Our church history class is over, but I’m hoping that won’t be the end for you. Obviously, there is plenty more history that we did not cover, even in the small time periods that we did discuss. If you want to fill those in, the best way is to read. You don’t even need to read a lot; I have committed myself to only 10 pages a night, but over the past 8 years, that has really added up.
If you read only two books as a result of this class, let them be On the Incarnation and Confessions of St. Augustine. I would even encourage you to make a study of them with whatever small group or bible study you’re a part of. If you’ve already read them, skip ahead to the rest of the resources you should check out.
Athanasius was the greatest defender of Trinitarian Orthodoxy during the turbulent times after Nicea. On the Incarnation, written before he even turned 30, is a brilliant explanation of the incarnation of Christ. C.S Lewis praised it especially highly:
Athanasius stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, “whole and undefiled,” when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius—into one of those “sensible” synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.
When I first opened his De Incarnatione I soon discovered by a very simple test that I was reading a masterpiece. I knew very little Christian Greek except that of the New Testament and I had expected difficulties. To my astonishment I found it almost as easy as Xenophon; and only a master mind could, in the fourth century, have written so deeply on such a subject with such classical simplicity.
As you read, you would also do well to listen to relevant episodes from this podcast, as he walks his own class through this book.
On the Incarnation is available in a variety of formats:
- HTML format, with an introduction by C.S. Lewis
- EPUB format, for your favorite e-reader.
- MOBI or PDF, for your other favorite e-reader.
- Audio formats, because sometimes reading is hard.
- Other formats I may have missed
- Actual physical book
- At the Intersection of East and West podcast, where an Eastern Orthodox deacon leads a class on this book.
It’s a classic for a reason. Augustine explores human nature and whole range of other topics in this masterpiece, and even comes close to deriving the Big Bang from an analysis of Genesis. If you want to study this with your small groups, contact me and I’ll pass my notes along to you from when I did the same.
Please note that there are many translations, and you would do well to find one in modern English, which will likely mean getting an actual physical book.
- My preferred Modern English Translation
- An abridged version, and the one I used when I led my bible study through the book. My only complaint is that it takes a hack-saw to the story of Augustine’s conversion.
- Or read it on your e-reader
- Or just read it online
- Or just read the CliffsNotes
- Still too hard? Listen to somebody else read it for you.
For a good overview of church history, I recommend this book: Church History in Plain Language. It goes all the way up to the present time.
If you’re online, you can do even better. A number of college courses make recordings of their lectures available online for free. The best part about audio resources like this is that you can let them play while you do other things. The following two were particularly helpful in preparing this course:
However, if you really want to know what’s going on, you need to dive into primary sources. I have made sure to include primary sources in every class partly for this reason, and partly to show you that they’re still perfectly approachable. We can learn directly from the greats.
Luckily for us, all of these primary sources are available on the internet. However, they’re almost all from the Roberts-Donaldson translation from the early 1800s, and the language is very King Jamesy. You are better off finding an actual book with a modern translation. I’m sure you can get these from fine publishers such as Zondervan or Baker Books. Your local college library is also likely to have some more obscure texts.
If you stick to the online world, you will likely find yourself visiting the Christian Classics Ethereal Library often. Early Christian Writings is also a handy site. If you like your books electronic, Orthodox e-books may interest you.
Test everything. Hold on to the good. – I Thessalonians 5:21