Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Historical Vision of Eusebius of Caesarea

From time to time, I feel like I need to apologize for my interest in Eusebius and the other ecclesiastical historians. I suspect that that is my classics training coming out in a rather unhelpful way because God knows that classicists tend to turn up their noses at these writers. At best, they are mines of information. At worst, they are the worst kind of tendentious historians-inaccurate and self-interested. That is a difficult mindset to shake and, while I dismiss it as entirely unfair, I think that a lot of our problems as Christian historians come from the contortions we try to make in order to appear objective and scholarly to a world view which believes that God has no place in history. Yet, if we believe that God was made man in Jesus Christ at a particular time (c. 4 BC-AD 33)and in a particular place (Judaea), we can't ignore the challenge history has us. If we do, we run the risk of forgetting the Incarnation and all the nasty particularities of being Christian.

So, when I come to Eusebius, I recognize, for all his faults, a historian who is trying to make sense of Christian history. He is, of course, very clear about his agenda. His project is to record church history from the apostles to his own time in such a way as to uphold 'orthodox' faith. As a result, he is concerned with the names of the successors to the apostles, how the Church was formed and governed, those who defended the faith, those who departed from the faith and the persecutions (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (EH), 1,1.). This very clear apologetic intent to Eusebius' history is, of course, precisely what bothers non-Christian scholars. Since he is so clear about his apologetic intent, how could he be objective? How can we trust that he isn't twisting his evidence?

The obvious answer to that is that we can't. Eusebius was, as he is acutely aware, the first Christian to write this kind of history and he preserves an immense amount of material which has not survived in any other way. Of course, we can do studies on the bits that coincide with surviving documents and those efforts, I believe, have shown that he tends to quote accurately. Yet, he is hardly objective.

Mind you, the obvious answer to that charge is to suggest our hypothetical critics please find an example in modern historiography, much less ancient historiography of objectivity. That is, of course, a post-modern dodge, but, like many post-modern dodges, it has some real validity. If anyone reads ancient historians with any degree of attention, we find that even the best of them, (Thucydides, Tacitus) are hardly objective. They may try hard to be fair, but objectivity is simply not even a concern.

Still, what struck me in my most recent re-reading of Eusebius' passage is his second preface (Eusebius, EH 5,3)in which he states:
Other writers of historical works have confined themselves to the written tradition of victories in wars, of triumphs over enemies, of the exploits of generals and the valour of soldiers, men stained with blood and countless murders for the sake of children and country and other possessions; but it is wars most peaceful waged for the very peace of the soul, and men who therein have been valiant for truth rather than for country, and for piety rather than their dear ones, that our record of those who order their lives according to God will inscribe on everlasting monuments: it is the struggles of the athletes of piety and their valour which braved so much, trophies won from demons, and victories against unseen adversaries, and the crowns at the end of all, that it will proclaim for everlasting remembrance.

On one level, this is Eusebius' answer to traditional historiography. He outlines the interests of the historians of his day and clearly places them as inferior to the struggles he sets out in his ecclesiastical history. In doing this, he is in line with the Gospels which proclaim that the most important thing in life is not what the powers and principalities assume: power and war. Rather it is service to God. Here Eusebius is defending implicitly his rather lengthy exposition of the martyrs of Lyons, but he is also setting out principles about what is and is not important in Christian history. The struggles to gain power in this world are not the primary interest for the Christian historian for the simple reason that these struggles involve the illusion that we can have power without God. The Christian historian may have to acknowledge this illusion as a historical force, but he/she cannot assume that his/her subject matter rests in so confining a direction. Rather we must seek out the hand of God in all the odd places as well as the usual places. If Jesus revealed himself in weakness, can we not expect God hand to be found in obscure and seemingly insignificant places sometimes?

I know, of course, my non-Christian readers will shake their heads at me for those comments. Fair enough, I guess. Yet, I ask for the same forbearance that you give your other apologetically minded (or is that politically-minded?) colleagues. I would suggest that Christian historiography deserves a place in the intellectual life of the post-modern West as any other historiography. Questions of truth remain, of course, but a Christian mind-set does not need to be a hindrance in answering those questions. It may even be a help.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Patristic Roundup-Dec. 21-27, 2006

Welcome to the second week of the Patristic Roundup!

I noticed a couple of things this week. First, predictably, mentions of the Fathers were frequent this week, largely because of the drearily predictable, if necessary, blog entries (pro and con) about Christmas. Depending on your point of view, the Fathers are either villains of the piece (co opting nice innocent pagan customs) or heroes (pillaging the Egyptians, as Augustine would say).

Second, I've noticed in the little time that I've been posting this roundup that most of these mentions were drive-bys, so I chose not to include them. It seems that we are still at the stage where it is educated to mention the Fathers, but not to have read them. Still, mentioning them is something.

Yet, my hope with this roundup is that more people will be encouraged to read the Fathers at first hand and see how good theologians the Fathers were.

Patristic Articles:

Al Hsu at The Suburban Christian reports on a talk by Martin Marty on the diversity in the ordering of churches in the early Christian period. Not only do we get a good idea of the talk and the discussion which follows, we also get some interesting commentary on the difference between theologians and church historians. I also liked Al's self-identification as an evangelical mutt. Mind you, so am I.

The Gimmie My Bullets blog offers one of the many discussions of the December 25th date for Christmas. I hadn't realized that Julius Africanus had established the date in the late second century AD. I must track that reference.

The Dyspraxic Fundamentalist on his Patristic Page posts a passage from Cyril of Alexandria on the Incarnation. And just in time for Christmas!

Danny Garland on Irish Catholic and Dangerous posts a quote from Saint Aphrahate on Patristic Typology

William Whedon continues to post Patristic Quotes of the Day on Whedon's Blog.

Mike Aquilina on the Way of the Fathers, quotes a review of his book, The Fathers of the Church, by Craig Meyer which includes an excellent discussion on the importance to get our story out in the face of the challege offered by the Da Vinci Code's version of early Christian history. Mike, then, follows up this post with a brilliant post on Christmas and its importance in the Christian life.

albert m on Christian Book Reviews discusses Jaroslav Pelican's The Christian Tradition Volume 3. which starts in the later patristic era and continues into the mediaeval tradition.

John Lyons reports on the conference on the Reception of the Bible in Late Antiquity held at Concordia University, Montreal in October of this year. Enjoy!

Jim Davila on PaleoJudaica posts some sensible comments by Peter Stanford on the whole Gospel of Judas debacle. . On Christmas Day, he helpfully quoted the earliest extant reflection on the star in Matthew's birth story from Ignatius of Antioch

Dim Bulb at The Divine Lamp features a catena of quotations from St. Justin and St. Irenaeus on Mary from The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries by Father Thomas Livy

Prior Peter at the Daily Bread blog favourably reviews Ramsay MacMullin's book on the 4th century ecumenical councils, Voting About God, as one of the best books of 2006.

Patrick O'Hanigan at The Paragraph Farmer, one of the many Catholic bloggers to comment on Pope Benedict's Christmas message, features the link between Papal and Patristic insight.

Brian Leport comments on James, Paul and the prophet Agabus in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History.

Gentile for Judaism takes on the virgin birth and the patristic argument that it was necessary for Jesus (Yeshua) to be the Messiah.

That is it for this week. If you should encounter an article that I've missed, please pass it along.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Christmas Reflection from Mike Aquilina

I just came across this amazing reflection by Mike Aquilina at The Way of the Fathers. Run, don't walk to that reflection, if you want to be reminded in a particularly meaningful way of why we celebrate Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas, again, to all! And to all, a good night!


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas

Well, Christmas is nigh and I doubt if I'm going to post again between then and now. So, to all my readers, Merry Christmas! I should have a suitable patristics quote, but, really, Scripture trumps the Fathers, so...

Isaiah 9,6-7 (NIV)
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.


Sulpicius Severus, Life of Martin, 1

Here is the second installment of the Life of Martin. In this section, Severus gives us a second introduction to the work. That may strike some readers as odd, but it seems the preface may have been a letter to Desiderius as part of the package including the manuscript. It certainly is written in a epistolary style.
(1)The majority of mortals, vainly dedicated to zeal for worldly glory, seek what they believe will be the eternal memory of their name, if they elucidate the lives of famous men in their writing. (2) In any case, although these things do not bring eternal fruit, they do bring the trifling fruit of the hope they conceived. They preserve their own memory, but to no purpose, since their readers are roused in a great degree to emulate the examples of the great men placed before them. Nevertheless, this concern of theirs in no way pertains to the blessed, eternal life. (3) In what way does the glory of their own writings which will die with the world benefit them? What reward did posterity bring to one who read about Hector fighting and Socrates philosophizing, since it would not only be stupid to imitate them, but madness not to attack them zealously? In truth, those who think that human life depends on present actions give their hopes to fables and their souls to the grave. (4) They believe that they must preserve themselves in the memory of men alone, although it is the duty of people to seek eternal life rather than eternal memory, not by writing or fighting or philosophizing, but by living piously, in a holy manner and religiously. (5) Indeed, that human error which is handed down in literature is so powerful that one would assuredly find many imitators of that useless philosophy or that stupid virtue. (6) Hence, I think I will win the reward for my work, if I write fully about the life of that most blessed man who will certainly become an example to others so that those reading this will surely be aroused to true wisdom, heavenly service and divine virtue. We also make plans for our benefit so that we will not wait for the useless memorials of people, but rather the eternal reward by God. Although we did not live in such a way that we were able to be an example to others, nevertheless, we gave this work so that the person who should be imitated was not concealed. (7) In this way, I shall begin to write about the life of Saint Martin; both what he did before he became bishop and what he did during his episcopacy, even if I was unable to discover everything about him. Those things which he alone knew are not known because he did not seek praise from people, but, as much as he could, he had wished to hide all his virtues. (8) We also omitted many things which we discovered about him because we believed we said enough, if we just noted his superiority. . At the same time, we had to consider our readers so as not to put them off with the mass of details. (9) But I beg those who about to read this book believe what is said and don’t think that I wrote anything unless I researched and proved it. Otherwise, I would have preferred to be silent than to speak lies.


This passage moves away from the self-effacement of the previous passage, but continues to explore the ideas around fame that Severus already alluded to. The contrast between worldly fame and heavenly glory is, of course, a standard one in patristic writers. The reason for that is that they are reacting to the desire of pagan authors for eternal fame which we can see in Thucydides (whose history of the Peloponnesian War (5th century BC) was designed to last forever) for one. Eternal fame belongs, as Severus points out, to the world, so is not a sufficient motivation for doing anything, much less writing.

Severus also nods to the biographical tradition which flourished throughout the Roman period. Biography, of course, emerges as a genre in the course of the Hellenistic Age (c. 330s BC), partly because of the movement to more autocratic political systems and partly because of the greater interest in character engendered by Plato and Aristotle (especially the latter). The genre is relentlessly didactic and moral, even in its pagan form. The intention is serve as a moral example to the presence by highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly in the lives of famous men. The biographies of Plutarch in Greek, and Cornelius Nepos and Suetonius (most of which are lost), are excellent examples of this genre.

Yet, there is something fundamentally different about hagiography (the Christianized version of biography). The didactic tone is retained, clearly, but the values are fundamentally different. There is no longer concern with the 'civic' virtues or the lure of fame, but rather the focus is on the Christian virtues and holy living. The culture clash between Christian and pagan culture can be seen here, especially in Severus' disavowal of worldly values in favour of heavenly ones in his account of Saint Martin.

Yet, despite the bad name that hagiography has received in the last few hundred years, Severus is careful to enunciate his historical principles. He asserts that he has researched his subject and that he has done is level best to make sure that what he has included is based on reliable evidence. A cynical person might say that these protestations are formulaic and perhaps Severus protesteth too much. Yet, we do have to remember that Severus is slightly younger contemporary of Saint Martin, who knew Martin and those who knew Martin intimately. He, certainly, had access to information. That isn't a guarantee for Severus' reliability, but it should cause pause for the cynic.

This is an openly didactic work. Saint Martin is meant to be an example to us of a life of Christian virtue. We'll see how that begins to play out in the next installment in a couple of weeks.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Patristic Roundup- Dec. 6-13

I'm expermenting with a new feature on this blog: a weekly update of who wrote what on a patristic topic. My criterion is that the major part of the article deals with patristics. My aim here is to track what is happening week to week out in blogsophere and see what people are saying about patristics. Perhaps it might even make nominations for future Patristic Carnivals easier, if we know better what is out there.

New Blogs

This week, I've stumbled across the Patristic Quotes of the day provided intermitently by Wheden's blog. Also, in the new (or perhaps, newly discovered) category is The Patristic Page by the Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, who features translations of various passages by patristic authors.

Patristic Articles

Jonathon on Avdat posts some reflections on the Dormition of Mary, sparked by running into the St. Vladimir Press' collection of Orthodox sermons on the topic.

H Kent Craig from Kent's Chroncile, a self-described Gnostic Christian sings the praises of the National Geographic special on the Gospel of Judas. Well, there's always one in a crowd.

Mike Aquilina from Way of the Fathers reports on a revival of Coptic monasticism which, among other things, has given great impetus to the efforts to preserve the Coptic patristic tradition. Mike also recalls the words of the late Pope John Paul II on why we should read the Fathers

D.W Congdon on The Fire and the Rose examines the theology of the Virgin birth through the ages, starting with Ignatius of Antioch.

Molly at Adventures in Mercy has started a series on the Fathers and women. This week, she's posted on Augustine on a Woman's place

Michael Liccione on Sacramentum Vitae denounces theological slogans, most of which have some close patristic parallels.

Ian at Ruminations by the Lake, tries to settle the argument that the Trinity is pagan and only dates from the fourth century by appealing to Ante-Nicine Fathers. In so doing, he provides us with an excellent catena of Ante-Nicene Fathers' comments on the Trinity

Paul Gregory Almes at incarnatus est posts a quotation of Pope Leo I on the incarnation...just in time for Christmas.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Benedict for Babies

My wife likes to tease me about the odd times and places in which I read Church Fathers: Polycarp by the pool (at Palm Springs during March Break one year), John of Damascus among Leibovitchers, or Eusebius while breast feeding. She suggested Origen for oil changes yesterday as I was looking for reading material for my wait at the Mr. Lube near our place (I actually took Eusebius there also). I suspect some satire in this last suggestion.

So, it probably doesn't come as a surprise that I brought a Church Father or two in my bag to the hospital (not, I hasten to add, into the operating room where my baby was delivered). Given the amount of waiting time we had with an attempted induction, lots of tests, a few false alarms and a postponed Caesarian, I was glad to have the reading material.

My choice of books was a little unusual on one level. I found myself gravitating towards monastic works such as Athanasius' Life of Antony and The Rule of St. Benedict. But, really, my book choices do make sense and not only in my mind. There is a small sub-culture out there of families who find inspiration from St. Benedict's Rule, for one, because cenobitic monasteries and families share very similar concerns.

So, when we see St. Benedict announcing that the point of his Rule is
to open a school for God's service, in which we hope nothing harsh or oppressive will be directed. For preserving charity or correcting faults, it may be necessary at times, by reason of justice, to be slightly more severe. Do not fear this and retreat, for the path to salvation is long and the entrance is narrow

As parents, we have to admit that, if we could do half as well, perhaps we will manage to rear our children in the Lord in a positive and attractive manner. The Benedictine monastery is, at the end of the day, interested in nurturing and guiding the members of that community in the faith and virtues necessary to a Christian life. There is a real focus on the formation of the individual monk in Christian virtues, but within a communal setting in which all the members of the community work (wittingly or not) to move everyone else along in virtue. It is, frequently, in communal life that we Christians grow. Amid the messiness, the annoyances and joys of living together, our rough edges can be hewn off and we can start seeing Christ in others.

It is this vision of Christian community which, I think, is what resonates with me. In a sense, what we hope to create as parents is a family in which we can nurture and encourage the development of our children in the faith that we firmly believe will lead to salvation. We hope to present our faith and encourage the growth of Christian in a way that is not oppressive or harsh. To do that, we have to find a manner of living together which we can offer Christian faith as the hope and the support it is.

O course, Benedict offers challenges. How do we balance work, family time and family prayer in our family? Everyone struggles with this, but Benedict doesn't let us off lightly. Our work grounds us in the here and now and is a gift to God. If we would realize that than both our impatience at having to work and our sense that work is more important than anything else can't stand (isn't the one given better than the gift?). Our family time allows us a chance to see Christ in each other, even when we're displeased with each other. Family prayer should bind this all together, but how do we manage that in the face of conflicting schedules and energies? There are no easy answers, but St. Benedict pushes us to finding the balance in our life that we need.

I can't answer any of those questions nor do I think that many Benedictines can in their own lives. Yet, St. Benedict makes an excellent guide for us as we embark on our new adventures as parents.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sulpicius Severus-Life of St. Martin- Preface

Now that the baby excitement has eased down and that the Patristics Carnival has been posted, it is time for me to get on with my promised series on Sulpicius Severus's Life of Saint Martin, Bishop and Confessor (Yes, that is the full title). Adrian Murdoch on Bread and Circuses has saved me the work of a detailed introduction to Severus, so I won't concentrate on this. A few brief words on the actual work, I think, are warranted.

The Life of St. Martin was probably written shortly before St. Martin's death around AD 397. This saint's life was considered, despite Sulpicius Severus' coy denials, a literary masterpiece and exercised a major influence on the Latin hagiograhic tradition. The subject, St. Martin, Bishop of Tours, is portrayed as being a true man of God, whose faith and holiness is demonstrated by his abundant miracles. Born in the 330s, he belonged a military family and was compelled to serve in the Roman army until AD 356. As bishop and monk, St. Martin found himself heavily involved in promoting monasticism in the West, evangelizing the countryside around Tours and involving himself in the ecclesiastical controversies in the West including Arianism (as a protege of St. Hilary of Poitiers) and the Priscillianist controversy.

The first installment of my translation will be the preface to the whole work. My general procedure will be to post the translation and, then, a brief informal commentary on the passage. Please feel free to criticize or comment on either translation or commentary.

Preface: Severus, to his very dear brother, Desiderius

Truly, my like-minded brother, I had decided to conceal in its own pages this little book which I wrote about the life of Saint Martin and to confine it within my domestic walls. Since I am very weak by nature, I was trying to avoid human judgement so that, as is likely, my rather uncouth style should not displease my readers and I should not be judged worthy of everyone’s reproach because I rashly took up material which ought to have been in justice reserved for skilled writers. But, I cannot deny anything you often ask for. For what is there that I would not bestow on you for the sake of your love, even at cost of my disgrace? (2) Nevertheless, I give this book to you because of your promise on the clear understanding that I think it ought not be shown to anyone Yet, I fear that you will serve as a door for it and what was sent out once cannot be called back. (3) If it should happen that you see it is read by other people, you will demand indulgence from its readers so that they should ponder the subject matter rather than the words and bear it calmly, if its defective style should perhaps injure their ears. (4) After all, the Kingdom of God does not depend on eloquence, but on faith. Let them even recall that salvation for the world was not foretold by orators, but by fishermen, since, if oratory had been useful, certainly our Lord could have excelled in it. (5) For, when I first applied my mind to writing, I considered it a sin to conceal the virtues of so great a man, so I decided in my own mind that I should not blush at my grammatical errors. I had never attained great skill in these matters and, even if I had perhaps once tasted these studies, I would have lost all of my skill through long neglect. (6) But, nevertheless, not to linger on so painful a defence, if it seems good to you, let this book be published with the name suppressed. Erase the title on the front as much as you can so that the page may be silent. It is enough to let it speak to the subject matter, not to the author.


To start with, I should note that I haven't had a chance to nail down who the addressee, Desiderius. I'm not even sure we know, but a search of the PLRE (Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire) might turn something up.

I think the noticable thing here is the very commonly used pretence of literary incompetance which characterizes this preface. In itself, this is not an uncommon introduction to a literary work, partly because, even among pagan writers, excessive eloquence was viewed as being slightly suspect. This connects to the distrust we find in philosophy (especially) to the sophists, who were, among other things, rhetoricians whose concern with the manner of speaking was seen as overriding their concern with truth. Plato's animosity to the sophists is only one example of this.

However, Christian writers are even more susceptible to this distrust of literary eloquence. Part of this is a distrust of pagan arts in general, but also the recognition, which Severus alludes to in section 4, that the earliest Christians were not among the literati, nor did they need to be. Many intellectuals even in the 4th century turned up their noses at the writing style of the New Testament (Augustine for one), but the reaction of many Christian writers to this cricismwas to take pride in and imitate their simple and, perhaps, uncouth (meaning non-literary) style. This is not true of all the Fathers, but this disavowal of literary skill remains an important trope in Christian writing in the age of the Fathers.

Of course, Severus is a better writer than he lets on, but his show of modesty is designed to focus attention away from himself and towards the text.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Patristics Carnival-September-November, 2006

Welcome to the first Patristics Carnival!

As usual, my timing for starting a new project is impeccable, what with becoming a new dad amid report card season, but I've done my best to hit the highlights of patristic blogging over the past few months.

I've decided to organize these entries according to the following categories: Introductions to Patristics, Translation, Projects, Applied Patristics, Christian Apocrypha and Patristic News and Article blogs.

Introductions to Patristics

For anyone who has an interest in patristics or even in patristic blogging, the place to start The place I want to start is the same place that many people get started: Mike Aquillina's blog, The Way of the Fathers. Mike's site is a must see for anyone intersted in patristics, partly because his assiduous efforts to post links to others working in the patristics garden and partly because of his own excellent writing. An especially valuable contribution appeared just this month with this Carnival in mind: Meet the Fathers . This cogent post serves as an excellent introduction to why contemporary Christians should read the Fathers.

Translation and the Fathers

Kevin Edgecomb, on his blog, biblicalia, completed his series translating Jerome's Vulgate Prologues, the short introductions to the books of the Bible which Jerome composed in his Vulgate translation. These prologues give us a precious insight into Jerome's mind at the time of this translation and provide us a good insight into the patristic way of reading Scripture. For those of you interested in Biblical Studies as well, these are valuable documents for your consideration!

Rick Brannan, in his ricoblog, continues his ongoing project of translating and commenting on the Didache. So far, he has finished to the chapter on the Eucharist, but there has been a long hiatus between this entry and an anticpated one on Didache 10. Hopefully, we'll see more from Rick on this in the coming months.

Patristic Projects

Father Z, on his blog, What Does Prayer Really Say?, started and completed the Patristics Rosary Project. This project follows the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary and seeks out patristic passages which relate to the mysteries to which this rosary refers. Father Z deals with each subject by citing patristic parallels as explanations of the scriptural passages central to each mystery and, then, includes his own commentary. This is a tremendously learned series, but well worth reading, even for a Protestant such as myself.

As part of a continuing project started in August, Ben Smith, on the team blog, Thoughts on Antiquity, has been reviewing in detail the canonical lists of the books of the Bible. Starting with the introduction, he has discussed the Marcionite canon, the Muratorian canon, the canon of Origen, part one and part two and part one of the Eusebian canon. This very learned series continues, but is a must read for anyone interested in the development of the canon.

General Patristics
This category are for blog entries which are self-contained entries on blogs which may or may not be full-time patristic blogs. I suspect this category should be much larger and more varied because I think most discussions of patristic authors occur in blogs devoted to theology, Biblical Studies or Church History, but this is what I've managed to find.

Patristic Anglican (who uses the wonderful pseudonym, Death Bredon--shades of Dorothy Sayers!)features an excellent blog entry on Patristic Ecclesiology . His excellent summary of how the Fathers do ecclesiology is illuminating and has many, many applications in the ecclesiastical climate these days. Certainly, the two disputing sides in the Anglican Communion could use a few lessons from the Fathers about ecclesiology!

Phil Harland, in his blog, Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, has an excellent blog entry on the canon. In Breaking News: Early Christians had no New Testatment, Phil discusses the development of the canon. It is an excellent, short summary of the development of the New Testament.

I hope that it isn't gauche to include yourself in a Carnival, but I'll take that risk. This blog, hyperekperisou, originated as a fairly eclectic Anglican blog, but, since, October of this year (when I overdosed on discussions about the Kigali meeting of African primates in the Anglican Communion), I decided to devote this blog entirely to patristics. Since then, I've been contributing essays which try to make a direct connection between the Father and the theological problems faced by Christians today. An example of this output is my entry on St. John Chrysostom, Headship and the Culture Wars in which I discuss St. John's ideas about marriage with the ongoing ideological debate about headship which continues to rage today.

Roger Pierce, creator of The Tertullian Project website, has joined the team blog, Thoughts on Antiquity. He has contributed several excellent articles to that blog including an excellent review of the scholarship of R.J. Hoffman, who attempts to reconstruct ancient anti-Christian polemical authors such as Porphyry, Celsus and Julian the Apostate. In his entry, Useful books or peddling hate?, Pierce reviews Hoffman's translations of the fragments and raises real questions about the quality of this approach to these lost opponents to Christianity.

Christian Apocrypha

This last quarter saw the launch of the first blog devoted specifically devoted to Apocrypha. This blog, Apocryphicity, focuses especially on gathering information on and discussing Christian Apocrypha, which, thanks to Da Vinci's Code et cetera, has seen such a revival in the last few years. This is an excellent site to keep track of what is happening in this exciting new field.

Jim Davilla's PaleoJudaica site, although devoted primarily to publishing news and information on Ancient Judaism, has also featured several important discussions of Christian Apocrypha. Indeed, Jim caused a bit of a buzz among patristic bloggers with an entry in which when he published the abstract of Louis Painchaud's paper (given at the University of Ottawa, which called into question the National Geographic translation of the Gospel of Judas.

Patristic News and Articles blogs

One of the important elements of creating a sense of community among bloggers who share a common interest is the emergence of one or more blogs which make an effort to keep abrest of what is happening with other bloggers or simply try to disseminate information on the topic. In the emerging patristic blogsphere, we are very lucky to have Mike Aquillina's The Way of the Fathers blog which fulfills this function from a Catholic perspective.

Another useful resource is Rob Bradshaw's blog which publishes both public domain and recent articles (with permission of the authors) on patristics and the early Church. This is an excellent resource for those interested in following the academic study of patristics.

Well, that is about as much as I have been able to manage this Carnival. As I finish, I'm fully aware of the deficiencies of this first effort; not enough theology, not much Orthodox representation, not enough academic connections. Still, I hope this will help those of us interested in patristics and who blog on it to get to know each other a little. I also hope that this little carnvial will encourage others to try their hand at patristic blogging with all its rewards.

Any volunteers for the next Patristic Carnival in March?


Friday, December 01, 2006

Newborn news

I thought I would let my readers know our first born child has finally (!) arrived. His name is Ian Richard and was born today. Prayers would, of course, be welcome, but mother and baby are doing well.

Needless to say, I may be a little late with the Patristics Carnvial, but I'll try to get it up this week.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Patristics Carnival-Last Call

I'm afraid I didn't manage a regular entry this week, largely because of baby excitement (my wife has been in and out of the hospital for the last week or so) and report card sesason has prevented me from starting to post my series on Sulpicius Severus' Life of Martin. Mind you, Adrian Murdoch at Bread and Circuses has been doing some good work with Sulpicius Severus, so I offer that as an introduction. He deals with Severus himself, a letter of Severus to Paul the Bishop and Severus and Valentinian I

This week, however, I want to make my last call for nominations for the Patristic Carnival. I've had one or two nominations and have two or three in mind myself, but could use further suggestions. Please send on any other nominations to or post a comment here.

Thanks and I still hope, unless my wife is actively having a baby (or just finished), to post the carnival this weekend.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

St. John Chrysostom and Children

I have been intending to write this entry for about a month, since I started my series on St. John Chrysostom and family life. I've held off partly because I thought three John Chrysostom essays in a row might be too much to a good thing and partly because I wanted to write this entry closer to the impending arrival of our first child. Well, impending is about the right word for where we are in my wife's pregancy right now because it looks like my wife will be induced around the middle of the week. So, St. John's comments on raising children seem particularly appropriate as we get into our last minute preparations for the new arrival.

So, why am I taking advice for this monk-bishop? What does he know about children? I think it is because St. John, for all his ascetic ethos, has a knack for saying the right thing, even when it may be an uncomfortable to hear. So, in Homily 21, talking about Ephesians 6,1-3, St. John takes on that uncomfortable task and, as usual, challenges and encourages his listeners to take the formation of our children as Christians more seriously.

The text, of course, is familiar:
Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right "Honour your father and your mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise) "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the the Lord
St. John's reaction to this passage is give instruction in how to raise an obedient child who seeks out a virtuous life. Unsurprisingly, John calls his listeners to make sure that they cultivate this life in their children by practicing it themselves.

He starts with stressing the importance of reading Scripture to our children in forming a child's character. He dismisses the gibe that reading so much Scripture would make one's children into monks or, perhaps, as we might say it, make our children "so heavenly minded that he is no earthly use'. John dismisses this by saying that he isn't interested in creating monks, but Christians. Whether the diversions and distractions of fourth century Constantinople or twenty-first century North America, it is not doubt that our children face a bewildering set of choices, some of which are more superficially attractive than perhaps a Christian life. So we need to find ways to inspire our children. For Christians, of course, Scripture should be the place to start because it helps us define what is virtuous behavior, but, more importantly, it gives us good examples of the faithful and virtuous life for our children; first of all in Jesus, then in the faithful men and women of the past. As the late Rich Mullins wrote in A Boy like Me/ A Man like You:
And did they tell You stories 'bout the saints of old?
Stories about their faith?
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold
Stories like that make a man walk straight
Our children will hear so many stories in their lifetimes, why not start with our own Christian ones?

John expects us to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. We can't just tell our children to be virtuous or even just read Bible stories. None of these things will influence our children to be Christian if they don't see it done. In fact, it is pretty much guaranteed to turn them off religion in general and Christianity in particular. One of the most sobering thing that I've heard as a prospective father is that one of the keys to having god-fearing children is a god-fearing father. I don't mean that in the sense that we have to strike terror into the hearts of our children by imposing some kind of bogeyman image of God. God-fearing in this context is knowing our place in the universe--that God is God, our Creator and our Redeemer and we are well-loved sinners learning to be saints. As St. John says at the end of his sermon,
Therefore, let us be concerned for our wives and children, and for ourselves as well, and as we educate both ourselves and them, let us beg God to help us in our task. If He sees that we care about this, He will help us; but if we are unconcerned, He will not give us His hand

Yet, a final caveat is needed here. St. John here is talking about how we form virtue in our children and, because of that, he is focusing on what we can do. Yet, as much as virtue and the formation of virtue is important, fatherhood isn't about setting out a set of rules by which our children had better live--a kind of 'my way or the highway' mode of parenting. Rules without an active sense of grace will create rebellion and disdain for one's parents and all authority. As St. John himself notes earlier in this sermon, we don't want our children to be obedient or virtuous out of fear, but out of genuine love of God. We--myself, my wife and my son--will screw up and it is just as important a test of our faith to see how we deal with that. Will I be open to giving and (which is almost harder) receiving forgiveness for the wrong things I will do as a father and husband? Our failures often give us as much, if not more, chance to strengthen our faith and that of those around us as our victorious displays of virtue. I pray for God's hand both in forming in virtue and in learning how to show God's grace to those in my life. With those prayers, I'll muddle along the steep learning curve of being a father. Perhaps you, my readers, will add a few prayers for my wife and me this week as we enter this great adventure called parenthood.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

St. Martin and the Clothing of the Pauper

Yesterday was the patronal festival for the Anglican parish I attend here in Toronto, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Well, for that matter, it is also the patronal festival for another former parish I attended just over ten years ago in my home town. So, you can say that I feel a real link to this saint, so much so that I've been working on translating Sulpicius Severus' Life of St. Martin for several years as a kind of labour of love for my present parish. For all those reasons, I decided I would preview my translation with what is, certainly, the best known incident of Martin's life: the clothing of the pauper at the gates of Amiens.

As background, let me note that St. Martin was a military saint, of a sort, in that, despite his clear desire to become a monk, he was forced by his pagan, ex-military father to join the army. In the army, Martin tried to live as faithful a life as possible; avoiding the vices of the military life and devoting himself to good works. It was that devotion to good works which brought about the story which follows. So, without more ado, here is the story of St. Martin and the clothing of the pauper.

At that time, when he was used to having nothing except his arms and a simple military uniform, in the middle of the winter which shivered more bitterly cruelly than usual to such an extent that force of the cold killed very many, Martin met a naked pauper in the gate of the city of Amiens, whom all would pass by, although the wretch begged them to take pity on him. Martin, who was full of God, understood that, since others showed no pity, the pauper was reserved for him. Nevertheless, what could he do? He had nothing but his military cloak which he was wearing because he had already used up the rest of his clothing in similar work. Therefore, seizing the sword with which he was armed, he divided the cloak in the middle and he gave part of it to the pauper and he put on the rest. Meanwhile, some of those standing around laughed because, having cut up his clothing, he seemed disfigured. However, some who had a more sane mind, groaned because they had not done something similar, especially because they had more and could clothe the pauper without making themselves naked.

On the following night, when Martin went to sleep, he saw Christ clothed in the part of Martin’s own military cloak which he made for the pauper. He was ordered to look very carefully at the Lord and to recognize the clothing which he had given. Then he heard Jesus saying with a clear voice to the multitude of angels standing around: “Martin, until now a catechumen, made this clothing for me”. The Lord, truly mindful of his own words, who had proclaimed that as long as you did this for the one of the least of them, you did this for me (Matthew 25,40) , acknowledged that He himself had been clothed in the person of the pauper. In order to confirm the evidence of such a great work, he thought it worthwhile to show himself in the clothing which the pauper received. In this vision, that very blessed man was raised up not in human glory, but recognizing the goodness of God in his own work, when he was 22 years old, ran to be baptized. Nevertheless, he did not renounce military service, but was won over by the prayers of his own tribune whom he retained as a friend and tentmate. Because the tribune promised that, after he had completed his tribunate, he would renounce the world with him, Martin was held back by this expectation for almost two years after he had pursued his baptism and served in the army, although only in name.

So, there it is. Let me know what you think either about the story or the translation. This is the first translation I've published online, so I'm a little self-conscious.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Modest Proposal- The Patristic Carnival

Over the last few weeks, I've been rolling around my head the idea of starting a patristics carnival. For those uninitiated in subject-based carnivals, a carnival publishes what is considered the best blog entries in a subject area over a specific time period. The host of the carnival seeks out nominations for best blog posts on the subject, chooses which entries to post, groups them into categories and posts them on their blogs with short summaries.

For those of you who've been around for a while, there are plenty of carnivals out there. In fact, the Biblical Studies Carnival allows for Patristic entries. However, what I'm suggesting is a specifically Patristic Carnival to allow those of us who do blog regularly on the Fathers to see what each other are doing and to network more easily. It is, I think, an important piece to connect up those of us working the Patristics garden in blogosphere.

So, what I propose is patterned after the Biblical Studies Carnival with some modifications:

A. Eligibility
Any blog entry dealing with an aspect of Patristics included, but not limited
to textual studies of a patristic writer, translations of the patristic
writer, historical research on the patristic period, reflections on the
connections of the Church Fathers to today, influence of patristic authors in
theological writing (I'm sure there are more categories possible, so, the
rule is submit or ask and we'll figure it out as we go.)The final
determination of the eligibility of a post must rest with the host (I propose
to do the hosting first)
Amendment- November 12th add discussion of Christian Apocrypha

B. Time Frame:
Writings within the the last three months (so, September 1st-
December 1st in our case)

C. Hosting:
I'm proposing that I host the first installment of this partly because I came up with the idea and partly because a lot of bugs may need working out. I hope that later version will be hosted by other patristic-bloggers.

D: Procedure:
Send me the nominations for the Patristics Carnival at by November 30th and I'll hopefully have them edited and up by Sunday, December 3rd (if the birth of our new baby doesn't intervene).

Now, this is merely the draft of a proposal, so please send me ideas to tighten this up, if you see problems. Meanwhile, let the nominations come! I'm open for business.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

R. R. Reno, Old Narnians and the Patristic Project

A few weeks back, Mike Aquilina alerted his readers to Prof. Reno's article in the Catholic journal, First Things. I finally got my hands on the article (thanks to my wife who picked it up for me, bless her heart). Of course, I enjoyed it. How could anyone currently labouring the patristic garden not enjoy an article which, as Mike puts it, makes patristics sound cool and post-modern. Why, those of us who are patristic blogging are even on the cutting edge of this trend because we are studying and, in many cases, trying to popularize the Fathers!

Prof. Reno characterizes the dilemma of faithful Christians in this post-Christan era as a people in disarray. We have fragments of Christianity left, but we really don't know how to connect the pieces in a way that makes sense. Like the Old Narnians who rally behind Prince Caspian, in C.S. Lewis' volume of the same name (soon to be a movie as rumour has it), it is not until the magic horn is sounded and the past kings (or here, past Fathers) are called back, that a more cohesive response is possible. In Lewis, the arrival of Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy not only raises the morale of the embattled Old Narnian army, but it signals the revival of the sleeping power of Old Narnia (embodied in the dryads and the trees). Further, Peter sets the army, demoralized by many defeats, back into order and issues the challenge which leads to the final confrontation with the New Narnians, the Telmarines. The study of the Fathers, Prof. Reno seems to say, is the result of the sounding the magic horn which will reconnect us with the wealth of the past. It is that past which can allow us to re-focus ourselves on what is important in our Christian witness in the post-Christian world.

I think it is important here to note that we aren't returning to the Fathers for mere antiquarian interest or because the patina of age gives a theologian a particular authority. That would lead to the same kind of sterile and theoretical study of the Fathers which caused it to be rightfully dismissed so summarily around the middle of the last century. Yet, the Fathers have something to say to us because, unlike most of Christian history in the West, the Fathers (especially the earlier Fathers) faced a world which, to a large extent, did not understand or want to understand what Christianity was about. They also faced a fragmented Christianity in need of definition. Their problems are not our problems, since we have the added complication that many people believe they've tried Christianity and it didn't work. But, their problems were similar to ours: how do we relate to a non-Christian culture and how do we read the Bible in a way that allows us to witness truthfully to that culture?

It is good news to hear that the study of the Fathers has become more popular in academic theology because this gives us a chance to re-orient ourselves to face the challenge of a new post-Christian world. More importantly, as Prof. Reno notes, it will allow us to re-ignite our Christian imagination which has seen some bad decades at the hands of the hyper-literalism practiced by both conservative and liberal scholars. The patristic imagination was fired by Scripture in a way that we're only just now starting to experience. Reading the Fathers not only provides us with information to write the history of the Early Church, or theological tidbits to quote or catenae of Biblical exposition, but their integration of thought and prayer should point us towards a different way of doing theology: where intellectual, mystical and imaginative approaches are no longer seen as opposites, but as compliments. Theology, the Fathers teach us, is not the found only in the scholarly ivory tower, but, also, in the lives of individual believers.

What the Fathers contribute is a reference point to ways of reading Scripture which work both theoretically and practically. That way, while being immersed in Scripture like the Fathers, we won't lose our way, pulled this way or that by the treacherous currents of our unguided imaginations. The rule of faith, like the Gulf Stream, will pull us along as we read Scripture to where we all seek: the Kingdom of God.

The horn has been sounded and we New Narnians have met the Fathers as they return from the distant past, not just as a common reference point to start our theological journey, but as guides on the way ahead.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Twenty Theological Books Which Have Influenced Me

I decided to follow the lead of Ben Myers over at Faith and Theology and publish my top twenty theological books which have shaped me. I should note that, as befits a theological amateur, I've included some more popular works for the simple reason that they have been influential in the way I think about and, more importantly, practice my faith. So, here we are, in no particular order (ranking was simply beyond me tonight), but with a little commentary. I've followed Ben's rule of citing only one work per author.

St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions
I first read the confessions as I was becoming a Christian, which is
a bracing way to convert.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons, On the Detection and Refutation of the Knowledge Falsely So-Called
This was my entry into patristics way back in my fourth year BA,
when I was working on a paper dealing with the canon and the
Gnostics. I just keep coming on back to Irenaeus and the Gnostic

Stanley Hauerwas, Peaceable Kingdom
One of the two major works which convinced me to be a Christian
pacifist. Besides, Hauerwas is a great read!

John Howard Yoder, Politics of Jesus
The other Christian pacifist work which has profoundly influenced
my thinking on the subject.

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue
I ran into MacIntyre's critique of modernity years before I read him
firsthand. If I had read him earlier, perhaps my major field paper
(in Classics) wouldn't have been such a debacle.

William Cavenaugh, Torture and Eucharist
Cavenaugh really highlighted to me the potential for challenging the
powers of this world with his contention that the Eucharist was a
radical weapon against political dictators looking to divide and
rule their subjects.

Chistopher Hall, Reading Scripture With the Church

I ran into this book in a large book chain of all places and bought
it on a whim. The result was I got excited about the Fathers and
wanted to start studying them.

N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God
I had to include Bishop Wright. Nobody can eviscerate anyone quite
so elegantly or explain Scripture so clearly.

Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History
What kind of church historian would I be without a bow to Eusebius?

Ephraim Radner, The End of the Church. A Pneumatology of Christian Division in the West
Radner is largely responsible for keeping me in the Anglican Church
because of his willingness to criticize the church as it is now
and his unwillingness to go into schism. Don't expect easy answers
with Radner, or simple sentences.

Brother Lawrence
Not a theological work per se, but this 17th century monk taught me
as much as I know about seeking the presence of God in the present.
I'm not sure I'm good at it, but I'm trying.

Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
Also not a theological work per se, but Nouwen has been important in
working out other areas of my life, so he deserves his place in the

C.S. Lewis, Narnia Chronicles (Okay, I'm cheating)
I keep coming back to the Narnia Chronicles when I'm sick or just
want a reminder of a simple, but deep faith. Besides, I like lions.

Way of the Pilgrim
I first ran into the Way of the Pilgrim through J.D. Salinger's
Franny and Zooey. Reading him first hand didn't send me into my room
mumbling the Jesus Prayer, but it did teach me about humility and
the importance of prayer.

Kathleen Norris, Cloister Walk
I read and re-read Kathleen Norris when I'm having an anxious night.
She simply relaxes me with her sane, if not particularly rigourously
theological, insights on faith.

George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine
Can we say the 'grammar of theology' folks? Of course, we can. For
that metaphor alone, Lindback deserves a place in this list.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
The contrast between cheap and costly grace is what caught my
attention with Bonhoeffer.

Tertullian, de spectaculis
Perhaps this is an odd choice within the oeuvre of Tertullian, but
the de spectaculis first gave me the idea of trying to connect a
Father with what is happening now. What does Hollywood have to do
with Jersusalem?

Justin Martyr, Apologies
These intrigue me because of their form as forensic speeches in
defence of Christianity. They are a gold mine for anyone interested
in how being a Christian changes our relationship with the power-
brokers of this world.

Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb
A theological treatise disguised as a cooking book, The Supper of the
Lamb teaches about the sacramentality of everyday life. Besides, I
quoted it a couple of weeks ago when I decided to change course into
patristic blogging.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

St. John Chrysostom, Mutuality and Marital Fidelity

It seems that I've started a series on John Chrysostom and family life without fully realizing it. Well, okay, I had a suspicion last week because I realized that I wanted to write about more on John's view of the family and of marriage than I had room for in a single blog entry (unless I would start a blog tome).

What I want to look at is John's Homily 19 in which he discusses a passage from 1 Corinthians 7
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
From this starting point, John goes on to set out a sexual ethic, based on Paul's teaching in his letters which I really think we would be well to listen to in this age of ethical confusion.

What is striking about John's discussion about marital relations is the degree to which John emphasizes that one's control of our body and sexuality is no longer our own (if it ever was) when we are married. This is, of course, a sore point for many feminists who react instinctively to any suggestion that any man can tell a woman what to do with her body. And, in a sense, John fuels that reaction because he states very explicitly that the wife has not control over the body and is the slave of her husband. That certainly isn't going to play well among feminists.

Yet, if we focus only on that point, we've lost entirely John's point almost entirely. The very passage which affirms that the wife is the slave to the husband in regard to the body also makes it clear that she is his ruler. He elaborates his position by commenting that Paul speaks of conjugal rights in the terms of a mutual debt. That is, both husband's and the wife's body are not their own anymore. John's point is that, since both husband and wife no longer are sole masters over their bodies, adultery, for one thing, should be considered almost like theft:
As for you, husband, if a prostitute tries to seduce you, tell her "My body is not my own, but my wife's". And let the wife say the same to any man who is undermining her fidelity: "My body is not my own, but my husbands"
The obligation to remain faithful in body and (I think we can understand) soul is binding on male and female.

What is interesting here is that John openly admits that he is preaching an egalitarian idea here about the bodies of married people (and also, interestingly, about the money of married people). You can sense a bit of discomfort here, I think, because John recognizes that this could be taken to fly in the face of the headship image he promotes elsewhere. Yet, he closes off the possibility of the double standard enshrined in Roman divorce laws, at any rate in which a husband could divorce a wife for infidelity, but a woman generally couldn't do so on her own power.

I think John here is emphasizing here something that we in this enlightened modern age have forgotten. He emphasizes that marriage isn't a contract between autonomous individuals, but a giving of each other in service to each other in God. Sexual fidelity, I think, is only a symbol of this kind of mutual self-giving which is so essential in a marriage. In our individualism and the selfishness that comes from that, we, as a society, have tended to only ask what is in the relationship for me, me, ME! What John points out is that we are called to serve each other in marriage. If we only got that point clear, just among Christians even, I'm sure our divorce rate would plummet. From my mouth to God's ear.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

St. John Chrysostom: Headship and the Culture Wars

I've been on a bit of a John Chrysostom kick recently, since I have, finally, got around to reading a couple collections of John's sermons from St. Vladimir Press' Popular Patristics series(an indispensable source of patristic writers for the patristic amateur). I really like St. John. John is an easy Father to get into because, ultimately, he is grounded in the nitty-gritty of Christian life and, while he clearly understands theology, he has a knack for relating it back to everyday life in a way that makes it clear that he knows where the rubber hits the road. That is, of course, because John is primarily a sermon writer, not a philosophical theologian, but it is a valuable gift and one that he liberally bestowed on the Church of his day and for the generations following.

So, yesterday, when I was contemplating this entry, I decided I would go back and have a second look at the Marriage and Family Life collection I had been reading until last week. In particular, I began to re-read his Homily 20 on Ephesians 5,22-3.

I have to admit I find that particular passage of Ephesians a bit difficult. Not so much because I have a particular problem with what Paul is actually saying, but, really, because of the memory of what people think Paul is actually saying. My experience, of course, is formed by my early intellectual formation at university during the Culture Wars of the 1980s and 90s. So my squeamishness on the subject comes from my discomfort with the polarization of the debate over the how the marital relationship should work.

On one side, we heard feminist accusations that the Bible promoted patriarchy and submission of women to men which had to be broken, if we expected to live in a free and democratic society amid gender equality and respect. Ephesians 5:22-3, in particular, was a passage feminists love to hate because Paul thought wives should be subject to their husbands and, after all, what call did any man have to demand that? Besides, they would argue, how many women were kept oppressed and abused because religious authorities connived in this abuse of women by citing this passage to support the unequivocal right of the man to rule in the household? Surely, we just have to accept that Paul was a misogynist and dismiss his talk of submission as mere patriarchal tripe.

On the other side, we heard the voice of the religious right which insisted that the headship of men over women meant that all the decisions of the Christian home should be made by the man. Women could take care of the babies, but shouldn't seek much more than that because they simply weren't cut out for it. Clearly, the headship of men was established by God because, clearly, men were best able to deal with the outside world. Women were too emotional and fragile to function outside the home, so they should be left where their nurturing talents were best employed: the Christian home. The ideal here was the 1950s middle class dream in which the father brings home the bacon and mother cooks it up for father and the kids.

I do recognize that both of these positions are caricatures. The reality of the visions of both sides of the Culture Wars was much more nuanced and varied that I present here. Yet, in the ideologically over-heated debates of that period (which continue until today) the subtleties and the nuances of each position were usually ignored and the broad lines of the debate in the media accentuated these caricatured positions (possibly because a clash of black and white ideas gives better ratings).

This line of thought brought me back to John's homily. In this homily, John can hardly be accused of being pro-feminist. Like most of the Fathers, he is not only unsympathetic with the idea of gender equality, but he is incredulous that anyone would propose it. He plainly thinks someone should take leadership in the family and that person should be the father. So, in that sense, he strongly favours the headship model of Christian marriage. On his side, of course, is that his position is strongly supported by Scripture. Time and again, in Ephesians and in other letters, Scripture makes the headship of the husband the norm in the Christian home. As John himself points out, Scripture even goes as far as making this marital headship the metaphor to describe Jesus' relationship with the Church as a whole. If this headship model wasn't intended to be binding on Christians, how could Scripture use such a metaphor for the whole Church?

I admit this is the point where I start getting uncomfortable. In the Culture Wars, if I was forced to align myself (my favoured position being sitting firmly on the fence), I would have aligned myself with the feminist view. I have few problems with seeing women work outside the home, although I worry when one or both parents are engrossed in their careers to the neglect of their children. I think very well of my wife's intelligence and ability to contribute to the world outside the home. All too often I hear the term headship and I start squirming because it all sounds too authoritarian and uncomfortable to me.

Yet John points the way out of this modern false dichotomy. Yes, he affirms that wives should be subject and obedience to their husbands. He makes it very clear that wives should show respect to their husbands, even if their husbands aren't very loving. Yet he also makes it clear that the obedience of the wife should not be the fearful obedience of a slave, but rather the response to the loving care of the husband. Just as Christ loves the Church and does everything to take care of it, so the human husband should do for his wife and family. That means a willingness to take the actions of love whenever they arise, even if one's wife or child aren't being particularly obedient or respectful. For John, the head of the household wasn't the authoritarian Roman pater familias with the power of life and death over his family and the willingness to use it, but the self-sacrificial Christ, who loves the Church into redemption. The true mark of the head of the family is self-sacrificial love, not naked power enforcing a fearful submission.

The trick, of course, is the application of this practice in my life. How do I, as a husband, balance the leadership which God expects of me with the loving self-sacrifice which is integral to the husband's role in a Christian marriage? I can't say I have all the answers or that the answers that I do have are the right ones. What I like about John, though, is that he points the way to a Christian practice of marriage which avoids the extremes of the modern Culture Wars, but points to an ideal which recognizes human frailty and calls on us to transcend those faults by applying the balm of love and prayer. I can't think of a better way to proceed.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Call for Patristic Blogs

As part of my effort to remake hyperekperisou, I thought it might be interesting to compile a list of patristic blogs. I have a short list of blogs in which tend to specialize in patristics, but I'd be interested in those I'm missing as well as one which discuss patristics occasonally. Also ,any ideas for the patristics links would be helpfu. I intend to add more, but those were the basics I wanted to start with. Either post your suggetions to the comments to this entry or e-mail them to me.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Enough with the schism already! A new direction?

After a little Sunday night reflection on my last post, I do wonder if it is time to back away from specifically Anglican issues for now. God knows that I have enough venues to discuss those issues and, as I recall my first post, I seem to have promised that this blog wasn't going to be reduced to merely another Anglican conservative spouting off. I don't want this blog only or even principally to be known as an Anglican blog. So, it seems time for a change in direction.

The direction I think I want to head for is what, for the want of a better term, could be called applied patristics. I've been experimenting with this idea since June (see particularly my What does Hollywood have to do with Jerusalem, but I'm starting to wonder if this would be a better and healthier contribution to blogosphere in general.

In making this change in direction, I note that I'm going out on a limb. I have no formal patristics training, although I have a fair bit of Classics training. I am a rank amateur in patristics, but, as Robert Farrar Capon notes in The Supper of the Lamb, the world needs more amateurs. As Capon opines "the amateur--the lover, the man who thinks heedlessness a sin and boredom a heresy--is just the man you need. More than that, whether you think you need him or not, he is a man who is bound, by his love, to speak." So, let me think this week and, then, let me speak in due course.

Prayers for inspiration are always welcome.


Further Thoughts on Schism

I've been thinking about some discussion I've been having about schism; one on Orthodox Episcopal Board and below one in the Kigali thread. I've rightly been taken to task about my arguments about schism, largely because they can be misunderstood as meaning that there is no right for anyone to leave a heretical church. So, I need to clarify my argument.

I think we do have to understand first what we mean by schism and how that applies to the current conditions in the Anglican Communion. So, what is schism? Alister MacGrath (Christian Theology. An Introduction, p.502)) defines it very simply as a deliberate break with the unity of the church and notes it condemnation by Sts Cyprian and Augustine, among others. That seems clear enough.

The problem, of course, is just what constitutes a deliberate break with the unity of the church and how to define that unity. Dave Williams in the Kigali conversation rightly pointed out that, in our current multi-denominational universe, schism doesn't make too much sense. What unity are we talking about? Dave is right, of course, although I note that the current state of church division (fragmentation?) while it has been normalized, these schisms can hardly bee seen as a good thing. Variety of worship and theology is good, certainly, but the lack of charity and lack of concern with underlying unity which produced the denominational divisions in the first place was sinful. We can talk about who is to blame for this or that schism, of course, but I suspect we'll find that the sin is distributed fairly equally among the participants. Yet, schism, like any factionalism in the church, is the result of human willfulness and sin.

Yet, I hasten to add, we live in a mixed church- partly sinful and partly saintly-which means we have to confront the problem of disunity in the church. Here the question is what is the boundary point between staying in unity with the church and stepping outside of it. Here, I submit that a decision to enunciate or, worse, act upon a position not accepted by the church (i.e. before the rest of the church is convinced of the rightness of a position), this is already a schismatic act. It is a stepping out of the church (whether we are speaking of the universal church or a particular denomination). In the case of merely enunciating such a position, we can and should employ persuasion to draw the person back to unity. Yet, a stubborn refusal to listen to such admonishment or deliberate action in line with this position is harder to reconcile. At the end of the process, an acceptance of this schism implied in the initial action may prove necessary.

Of course, this whole argument is made in the context of the current situation of the Anglican Communion. I would agree with conservative arguments that General Convention 2003 and the decision of the Diocese of New Westminster to sanction same-sex blessing were schismatic actions. This means that what we have to decide as conservatives is what to do about this schism. Some conservatives have argued that we've done all the admonishing needed and we should just let the schism happen and harden. That is a compelling position, but one that I disagree with.

My own decision to stay with AC of Canada over the past years is based on the belief that I have to earn my way out. That is, I have to continue to admonish the liberal position of my church where I am until I believe that the schismatic impulse has hardened to the point that there is a refusal to listen. I very simply don't think we've reached that point in the AC of Canada. In fact, I would argue that the events of the last few years with the Windsor process has given me more hope that AC of Canada can be salvaged. This is why I don't think this is the time to leave because, by leaving, I believe I would be simply enabling the liberal element in the church in their error by enervating the conservative opposition. We can see the results of this in General Convention 2006 because the conservatives were simply too weakened by the exodus of conservatives after 2003 to make a real fight to support the Windsor process. The result is deepening schism in TEC.

I am a stubborn man, I have to say, so I may well be holding on longer than I need to. Yet, this is what I see out there and holding on is what I believe I'm called to do.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Judas may be evil after all? Who knew?

I ran into this news on Phil Harland's blog, Religions of the Ancient World and couldn't stop laughing. After all the hype and media splash around the Gospel of Judas in the spring, it turns out the National Geographic version of this gospel may have been badly mistranslated. Louis Painchaud, a professor at Laval University, has argued in a recent paper (abstract posted by Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica). Painchaud's main point is "A close reading of the Gospel of Judas reveals a totally different picture. Judas is guilty of sacrificing the man who wore Jesus, he is a demon, misled by his star, and he will never make it to the place reserved for the Holy Generation." Painchaud attributes the mistranslation to importing the testimony of Irenaeus and Epiphanius into the document, not reading it in its own right.

Of course, we need to be cautious here. This is merely a counter claim and needs to be verified by other Coptic scholars. Also, it really only addresses whether Judas is meant to be a postiive or negative figure in the Gospel. It says little about any of the theology enunciated by the 'Jesus' in it. Still, it is an interesting development.

I think I'm with Phil Harland on this. I wish I knew Coptic too!


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Kigali, Covenant and Communion

I can't say that I'm rushing in where angels fear to tread for the simple reason that I'm hardly rushing in (I think the angels, if they have any sense, still fear to tread where I'm going). The Kigali Communique has been issued for over a week now and I've been spending part of this week twisting my head around it, both in the light of the ecclesial position that the Anglican Communion and in the light of my own hopes and fears about the future of that Communion. The following are some observations.

First, most obviously, there has been plenty of heat and very little light in the response in Anglican blogosphere. Very simple, conservatives are dancing in the virtual streets. Liberals are in a rage at the perceived impertinence of the communique. There are plenty of charges of skullduggery, dishonesty and conspiracy which have been answered by the theological equivalent of 'so's your mother!'. Even the Chapman memo from Jan. 2002 has experienced a glorious (sic!) resurrection as evidence of this conservative plot which has come to fruition at Kigali.

Now, it sounds like I'm dismissive of this whole debate. I'm not. Yet, we have to always keep in mind that both sides are feeling hurt and angry, so sometimes fall into mere polemics, instead of meaningful analysis and discussion. This is natural, but it is, I would point out, fatal, if we have any chance to salvage anything out of this ecclesial mess that TEC is in and which threatens the AC of Canada.

Second, I was actually mildly comforted by Kigali, largely because the Global South primates hadn't gone as far as I feared they might. I honestly thought there was a real possibility that they would simply declare TEC apostate (they kind of did this) and declared a new province in the US on their own. This second point would have finished any attempt to avoid schism and scuttled the AbC's Covenant proposals before they even got off the ground. That would have been tragic because I really do think that these proposals are perhaps the only chance we have to avoiding a scenario where the whole Communion will fly apart in the same way that TEC is well in the process of doing so. Now, I grant you that the Global South primates have not renounced the option of creating that new province, but merely postponed it to the indefinite future. That gives us a breathing space, albeit a short one.

Okay, this comfort that I feel about Kigali is rather a cold one. It is the choice between complete destruction now and impending destruction later. Still, nothing irrevocable has been done yet by the Global South. That is good.

Lastly, even granting that the Global South primates haven't gone as far as I feared, I'm still concerned. I'm concerned because even the threat to set up a new province is deeply problematic. For one thing, the Windsor Report made it clear that this kind of extra-provincial interference is really not on, however understandable it is, given the situation in the TEC. All too often, conservatives forget that Windsor spoke against this kind of interference, even if it concedes that those who have indulged in this kind of oversight have done it from the good motive of giving pastoral support to parishes which cannot accept GC 2003 or their bishop's support for the ordination of Gene Robinson or which face sanctions for their position. Yet, these extra-provincial interventions merely add to the confusion in the American church.

Further, these interventions are deeply problematic as far as ecclesiology goes. If we are a tradition which claims catholicity, then we should be extremely cautious about allowing actions which encourage schism. We are a tradition which, in the words of priest that my wife knew, rejects splitting as a means of theological discourse. I fully grant that TEC (and to a lesser extent, AC of Canada) have already broken into schism with the rest of the Communion because of their actions in 2003/4 and their failure to admit their mistake since. Yet, I don't think compounding the damage helps which is precisely what extra-provincial intervention is doing.

What I mean by that comment is that one of the unintended effects of this kind of intervention is that it saps the strength of the conservative cause within TEC and the AC of Canada. That is, by siphoning off conservatives to alternative Anglican churches, it makes the task of pulling an erring church more difficult for those who decide to stay and fight. Quite legitimately, liberals can disregard conservative positions because they are not, all too often, present in sufficient numbers to make their case. So, what conservatives fear the most, a drift to the theological left, is precisely what must happen because there is no countervailing force to prevent it.

A commentator in the last week or so commented that what Archbishop Williams needs is a moderate conservative voice in TEC (and, again, by implication, in the AC of Canada)which can make itself heard and pressure the rest of the church to greater compliance with Windsor. Extra-territorial intervention is putting that at jeopardy because it siphons off conservatives. Besides, it polarizes politics because it means that liberals simply will come to trust conservative less and less as they increasingly leave and get embroiled in nasty court battles over property (don't get me started on that point either!). Yet, there is hope. There are voices out there who are moderate and conservative (Ephraim Radner, Philip Turner to name two). I hope and pray that more will emerge in the next few months of this breathing space that Kigali gave us.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Exile and Our Return

I was thinking about what to write early this morning and really wasn't getting any ideas. Nothing patristic was jumping to my head. While there is lots of activity in Anglican blogsophere with the reaction to the Global South's meeting this week exploding into the ether, I have made a rule not to make pronouncements on such contentinous topics until I've read news from less impassioned sources (which I haven't done) and until I have time to think, pray and reflect. So, I was a little stumped.

Then, I sat down this morning and read a little bit from Kathleen Norris' Cloister Walk and an idea came to my head. Exile. Why not exile?

I have to admit that I'm particularly susceptible to writing about the experience of exile. Even before I became Christian, I found the Biblical stories which featured exile particularly enticing. I wrote a story in late high school on the experience of the Babylonian exile; not as one whose faith held, but as one who was really not sure about anything (a reflection of my own spiritual state at the time). A few years later, I wrote a Tower of Babel re-write as a goodbye gift for a somewhat estranged friend. In both stories, the experience of exile was very strong, but there really was not prospect that that exile would ever end. What interested me at that time was an experience of forsakenness, a time when faith seems to fail, but life needs to keep going.

In many ways, I think that was an expression of where I was mentally, emotionally and spiritually. At the time, I really couldn't think how a life with God looked, but, in many ways, I felt I was missing something; that I was in exile from something I couldn't quite identify. At the same time as these stories, I was writing essay after essay in university on religious topics and talking to anyone who'd listen about faith and my lack thereof. The irony, of course, is that, in retrospect, I recognize that a friend, who commented gently one night that she thought I had rather more faith than I gave myself credit for, was probably exactly right. How can someone experience feelings of exile, if he didn't have an idea of missing what he is exiled from? In that sense, those feelings of exile were the first stirrings of the grace that would set me on the road of return to God and my home with him.

It took several years, but I, finally, realized that exile, at least in the Christian sense, always contains the promise of return. At least, it does in the Bible. The people of Israel experienced their flight from Egypt and their wanderings in the desert as an exile from the good things of Egypt, but found, perhaps to their surprise, that the land promised to them by God was a better home to return to. Those sent out on the Babylonian exile, to their surprise, found themselves able to return after seventy years. Then, there is us, called to be God's people in this alien world, but knowing that there is a home to which we are returning. We aren't there yet, but I know we're on that road.

It wasn't until I realized that the road to my return from exile was open and had always open that I realized that I had been the one who was wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. It wasn't until I openned myself to God's grace and accepted his working to renovate my life that I started down that road of return. In my heart, I am no different that those Israelites who, wandering in the desert, get distracted by every which thing and have to be prodded back to the road which promised their return. Yet, with God's help, I am on this path and look foward to my return to the home promised me by Jesus.

With that in mind, I offer this poem, this prayer:

I have seen my new country,
Resplendent and full of joy.
I have seen my new country,
Full of hope and grace.
Teach me how to cross
In flood and draught
That Jordan of my soul
To that land
Promised of old.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tradition and Early Christianity

This week, I've had an interesting discussion with Phil Harland over at Religions of the Ancient World about the canon, which settled into a discussion about the position of (proto-)orthodox Christians in the early Church. We disagreed, which is fair enough, but what the discussion led me to think about what the nature of traditions in an ancient society. The reason for this is that I think Prof. Harland may be assuming that I'm coming from a naive Eusebian position (see Dr. Harland's outline of three classic scholarly positions on the early church here). I'm not, but it takes some explaining to make that clear. So that is what I'm going to try to do.

I think that the key point of difference between what I'm trying to get at and what I may be coming off as trying to get at is what I mean by an orthodox tradition. Or, more specifically, what I mean by tradition. This is a tricky concept, partly because the term tradition has become something of bete-noire in intellectual circles after the Enlightenment and partly because it has become a polemical term in our more modern culture wars. Yet, I think we need to unpack what a tradition actually is. Here astute readers may recognize the influence of Alasdair McIntyre, a Catholic philosopher out of Notre Dame.

A tradition, in my view, is a relatively coherent body of thought which is characterized both by a narrative featuring a coherent group of people and how they believe they fit in the world and by a running conversation or commentary over time about how this narrative should be interpreted and appropriated by the individuals in that community. It is not calcified belief, but rather must be dynamic as it encounters both internal and external challenges to its status as a truthful narrative. Indeed, the moment that it becomes calcified tradition, with little relation to what is going on in the world or with its followers, it loses it coherence and its ability to explain the world. What follows is that this tradition rapidly loses its appeal and, ultimately, its following.

A healthy tradition, then, is a tradition in which disagreement from within and without is not only expected, but recognized as beneficial. In the clashes and the conversations which comes from these encounters, a successful tradition enhances its narrative' ability to explain the world and, thus, its appeal as an explanation to others in and out of the tradition. This may mean reformulation amid challenges, but these reformulations are made, hopefully, in a way consistent to its original narrative and principles. The risk with reformulation, of course, is that the discord between the reformulation and the tradition's original narrative and principles becomes too much. This can happen and usually results in the emergence of a different tradition which, as it were, piggy-backs on former narrative, but re-interprets it in a fundamentally different way. The conflict caused by this re-interpretation begins as an internal problem, but can, under certain circumstances, become an external issue for a community and its tradition.

Now, the theory here is all well and good, but, before I close off this entry, I really have to do something about application. What I am arguing is that Christianity emerged out of a largely Jewish tradition because of the problem that Jesus and his followers presented to Jewish tradition, especially in regard to the presumed incarnation, resurrection and eschatological hope of a return of Jesus. As the new tradition formed, there was great diversity in interpretations of the basic narrative presented by Jesus and his followers. Among these interpretations was a narrative which, in its outline, posited Jesus as incarnate Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, who was killed by the Romans and Jewish religious authorities in Jerusalem c. 30s CE and was resurrected in three days. We have clear attestation of this tradition from the NT writings (which began to emerge in the late 1st century, but was in the process of becoming canonical over the next two or three centuries) to the writings of the Apostolic Fathers to the early Church Fathers like Tertullian, Cyprian, Origin, Cyril of Alexandria, who, pretty much, seemed to agree about these essential elements of what could be called the 'orthodox' tradition (or, at least, proto-orthodox, because it shows the signs of being the early predecessor of what we would later call orthodoxy). Yet, as a dynamic traditions, there continued to be disagreements within this tradition (the Quarto-Deciman controversy, disputes over the authoritative texts to be included in the canon or early Christological disputes), but this was healthy as part of a running conversation on the essential narrative presumed by an assortment of groups.

Clearly, this (proto-)orthodox position was not the only tradition bent on interpreting the narrative of Jesus and his followers. Clearly, there were Docetic, Gnostic, Jewish Christian interpretations of this story among others. Nor should we assume that, just because something we would identify as (proto-)orthodox existed that it was necessarily the strongest strand of Christianity or that it was destined to succeed (these are theological claims, not necessarily historical). Yet, a Bauerian contention that orthodox didn't emerge until the third century simply doesn't cut it either. There is enough evidence to accept that proto-orthodox groups not only existed, but even had contact with each other (see the apostolic travels of Paul and Peter or 1 Clement to the Corinthian church). Christianity was, as Bauer contends, diverse, including many different traditions and interpretations of Jesus' life and death. Why, it also included the (proto-)orthodox tradition, of all things.

I'd appreciate comments on this reasoning as it still is a bit experimental. Just as in a dynamic tradition, I need the input of both those who agree and those who dissent so that I can try to improve my interpretation.