Reading St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation was my first experience with any of the early church fathers. I found this exercise both fun and interesting. As a Christian, and as any “-an” for that matter, it is important to know the history of the faith (or the history of the United States, if one is an Americ”-an”). Through understanding the history of the early church, we can not only gain a better theological understanding but also, as apologetics students, an understanding of the various heresies these founders were confronting and how they overcame them. Responses to early heresies should be on every apologist’s bookshelf as the same heresies keep coming back in different forms. For example, today’s Jehovah’s Witness heresy is a form of Arianism. Early responses to the Arian heresy by church fathers such as Athanasius are critical tools for confronting this cult today.
I found Athanasius’s style very accessible yet convincing. Many classic translated texts seem to be very difficult to comprehend and sometimes much time is needed to find even the key points. I did not have this problem with Athanasius. Key points are repeated many times to further the reader’s understanding. The text is inviting and addicting. I found it difficult to put down.
Throughout the book, Athanasius masterfully illustrates his ideas by presenting many examples and analogies to further simplify the topics for his readers. This provides a useful method to strengthen understanding of the doctrine of the Incarnation which, if not explained correctly, could develop into either prose that is too difficult to comprehend or, when oversimplified, could develop into a heresy such as Arianism which Athanasius himself devoted most of his life to refuting. Athanasius walks across this tightrope of presentation like a skilled artist and the reader is left with an exhilarating new understanding of the Incarnation.
Since I am currently interested in learning about the different views regarding the noetic effects of sin and the general struggle of good vs. evil in the world, I enjoyed many of Athanasius’s quotes on the topic. These include §5 “Indeed, they had in their sinning surpassed all limits…”, and §11 “How could men be reasonable beings…”. I also enjoyed the example of the painter and the portrait which, although not pertaining to the topics just listed, presents a great illustration of the Incarnation, the main theme of this work.