Why read Athanasius? Besides his importance for our understanding of the Christian faith, his life reads like a thriller at times, full of intrigue, last-minute escapes, and determination to follow the truth, no matter the cost. Furthermore, Athanasius (who was called the “black dwarf”) reminds us of the eminent role Africa has played in Christian history. In How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, the late Thomas Oden argued that we need to rediscover the early African church, for our sake, and for Africa’s sake. In a time of increasing racial and national tension, we need to remember the foundational contributions of early African Christians like Athanasius.
Beyond the reasons offered here, C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful introduction to an earlier edition of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, which has become a classic essay in itself. In the essay, C.S. Lewis defends the “reading of old books” in a masterful way, the old book in this case being Athanasius’s On the Incarnation. We often forget that masters of writing like Lewis and Tolkien were themselves inspired by the great spiritual masters of the past, like the “Great Athanasius.” The church today desperately needs to remember its past, so that we may not lose our way in the future.