anti-Orthodox Web site out there, most of that type of madness gets directed against the Roman Catholic Church: so we’re prominent enough that one can learn about Orthodoxy, but “under the radar” enough that the lion’s share of the idiotic vituperation gets directed elsewhere.


  2. Peyton says:

    I hope you have the edition with the masterful introduction by C.S. Lewis.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      This time I’ll be reading the new translation by John Behr; but it also includes the intro by Lewis.


  3. coffeezombie says:

    Exciting! I’m looking forward to your posts! St. Athanasius was my first introduction to an understanding of the fall and salvation that was not Penal Substitution, and, therefore, a first step for me towards Orthodoxy. Fortunately, I had the edition to which Peyton refers for On the Incarnation, but I had to make do with the Ante-Nicene Fathers set for Against the Heathen. 🙂

    Had my parents not already given me a name that happened to be a Saint (Matthew), I would have taken St. Athanasius as my patron Saint when I was Chrismated. As it is, I instead named my son for him.


  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Having just read through John Behr’s Introduction to De Incarnatione as well as his analylsis in Nicene Faith, I think I have no choice but to read Contra Gentes. I was hoping I might be able to avoid it, especially since it is not readily available in a modern translation. I find the 19th century translation difficult to read.


    • coffeezombie says:

      Well, I’m glad to know that the difficulty of reading the 19th Century translation was not solely due to my being an “armchair theologian.” Apparently, you more theologically-minded types find it difficult as well! 😉

      Translation aside, though, I do recall being actually as interested in Conta Gentes as I was in De Incarnatione. The illustration of man’s body as a chariot, with the soul (It seems other, maybe later, writers might say nous? I have no idea if Athanasius uses that term or not) as the driver, and so on has stuck in my brain more than anything else he said. So, I’m glad to hear you’re digging into that one, too. Looking forward to your thoughts!


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