In his introduction to an English translation of Athanasius’ De Incarnatione (On the Incarnation) C.S. Lewis argues that it is necessary to balance one’s reading list with books old and new lest one become trapped in the world-view of day and therefore unaware of its folly. Although Lewis concedes that we should read both old and new books he writes this:

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all of its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books….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. [1]

In other words, new and novel thoughts are exactly that: new and novel. Old thoughts have been mulled over, challenged, and have stood the test of time. So read new books, but make sure to read old books too!


[1] C.S. Lewis, “Introduction”, in Athanasius, On the Incarnation, translated and reprinted by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. pg. 4.