New Books and Old Books

Over Christmas break, I decided to take some time to re-read Athanasius' book De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (On the Incarnation). It's a classic book about Jesus.
Why did God become human?
What does that mean for us?
Why would anyone object to this?
What do we have to say to those objections?
Athanasius' book is beautifully written, clear and precise and old. Really old.

He wrote in the 4th century. When's the last time you read something so old?

At the beginning of one translation of Athanasius' De Incarnatione, you'll find an introduction from CS Lewis. Before he really gets to talking about the book (which he commends) and the translation (which he admires), Lewis gives this famous piece of advice:
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
His reasoning was that, while old books may have their errors, they have different errors from our own. And that God's work in our time is not the only work worth knowing. And that Time filters out books that aren't worth reading. And that old books give us context for current conversations.

And I have found this to be true. I'm shocked at the things Athanasius assumes to be true, curious about the things he considers to be important. The distance from his age to ours shows up on every page. And I love it.

I'm going to try this, this year. To read one old book for every three new ones.

And by "old," I'm going to try to read books written before the Enlightenment, before Luther and Calvin, more than 500 years old.

On my radar are Plato, Augustine, Eusebius, Herodotus, and Josephus.

Two questions:
Who else should I consider reading?
Have you ever tried this?

2 comments:

  1. hmmm...
    Thomas a Kempis
    Bernard of Clairvaux
    Anselm
    Horace

    I don't know if I can go with you there but I might be able to if you lifted it to just 100 years. There's so much there that I haven't read.

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  2. Yeah ... I definitely didn't pick 500 years because I had read everything meaningful in the last 100.

    Berry, would you be interested in doing an old-book club? From the calendar, it looks like we'll be seeing each other every couple of weeks (Ambition, RLT, Spring Meetings, Camp, DLT). If we picked a book or two, we've be able to talk about it when we hang out?

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