Many, many thanks to those of you who took time to answer my questions on the state of patrology online. I was very pleased with the wide range of answers (some expected and some not)and the thoughtfulness behind them. There is a lot in them that we all should be reflecting on as we consider what we can contribute to the study of patristics online. That was one reason why I thought it would be helpful to ask the questions I did. Periodic group reflection, I think, can be very helpful.
Of course, I had another ulterior motive. Since the summer began, I've been trying to figure out where I can contribute to the patristics world. I am, as I've noted several times on this blog, an amateur (I hope in its true sense) in patristics and an autodidact while I'm at it. This isn't my day job, so my time for patristic study and writing is strictly limited. Detailed academic study just isn't in the cards for me because I neither have the time or the connections or the qualifications to write scholarly tomes. There is also the legitimate question about whether this is my gift or not. So, I really have to consider carefully where my gifts are and what I can do, given my time constraints and abilities.
With that in mind, here are my thoughts of where we are in the patristic field on line and where my thinking is about my own possible contribution.
First, where we are. A lot of work has been already done on making translations of major and many minor patristic writers available online. The result is that we frequently have multiple versions on these writers online and it is difficult to find an author in the main group of Fathers who does not have, at least, some of his writings online. The quality of the translations vary, but, usually, they're sound, if, often, somewhat dated in their style. This is, of course, one of the results of using older works whose copyright protection has lapsed. Usually, this isn't an issue, given that most people interested in the Fathers tend to be highly literate and able to handle the occasionally complicated prose of these translations. I do worry sometimes because I know the difficulties that my students in Classical Civilization have with translations of the same era and that this can be a barrier to some people from reading these very beneficial texts. This problem is slowly being remedied with various translations projects.
Texts are similarly in good shape, if not quite as good as translations. Latin texts are excellent, with most major Latin authors online. Greek is lagging slightly behind because it has taken time to regularize the posting of different scripts online. Still, Greeks texts are appearing increasingly and, if we could get away from the PDF problem alluded to by several commentators on last week's post, we'll make more progress. My impression of non-classical languages is that next to nothing is online, but, honestly, I really don't know the state of collections of texts for these languages.
Secondary literature and interpretation is lagging a bit, but is starting to catch up. Access to journals is potentially improving, but, usually, these are locked up in university databases which are increasingly, for copyright purposes, being restricted to members of those academic communities. If you can get an alumni access to a university library, it is probably at this stage worth the money, if you are an amateur. I note that tools for interpreting these texts are lagging behind, although one can use classics linguistic tools in a pinch.
Discussion and interaction online is also improving. The emergence of patristic blogging has helped the exchange of ideas and dissemination of news. This has been very helpful and I hope will improve over time.
So, that leads me to wonder what I can do to contribute to this work?
My opinion about this changes from day to day, but here is what I'm wondering. I'm thinking of the idea of an online patristic community along the lines of eLatin eGreek, eLearn which would eventually include explanations of what patristics is, reference resources to aid in the reading of the Fathers, links to texts and translations, discussion fora and whatever else we can come up with.
This is, of course, an extremely ambitious project and there is no question that I could do this alone. Where I see my talents coming into play is in creating and/or facilitating the creation of dictionaries, linguistic resources and, possibly, commentaries to aid in the understanding of patrisic texts. Clearly, this will not appear all at once, but there are engines for creating online communities and we could start relatively quickly.
So, as before, what do you think? I'm not committing to anything because I know that I need a lot more time to think and about how much time and energy I have and whether this is a good use of it. So, I'll ask for your prayers and your thoughts.