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.