THIS translation of the De Incarnatione of St. Athanasius has been made with the object of bringing that classic of the fourth century within the reach of ordinary Christians at the present day. The method followed in it, therefore, is that which Dr. Moffatt uses in dealing with the Epistles of St. Paul ; that is to say, the construction of the long Greek sentences in many cases has been simplified, the meaning is occasionally brought out by paraphrase rather than by direct translation, and, in other places, where the Greek errs on the wordy side, it has been slightly condensed. Further, the whole has been divided into chapters of modern length, though for the benefit of students the sectional divisions of the text, which appear to date from the Benedictine edition of 1698, are retained in the margin. Non-student readers, however, may find it better, at any rate at the first reading, to omit Chapters VI to VIII, in which St. Athanasius refutes the unbelief of his own day.
Biblical references are given only where the quotation is exact; and it will be obvious enough that the Septuagint, which alone Athanasius knew, does not always tally with the Hebrew. Otherwise there are scarcely any footnotes, not because there is nothing to.explain, but because, if once one begins explaining, it is difficult to know where to stop, and the heart of the matter easily becomes obscured in multiplicity of detail. As Robertson, his great exponent, says, St. Athanasius himself approached the mystery of Christ "not as a theologian, but as a believing soul in need of a Saviour"; (Introduction to ST ATHANASIUS, in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers) and those who would profit from his "golden treatise" must read it in the same spirit of worshipping and loving awe.
And indeed the De Incarnatione has as vital a message for the twentieth century as for the fourth. Like the Epideixis of St. Irenaeus which preceded it, and Heinrich Vogel's Iron Ration of a Christian, which was published only in 194z, it has the single-minded grasp of essentials and the width of vision which through the grace of God are born of persecution. We need that comprehensive clarity to-day supremely, just as we need also, and that most sorely, to recapture the unity of teaching and consistency of Christian living, to which Athanasius in his day could make such confident appeal. Moreover, he himself is in many ways completely modern. Thrilled as he was with the reputed properties of asbestos, what lovely analogies would he not draw now from such discoveries of our modern science as wireless and the invisible rays, and with what merciless logic yet unfailing charity would he not expose the weakness of modern unbelief !
I am deeply indebted to Dr. F. L. Cross for his help and encouragement, as well as for the use of his text of the treatise ; and I owe much also both to one of our Sisters, far more learned in Greek than I, and to our Chaplain, the Reverend G. B. Enders, late of King's College, London, who between them went through the whole of my translation with me. Behind these recent debts is that which I owe to Dr. Kidd, formerly Warden of Keble and still Warden of C.S.M.V., who more than thirty years ago in an Oxford lecture-room first fired me with love and reverence for the saint who saved the Catholic faith. And of that saint himself I would say what Dr. Lowther Clarke says of St. Basil, " a prayer that he may be allowed to know of my devotion to his memory and to pray for me; also that I may be allowed to meet him one day," (Introduction to the Ascetical Works of St. Basil)
WANTAGE, April 1943
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