It’s time for another competition here at Per Crucem ad Lucem.
When C.S. Lewis first opened a copy of Athanasius’ De Incarnatione he quickly discovered that he was ‘reading a masterpiece’. ‘The whole book’, he said, ‘is a picture of the Tree of Life – a sappy and golden book, full of buoyancy and confidence. We cannot, I admit, appropriate all its confidence today. We cannot point to the high virtue of Christian living and the gay, almost mocking courage of Christian martyrdom, as a proof of our doctrines with quite that assurance which Athanasius takes as a matter of course. But whoever may be to blame for that it is not Athanasius’. (Lewis’ essay was published in God in The Dock as ‘On the Reading of Old Books’, and again as the ‘Introduction’ to the St Vladimir’s Seminary Press edition of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation.)
I draw attention to Athanasius for a reason. I’ve posted before about the importance of the Church’s production and encouragement of the kind of literature that assists us to know and celebrate our story. And I’ve already commended Simonetta Carr’s delightful little book on John Calvin, a book published by Reformation Heritage Books and targeted at children from 6–12 years of age. In addition to the book on Calvin, Carr has also written books on Augustine of Hippo and John Owen for that same series of ‘Christian Biographies for Young Readers. And now she has turned her attention to a fourth book, this time on Athanasius, and she has kindly sent me a copy as a giveaway here at Per Crucem ad Lucem. In order to determine the recipient of the book, I thought we could have a wee competition. The rules are simple – answer the following question:
Why should we bother teaching our kids (and ourselves for that matter!) about this particular fourth century bishop?
I’ll leave the competition open until next Wednesday, after which time I will announce the winner who, in the best of possible worlds with the best of possible postal services, should receive the book before Christmas.
(BTW: I notice that Peter Leithart’s recent book on Athanasius is now out. And, for those keen to read a little deeper, there’s also great titles by Thomas G. Weinandy, Khaled Anatolios, and Alvyn Pettersen.
Surely teaching your kids about all of the history of Christianity is important for them to understand it and find their place in it (I have a history degree – can you tell ;) ). Knowing that other people across time and space (sorry, couldn’t resist a Dr Who reference either) have known God in a real way is important for them understanding and developing their relationship with him.
Oh, dear, how language changes: ‘sappy’ I first read in its current meaning, of weak and wishy-washy, and of course ‘gay’ doesn’t have anything of the kind of joyful strength Lewis was indicating here.
As for Athanasius, he’s not only a renowned early Church theologian, but is honoured by both the Orthodox and Roman sides of the Great Schism – no major achievement in itself. His stand against Arianism is one of the main reasons we believe what we believe about the Trinity. Whether we can get our children to stop playing with their iPods for long enough to listen to this and, more importantly, take in how vital was his stand, is another matter.
First, because we are in his debt. By the Spirit’s grace he made possible our knowing of the God of the gospel, so we owe him the love (Rom 13.7-8) that expresses itself in the close study of his work. (Clearly, I’m deeply influenced by Williams’ Why Study the Past on this point.)
Second, because to fail to read and to teach Athanasius is a violation of the Fifth Commandment.
Sorry for the italics-run-wild. No edit comment feature?!?
A Poem for Children on Christmas
The little children, hinder not,
come and listen tiny tot.
To this ancient tale you must hold fast,
to the story told of ages past.
A tiny baby, can you see?
Once grown said he, “Come unto me!”
Told, retold, and told again,
the fabled truth of God made man.
A story not for we tots fit,
of killing children–a curtain split.
Yes, Athanasius is our guide,
on this miracle and more we’ll ride.
Unless a seed fall to the ground;
he makes the universe go ’round.
And, of course, some help from Jack,
to take us back and back and back …
To that day when born was a child,
so that God and sinners be reconciled.
One Thesis on the Importance of Knowing about the 20th Bishop of Alexandria:
1. St. Athanasius wrote about that John the Baptizer re-incarnate, that holy exemplar of late antiquity, the one who paved the road unto virtue in his askesis, the one who unmasks the facade of Christians of all ages who declare a reading of scripture ad litteram in that when he heard of Jesus declaration that perfection is found in selling all his possessions, giving to the poor, and following him actually did so (Matt.19:21), the one who made a desert a city, the one who, emerging from twenty years solitude in a cave, was visibly God-bearing and had been initiated into Eucharistic mysteries, the one who embodies the fullest account of theosis in this post-lapsarian/pre-eschatologically consummated epoch; indeed, Athanasius is worthwhile if for no other reason than his preserving for us a witness (and for the Bollandists an eternal toil and joy) in the unparalleled hagiographic tale instrumental in the Monk of Hippo’s conversion; I speak, of course, of the Vita Antonii.
We need to keep on educating ourselves and our kids! Education is free, stimulating and folks can’t take it away from you – and the government can’t tax it.
Athanasius in particular is an example of how effective one person can be when they use their giftings and talents to stand up for what they think ( know) is right. In a society where all cats appear to be grey we need to keep on fighting against the darkness of ignorance , lethargy and a very PC approach to education.
Isn’t Athanasius the guy who contributed so significantly to the early Christological debates with Arius? He posited, inter alia, that if Jesus was not who he said he was(i.e. fully Divine yet fully human), then there were huge implications for humankind’s redemption.
I suspect it’s also quite significant that in his 39th Festal Letter, circulated amongst the church in 367 A.D., he determined the canon of the 27 books which we know as the New Testament
Love Lewis’s Intro! I have Leithart’s book on Athanasius, as always Peter is historical, theological and on the cutting edge! And Khaled Anatolios actually has two that I also have myself: One in the Early Church Fathers set: Athanasius; and the other: Athanasius, The Coherence of His Thought, both are Routledge,
Why would we not?
Obviously, history is important for true knowledge. It is often pithily stated “those who do not study history are those doomed to repeat the past,” and that indeed is true. And true knowledge is something that cannot fully be obtained by the “forward stampede” of modernity; by its intense desire to cut ties from tradition in order to make, as is often times, banal “progress.”
But there is a better reason to study Athanasius than just understanding history. The reason is that he and others like him were absolutely brilliant. Being premodern, in truth, cannot be a criticism, for these thinkers have proven (especially for the one who is patient enough to read them) to be timelessly insightful. And often times, as in the case of our current subject, the fact that they are “premodern” allows for them to think freely beyond the constrains of the so called “free thought” of modern progress fetishism. In any case, 4th century thinkers have given answers and insights that ironically (or perhaps providentially) shed light on contemporary problems.
Teach him to our kids? Yes. Why? So they can have a richer faith/understanding than the one offered within the constraints of the modern world. Teach him to our kids? Yep. Why? Well, there are few others who could shape the formation of anyone, let alone the young. For these reasons and many more…I say….YES.
I have 35 minutes in a Scripture lesson to impart the great truths of the gospel. And with Kindergarten classes, some time must be devoted to talking about scraped knees from the playground, and who’s having a birthday. This book could be added to my resources!
My kids should have a book about Athanasius read to them (they are 5 and 3) for a number of reasons. First, Athanasius’ lifes tory is exciting and adverturous. The Black Dwarf, reviled by his adversaries but beloved by his congregation, foreced to live in caves and dark places, and yet privy to the ear of the empire at Nicaea etc. What a story. Second,a dn more importnat, Athanasius’ faith and thought witnessed to some of the most central features of the the Gospel, the all-consuming vision of God in Christ, the great theotic goal of all humanity – Sydney and Liam (my kids) included, and the ever-present reality of the risen Chist, our High Priest, who through his SPirit accompanies us through out daily lives, sponsoring our dreams and supporting us through our nightmares. My children need to be aquainted with the sort of mysticism we find in Athanasius’ spirituality. I could go on but will rest here: God became human like Sydney and Liam so that Sydney and Liam might become gods! I would like to read this book to them! :-) Blessings,
My kids, Madeline (11) and Jake (8) need to hear about Athanasius because they love Jesus, and who better to tell them more about Jesus than Athanasius.
Because the kids (and adults too) need to know that God is not like many of the leaders we see in politics, society or the economy today. Athanasius’ teachings allow us to affirm that (as one of my teachers used to say): “When it came to the dirtiest, most painful and most unpleasant task, God did not send a representative, but came to do it himself.” God is not (as the Arians would have it) that remote figure who loves from a safe distance. Rather, God is with us. And this (as John Wesley reportedly said on his deathbed) must surely be the best news of all.
I need to teach Eli about Athanasius because his name is just as cool as Gandalf’s and his life translated into a kids book makes for a crazy, fun, interesting story that promotes faith development and is actually real !
“Why Children Should Learn about Athanasius: A Sonnet”
Because it is altogether advantageous,
to rearrange the letters of ATHANASIUS,
making nice kids’ words like HUTS of TIN
and HATS that are THIN
and ANTS that STUN
and SUNS that TAN,
and even evil SITH
that HUNT and HISS.
But even better are the naughty ones
like TAN your ANUS
and SIT on your ASS
and HIT your NUTS.
Because even nice churchgoing kids, now and then,
love to have a few HINTS of SIN.
I’ve announced the winner.