Book Review: Athanasius—The Life of Antony of Egypt
A Paraphrase by: Albert Haase, O.F.M.
Publisher: Intervarsity Press ISBN: 9780830835928
I love classic Christian writing. I especially love ancient classic Christian writing from the third and fourth centuries, it is among some of my personal favorite to read and glean. I have read much from and of the early church fathers. The early monastic movement and the desert fathers (and mothers) are especially interesting to me, so when I heard of this paraphrased translation of Athanasius: The Life of Antony of Egypt being released by InterVaristy Press, I was eager to see how it would read.
The work of translation is difficult, but very easy to criticize. Personally, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to take a written language and culture that is completely different from yours and translate it accurately into a context and language that is close to that of your own. If you add to that difficulty one thousand seven hundred plus years removed and the colloquialisms and euphemisms present in every language and culture, the task of translation might be close to impossible. It is with this qualifying understanding that I commend the task undertaken by Albert Haase to bring this book to the public.
I found the story of Antony by Athanasius very readable. I had no difficulty understanding what was presented by the translator and being very familiar with ancient spiritual writings, I must say that this is not always the case. It did not seem as though I was reading an ancient writing at all. I think this was the intent of the series by InterVarsity Press, but in a spirit of complete disclosure, I found some elements of the paraphrase bordering on too contemporary and earthy…but maybe that is what Athansius’ original intent was. Examples might be helpful to share what I mean.
In one of Antony’s spiritual battles with demons, he is struck and wounded. As Antony continues in battle against these dark forces he answers them…
He mocked the beasts and said, “If you really had guts and power, only one of you would have come. But sense the Lord has conquered you, you had to gang up on me like schoolyard bullies. In reality, your bark is worse than your bite!”
He boldly continued, “If you really have guts and power, then come on and have at me! But if you are a wuss, why disturb me? For faith in our Lord is the strongest of defenses and the best of weapons.” (p.33)
As I have considered my impressions, I wondered; “How am I to know that is not exactly what the intent of Athanasius had been at the time he wrote of Antony’s life.” What if the words Haase uses are an accurate reflection of the intent of Athanasius? I have a tendency to romanticize my ideas and expectations at times. I think the paraphrase of this work is excellent. There is the possibility that the language used by Haase could become a bit dated (using contemporary colloquialisms and euphemisms), but that is the risk of every translation. In the meantime, this is an excellent way to bring these classics to an audience that may never have been exposed to these wonderful teachings. It is also a delightful way to breathe new life into these stories for those of us who might be a little overly romantic for the ancient writings.