Sunday, August 28, 2011

End of Summer Reflection

Back from vacation. Well, actually, I've been back about a week, but things
have been busy as I gear up for back-to-school. It is, after all, late August
and that means preparations for a new academic gear are in high gear. That,
also, means that I have to figure out what is sustainable and what is not over
the next eight months. So, I've been thinking about that over the last couple of
weeks and this is what I've come up with.

1. TWP is not sustainable for me right now. That will, of course, cause
some disappointment among many of my readers, but I found this summer,
with the new addition to my family, it was only just sustainable to do the
weekly updates. That is, without a lesson prep, in-class time and marking, it
was just possible to crank out a TWP each week. This would suggest that,
when I add those other things that it is completely impossible to keep up
with a TWP or even a TFP. So, I'm just going to pull the plug on that now and avoid the frustration of wanting to do the updates and not being able to do it.

2. I probably have to scale down my expectations about what I can
accomplish on this blog and just post when I have time and creativity. I'm still
not quite willing to drop the blog (well, certainly not its name!), but I will
be posting more irregularly.

3. I think I may have an interim solution to my soul-searching over what to
spend my study time on. For those of you who have followed the non-TWP
posts, I've been trying to discern where I should use my time and energies-
what kind of project should I embark on with my acres and acres of free
time. Just before departing on my vacation, however, I had an important
moment of claritywhile talking with a friend. In commenting about my
patristic readings, I noted thatI had embarked on reading patristic texts
in the original (Greek or Latin- Syriac and Coptic is beyond me), largely
because I couldn't take myself seriously if I didn't. One of the things that
I absorbed in my academic Classics career was that nothing can replace
reading an author in the original- too many nuances are lost if you don't.
So, that is what I propose to do over the foreseeable future-read as many
patristic texts as it takes and not worry about projects or booksor anything
for now. Now, my job, in the precious moments of study I have, is practicing
patristic Greek and Latin. And learning from the wisdom of the Greek and
Latin Fathers, in the original. Period.

4. In keeping with this resolution, what I expect to see in this blog is
that, as I complete a work or a section of a work which gives me ideas
about howto connect it to today, I'll write up my reflection. Then, I'll
move on to the next text and do the same. I don't want to do book review
(or even treatise reviews), since I'm more interested in trying to apply
what I'm reading from theFathers to my life. In many ways, this is similar
to what I've been trying to do with my patristic entries when I shifted
to a patristic focus. So, we'll see how this works. I will continue to discern
if God wants me to do a big project anytime soon and what it would be,
if I did, but, right now, I'm content with learning how to read and
translate the Fathers better.

5. I'm excited about a program being offered at my church over the next
twelve weeks which focuses on Life with God (offered through the
but not a conventional, sit and receive one. It tries to take a contemplative
approach to reading (or, rather, listening!) to Scripture through prayer and
meditation as much as knowing. It is an appealing idea, both pedagogically
and spiritually, so I'll be interested to see how it work. I'm still trying to
make sure it fits in my life, but the signs are good: offered Sunday morning,
so my wife and I canattend without worries about child care and daily, but
not onerous work as we lead up to it. I like it because it links in where I've
been going the last ten years spiritually, towards contemplative prayer.
I admit that this does not come naturally for me, but it is something that
I think is good for me and that I think has already made good changes
in the way I deal with the world and myself.

That is worth the effort, I think.

We'll see, of course, if even this modest programs works for me.


Monday, August 08, 2011

This Week in Patristics July 31st to August 6th, 2011

A light week this week. Enjoy the offerings!

Aggie on the AppAggie blog notes the Patristic application for i-phones- A Year with the Church Fathers by Mike Aquilina (of the Way of the Fathers blog). It almost makes me want to buy a i-phone...almost.

Joel on the Unsettled Christianity blog reviews Thomas Oden's book, The African Memory of Mark in two parts (part one, part two forthcomng).

Roger Pearse on his self-named blog gives an update about the promising reaction to the Eusebius book he sponsored (which is also on my list to get, but a new computer and a book on Greek religion (for work) first!)

Stephen Huller on stephan huller's observation discusses Marcion in light of a discussion with Professor Markus Vinzint, answers the concerns expressed by some biblio-bloggers (in my opinion, justified) about his 'myth-making' in his discussions about Clement of Alexandria,
condemns Eric Osborn's book on Clement of Alexandria (not my favourite, but for rather different reasons- Stephen because Osborn perpetuates the scholarly concensus about Clement's birth, me because it is a bit tedious), discusses the connections between Origen, Gregory Thaumateurgus and Carpocrates (aka Origin???????????), asks how the alleged Alexandrian ex-Patriot (sic!) church functioned in Jerusalem, wonders why Clement and Origen were so popular, discusses the connection between Clement, Origen, Secret Mark in Gregory's panegyric of Origen, discusses the attestations of names such as Carpocrates in Egypt (source, Stephen, source?), discusses the lack of second century discussions of Marcion (given the fragmentary state of second century Christian literature, is that surprising?), follows up by summarizing the evidence against anti-Marcian polemics (mostly, dismissing anything Eusebius has to say on the subject and arguing from the silence which follows), discusses how the Marcionites became associatedi with a (fictitious) Marcian, condemns patristic literature as rubbish because of the well-known ancient habit of mimesis (really, this is a pretty bad mis-reading. One of the ways that the ancients were different from us is that they didn't cite sources as we do- that is fairly recent i.e. within the last hundred years- and they frequently modeled themselves after an exemplary text- here Irenaeus' Refutation) and discusses the likliehood that anti-Marcion literature is actually hidden polemic against the Markan tradition in Alexandria. An editorial note needs to follow here. Readers will note my punchiness in this entry. It is an editorial policy of mine that I will cite whoever writes on patristics, whether I agree with them or not. I do reserve the right to say what I think about these entries. Stephen Huller is an immensely prolific and imaginative scholar, but I have serious issues with his methodology which seems to consist of discrediting existing sources on his subject of choice and substituting his own speculations about the subject. While patristic sources must be viewed critically, it is all too easy to use unreasonable and anachronistic standards to eliminate Eusebius or Irenaeus or anyone's testimony. However, the results of such an inquiry are neither satisfying nor convincing. I will continue to cite Stephen and continue to comment as things occur to me. Enough said.

Bryn Mawr Classical Review reviews Stephen Mitchell, Peter Van Nuffelen (ed.), One God. Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire

That is it for this week. I'm on a blogging break next week, so you'll have to wait until the following week for the next installment.


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

'Useless' Study

Ammon (of the place called Raithu) brought this question to Sisoes: "When I read Scripture, I am tempted to make elaborate commentaries and prepare myself to answer questions on it" He (Sisoes) replied, "You don't need to do that. It is better to speak simply, with a good conscience and a pure mind". From Rowan Williams, Where God Happens. p.140

This quote has been buzzing in my head the last few weeks, largely because of the time of year. Summer brings with it both more free time and a kind of internal pressure to do something 'productive' in my, admittedly, arcane patristics hobby. Don't get me wrong. This isn't about compulsive workoholism (I don't think....). It expresses a dilemma which has been with me for more than ten years, since I left my PhD in Classics. On one side, I truly love learning for its own sake and one of my joys is to have the tools to do that with the Church Fathers. I enjoy my reading of patristic texts and scholarly discussions of them. I like translating the texts--as odd as that sounds. And I have to acknowledge my debt to this study which has affected how I think about my faith and how I live out my spirituality. I can see how St. Augustine's Confessions influenced my conversion as a Christian and how St. Benedict's Rule informs my approach to fatherhood and, oddly, the teaching profession. The Desert Fathers (like Sisoes above) challenge my materialism and draw attention to the 'bad thoughts' which plague my attempts at humility and faithfulness. The Fathers do me the service of calling attention to my theological blind-spots (rather different from their own blind spots), help me read Scripture more deeply and remind me that theology isn't just an intellectual pursuit, but a spiritual one as well. When you get those benefits, more study seems like a profitable thing.

Yet, on the other hand, like Ammon of Raithu, I feel compelled to do something with my studies. That is, I shouldn't just read or translate for my own edification, I should publish something for goodness sake. I'm not saying that publishing is a bad thing nor am I saying that I won't consider working on a project intended to be published. This is probably not the time to fast-track it for it, not the least reason being my committment to my young family. Any planning that I make about this have to be long range, very long range, indeed. Perhaps some fruit will come that. I don't know.

Yet, I also feel the sting of this saying of Abba Sisoes. I don't need to do this. That is, this should not be a compulsion to produce, to argue, to explain. It is better to keep my attention on the spiritual virtues and prayer which my study of the Fathers and of Scripture give me day to day, yer to year. Then, I should do something radical and revolutionary: practice them. What I worry about my desire to 'do' is that it is a manifestation of one or the other of my two great temptations in my study: that all too common compulsion to produce as opposed to just shut and pray or a temptation to intellectualize my faith rather than mediate on it. Prayer, spiritual reading and work on self are gloriously useless activities, at least in the eyes of the world. Yet, I recognize that I need to do all these three things if I expect any spiritual growth or wisdom or, in fact, discernment over what I can contribute to the life of the Church. I need the ability to speak simply, with a a good conscience and pure mind, especially if I expect to write about spiritual things.

That means discernment. What is God calling me to? My main vocation is to teaching and, to my enduring my surprise, teaching adolescents . Yet, I feel the calling to write, but is that vainglory and/or avoiding spiritual growth? Time and discernment will tell me that, of course. So, patience is what is called for and the willingness to do what is 'useless' for as long as it takes. That, I trust, will be enough.

Peace, Phil