Review: What is the Incarnation?

What is the Incarnation? by Francis Ferrier, trans. Edward Sillem
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Volume 24 of the Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism under section II Basic Truths.

Originally published in France in 1960 as L’Incarnation; English translation in 1962.

This is a very dated but delightfully entertaining, though unabashedly partisan and apologetic, account of the doctrine of the incarnation: from its scriptural sources, through the Christological controversies of Nicaea and Chalcedon, and engaging with some of the positions of the Magisterial Reformers as well as the “rationalism” (presently called scientism) that rejects the truth of anything that is not “reasonable.”

In addition to the historical development, the sophisticated ideas presented in the primary sources with their technical Greek and Latin vocabulary are very clearly explained, which takes a degree of skill for which both the author and the translator must be commended. Here too, though, the partisan sentiments of the author are displayed: while I would find this seriously objectionable in a contemporary text for ecumenical reasons, in this dated text I cannot help but giggle over statements such as

Thus the Greeks had at their disposal two terms [sarkosis (made flesh) and enanthroposis (made human)] to refer to the mystery, while the less subtle but scientifically more secure Latin compelled the Western church to keep the the one term Incarnation, or made flesh. (28)


The Greeks, lovers of subtleties, warmed more than any Westerner can appreciate to the possibility of theological jousts; they could never let any change for the better take place quietly without a fray. (53-4)

Despite these flaws, the clarity of the explanation and the reliance on primary sources is really very well done, especially as it seems clear that this book (and the series of which it was a part) was intended for the ordinary well-educated lay Catholic and not for the academy. We could do with more such books today.

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2 Responses to Review: What is the Incarnation?

  1. Andrew says:

    From rec.arts.sf.written:

    ‘If Eowyn and the Witch-King had been pedants like the herb-master of Minas Tirith, the dialogue might have gone more like this:

    “You fool, no living man may harm me.”

    “_Distinguo_, Sir, I am not _vir_ but _femina._ Prepare to die.”

    “Excuse me, your Westron is so imprecise. I did not mean _vir_, I meant _homo_.”

    “Ah, point taken! In that case, permit me to point out that Meriadoc, who is not _homo_ but _dimidiulus,_ a Halfling, has just introduced an Arnorian blade into your knee.” ‘

    I may put this book on my to-read stack, just because I find translation issues fascinating.

    • Ah, I love that quote! 🙂

      I wouldn’t necessarily tag this book for translation; it does a good job explaining the technical terms like physis and hypostasis and so on that were involved in the Christological debates, but that’s more explication than translation.

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