What do I think of Athanasius’s classic work? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I had been doing some thinking on the incarnation and was looking for a book to read and I thought “Why not Athanasius?” After all, since it’s an older work I can get it immediately on Kindle and it will be cheaper as well. Thus, each night I read a chapter of On The Incarnation before I went to bed. This is also one way you can recognize theological nerds. Our devotional reading is something like Athanasius. (I am also reading the complete church fathers on Kindle.)
As I got further into this work, I did begin to realize not what I was seeing, but what I was not seeing so much. I was not seeing a response to Arius. Arius isn’t even mentioned. I even did a check to see if the book was written after the Council of Nicea and lo and behold, it was.
Keep in mind as I say that that none of that is said to attack the book or say one shouldn’t read it. I don’t want to attack it and I think people should read it. It’s just to express an honest surprise to me. I came expecting to find such replies to questions like “Why didn’t Jesus know the time of His return?” (For the record, I don’t think He’s talking about His return there, but the question still stands) or “Don’t you know God can’t die?”
What is found instead is indeed much more devotional literature. There are claims in there that I am sure the skeptics of Christianity in the day wouldn’t accept just like those same claims would not be accepted by ours today. However, I am sure that there are some claims even skeptics would accept and it would lead to greater appreciation. Athanasius’s work is not so much about the how of the incarnation as it is about the why of the incarnation and then about the facts of the results.
When the results are talked about, it’s not so much the incarnation as it is along the lines of the books we have today talking about how the world has been changed for the better since the coming of Jesus. Many of these we may not be as able to verify being far away from the times, but the people back then could probably look at the world around them that had really just gone from being largely pagan influenced to now more and more if not largely Christian influenced.
So if you come to this book and you’re expecting a defense of the incarnation, you’re going to be let down on that front, but you should not be let down overall. After all, a book should not be faulted for not doing what it was never meant to do. Athanasius is wanting to use a likely new position he has to draw those under him into the worship of God and after just winning a major battle on the nature of the incarnation is wanting to show what a difference that makes. On this, He succeeds and how cannot really be shown best in this blog, but just by picking it up yourself and reading. If you want to, you can do what I did and read a chapter a night. There are 57 of them and they’re all short.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)