Sunday, April 22, 2007

Patristics Withdrawl and Future Directions

This last few months have been quite busy on a lot of fronts and the next two look equally busy. What that has meant over the last few weeks has been that I've had less time for reflection and reading than I have in a while. That is fine, of course. Family and gainful employment take precedent over study and always will in my life. As shocking as it sounds, blogging isn't my main priority in life.

Along with this busyness, though, I've been missing the Fathers in my reading. Part of that is the fact that I've spent most of the last few months reading allowance reading N.T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God. It is, I note, an exceptionally good academic book and, as an academic book, it is extremely dense and tightly argued. So, working through the 661 pages has been a time-consuming, if rewarding exercise. The result has been that I've not been reading as much Fathers as I'd like. And I find I miss their voices.

That is an odd admission to make, but, in many ways, over the last few years of reading the Fathers, I've become used to their Scripture-immersed, faithful, occasionally strident voices urging their culture (and our as well) to, finally, confess Jesus and to consider what that confession meant. They, in many ways, do a better job doing that than many contemporary theologians (N.T. Wright being something of an exception) in conveying the immediacy of the Christian faith. In our modern academic-based theology, we are rather too polite and afraid of causing offense. A dose of the Fathers is bracing and reminds us of a time when we weren't ashamed of being distinctive in the society around us.

The Fathers aren't for everyone, I know. I find myself drawn to them because I understand something of the Graeco-Roman society with which they were interacting. My background in Classics has helped me with their culturally distinctive mindsets, although I would fight shy of claiming anything close to expertise in the area.

Over the March Break, I was reading Os Guinness' The Call, which focuses on vocation outside of ordained ministry. One of the more memorable things he said was that it is possible to have a vocation and only be able to pursue it as an amateur. That, I think is true here because I feel that I'm pursuing a teaching vocation in the Church through this blog. He also had a sobering comment that, sometimes, being an amateur means admitting that you can't do the 'best' job at the subject you love. I have to admit that I was, first, annoyed at this comment; then, I had to recognize its truth. I am not going to be able to read all the Fathers, all the Reformation theologians (a side interest of mine is the use of the Fathers by the Reformers) and all modern theologians in order to create some kind of patristic-Reformation-post-modern synthesis or some kind of masterwork in Christian historical writing. All I can do is to tend my corner of the patristic garden and do my best to contribute to the patristic revival we've all heard about.

With that in mind, I've been thinking about future directions. I'm thinking that a series on Cyprian wouldn't be the worst idea at this time. I'm thinking especially about the upcoming General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada; a synod which has to reflect on some serious theological and ecclesiological matters in early June. Reflecting on Cyprian may be helpful for me as I think over what it means to be the church and how we should relate to the world. In all likelihood, these reflections will not impact on the church I joined fifteen years ago (although a little dose of Cyprian would do wonders!), but, perhaps, it will help me with seeing the path ahead.

But, next week, we're back with St. Martin!



Weekend Fisher said...

<< I am not going to be able to read all the Fathers, all the Reformation theologians (a side interest of mine is the use of the Fathers by the Reformers) and all modern theologians in order to create some kind of patristic-Reformation-post-modern synthesis. >>

You know, what are the odds, but that's been one of my own dreams as well. I wonder how many of us are trying the same, and whether we might cooperate rather than solo? I mean, would Basil or the Gregories have gotten so far alone? Not that I claim to hold a candle, just that iron sharpens iron (to switch metaphors abruptly and leave you in no doubt of the humbleness of my abilities).

Take care & God bless

Phil S. said...

I think that most of us who are Protestants and interested in the Fathers confront this desire at some point. Ultimately, we have that other layer in our theological tradition represented by the Reformers and, ultimately, if we aren't going to swim either the Tiber or the Bosporus, we have to reckon with it.

I personally doubt any such synthesis can be done, or, rather, I think the Reformers were, as part of their theological project, trying to do it.

I think the role of an amateur isn't these kind of grand syntheses, but rather it is that we love what we are doing. That means humbly recognizing the limits of our time/energy as well as sharing our love for our subject.


Weekend Fisher said...

You've got that right about the limits of our time and energy!

My approach has been to try to narrow my scope. Granted that I can't reach for a grand synthesis of all things, I've been trying to focus on atonement and Trinity. The problem is that those tend to "have tentacles" as someone I know is fond of saying -- they reach out everywhere and touch everything.

I've also aimed to pull in Jewish resources on atonement and Trinity in addition to various Christian ones. Which brings us back to square #1: You're right about the limits of our time and energy!

Take care & God bless

Kyle said...

Patriarchs not for everyone? Say it isn't so!

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