by John Stamps
Nothing and no one says Eclectic Orthodoxy more than On the Incarnation of the Word of God by St Athanasius. He is deeply beloved by Eastern Christians and Western Christians alike. And for good reason. St Athanasius wants disciples of Christ to think rationally about our shared faith.
When we come to church on Sunday morning, outsiders get the mistaken impression that we take off our hats, we take off our coats, and then we take out our brains before we step through the doors into the sanctuary.
If you live in the Silicon Valley, you can’t ignore people’s questions about and objections to the Christian faith. Not if we’re going to maintain a credible witness among our friends and colleagues. You and I live in the most over-educated place on Planet Earth. The companies we work in every day — Apple, Google, and Facebook — set the technological platinum standard for everyone else living on Planet Earth.
Christians from time immemorial have never shied away from explaining, yeah verily, defending the basics of the Christian faith to their incredulous neighbors. We postmoderns must not shirk that calling either.
As a Lenten exercise, we started reading On the Incarnation by St Athanasius at our little parish in Campbell, CA about a month ago. We were abruptly disrupted this week by the coronavirus and the Shelter In Place mandate for seven Bay Area counties. I didn’t care what version or translation you read — as long as it was a canonical translation with the C.S. Lewis imprimatur. I heartily recommended the new St Vladimir’s Press translation by Fr John Behr. The old translation by Sister Penelope Lawson, of the Anglican Community of St. Mary the Virgin, is a bit too much of a paraphrase for my taste, although it was the version I first read.1 And for heaven’s sake, it was endorsed by C.S. Lewis himself, so who am I to quibble?
No, we’re not going to finish it Lent 2020. Maybe we’ll finish by Lent 2021, God willing. We read one section (or less) on Saturday nights right before Vespers, from 6:00-6:22, about the time it takes to make a good Pomodoro sauce.
I figured if we had 5 righteous people (Abraham had to wheedle the Almighty for 10), we had a genuine quorum. Imagine my joy and delight when 10 or more showed up the first night. Loud huzzahs all around, brothers and sisters at St Stephen. The trifecta of daylight savings time, rumors of the coronavirus, and bad weather didn’t keep anyone away.
Reading this magnificent theological classic by St Athanasius is an exercise in Eclectic Orthodoxy at its very best. I first read St Athanasius as a young college student back in the 1970’s, mainly because of the C.S. Lewis introduction. I don’t remember how many times I’ve read it since. But C.S. Lewis provided a genuine toehold for me — not to accuse C.S. Lewis of being a gateway drug — into Mere Christianity (aka Orthodox Christianity), of whom St Athanasius is our chief spokesman. Eastern Christians and Western Christians might not agree on much. But we can all agree that St Athanasius is indeed great and On the Incarnation of the Word of God is worth reading.
With this modest introduction, we’re ready to jump into the book.
 For example, Athanasius doesn’t actually say “Gnostics” in Section 2: “Then, again, there is the theory of the Gnostics…” He calls them “the heretics,” or “the pickers and the choosers,” if you like. Yes, this is just grousing. You can still read Sister Penelope’s translation with great profit and no discernible loss of meaning. Just realize Fr John’s translation is more strict, that’s all.
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John Stamps is currently Senior Technical Writer at Guidewire Software in San Jose, California. He holds a BA in Greek from Abilene Christian University, an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, and did work towards an STM in philosophy of religion at Yale University. He is married to Shelly Houston Stamps and attends St. Stephen Orthodox Church in Campbell, California.