Read the Fathers

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Author: Possidius (page 4 of 5)

Yet Four Weeks Remain

Four weeks from this Sunday is the beginning of Advent, the start of the Christian year, and the beginning of our reading program. We’ve been on hiatus since the summer months, but you can expect to see increased activity on the site in preparation for getting underway.

If you’ll be joining us in reading the fathers, I encourage you to take a look at the “start reading” page, which has helpful suggestions about how to get the books and keep up with the calendar. Let me emphasize just two of those ideas. First, if you’re serious about undertaking this reading program, now is the time to get some discipline in your life. (Isn’t that the key to almost everything?) Second, you’re more likely to continue reading, and likely to learn more, if you have a partner to discuss the readings with regularly. So now is the time to persuade a friend to join you.

Just four weeks till we begin with Clement of Rome.

Clement of Rome

Clement of Rome (fl. 92–99)

 

St. Anthony on the Dangers of Prayer, Sixteen Centuries Before “The Screwtape Letters”

This week I attended a series of meetings on prayer. The speaker mentioned that prayer can lead to spiritual danger, a point that reminded me of the Life of Antony.

The Life of Antony (Vita Antonii) is the best known of the hagiographies, or lives of the saints, from the early church. Written by Athanasius sometime around 357–58, the book is a biography of Antony, or Anthony, one of the founders of Christian monasticism. Antony was an Egyptian Christian who, like many in his day, led a life of asceticism and prayer. Antony became known for being the first ascetic to live in the wilderness. Both because of his example and because of persecutions, many “desert fathers” lived in solitude or small bands in the wilderness. The Life tells of Antony’s life of prayer in the desert and his wrestling with demons. His temptations are described in great detail, so that the temptation of Antony became a common feature in Western art, such as in this allegorical painting by Hieronymus Bosch (click for full size):

Hieronymus Bosch, Temptation of Saint Antony

Hieronymus Bosch, Temptation of Saint Antony

The Life of Antony is one of the two foundational texts of Western monasticism. (The other is the Rule of St. Benedict.1) Though highly valued by the medieval church, Protestant reformers scorned the text for valuing monasticism and for its accounts of the supernatural. Twenty-first-century readers, no matter whether Protestant or Catholic, are likely to read the text incredulously.2 At a minimum, however, I think any reader can take the descriptions of Antony’s temptations as a description of the dangers encountered by people who take prayer seriously. Just as C. S. Lewis wrote the introduction to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, so Lewis’s Screwtape Letters is a kind of retelling of the Life of Antony.

Here is a section of the text when Antony was living in the tombs before going to the desert (para. 8–10):

Thus tightening his hold upon himself, Antony departed to the tombs, which happened to be at a distance from the village; and having bid one of his acquaintances to bring him bread at intervals of many days, he entered one of the tombs, and the other having shut the door on him, he remained within alone. And when the enemy could not endure it, but was even fearful that in a short time Antony would fill the desert with the discipline, coming one night with a multitude of demons, he so cut him with stripes that he lay on the ground speechless from the excessive pain. For he affirmed that the torture had been so excessive that no blows inflicted by man could ever have caused him such torment. But by the Providence of God—for the Lord never overlooks them that hope in Him—the next day his acquaintance came bringing him the loaves. And having opened the door and seeing him lying on the ground as though dead, he lifted him up and carried him to the church in the village, and laid him upon the ground. And many of his kinsfolk and the villagers sat around Antony as round a corpse. But about midnight he came to himself and arose, and when he saw them all asleep and his comrade alone watching, he motioned with his head for him to approach, and asked him to carry him again to the tombs without waking anybody.

He was carried therefore by the man, and as he was wont, when the door was shut he was within alone. And he could not stand up on account of the blows, but he prayed as he lay. And after he had prayed, he said with a shout, Here am I, Antony; I flee not from your stripes, for even if you inflict more nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ. And then he sang, ‘though a camp be set against me, my heart shall not be afraid.’ These were the thoughts and words of this ascetic. But the enemy, who hates good, marvelling that after the blows he dared to return, called together his hounds and burst forth, ‘Ye see,’ said he, ‘that neither by the spirit of lust nor by blows did we stay the man, but that he braves us, let us attack him in another fashion.’ But changes of form for evil are easy for the devil, so in the night they made such a din that the whole of that place seemed to be shaken by an earthquake, and the demons as if breaking the four walls of the dwelling seemed to enter through them, coming in the likeness of beasts and creeping things. And the place was on a sudden filled with the forms of lions, bears, leopards, bulls, serpents, asps, scorpions, and wolves, and each of them was moving according to his nature. The lion was roaring, wishing to attack, the bull seeming to toss with its horns, the serpent writhing but unable to approach, and the wolf as it rushed on was restrained; altogether the noises of the apparitions, with their angry ragings, were dreadful. But Antony, stricken and goaded by them, felt bodily pains severer still. He lay watching, however, with unshaken soul, groaning from bodily anguish; but his mind was clear, and as in mockery he said, ‘If there had been any power in you, it would have sufficed had one of you come, but since the Lord hath made you weak, you attempt to terrify me by numbers: and a proof of your weakness is that you take the shapes of brute beasts.’ And again with boldness he said, ‘If you are able, and have received power against me, delay not to attack; but if you are unable, why trouble me in vain? For faith in our Lord is a seal and a wall of safety to us.’ So after many attempts they gnashed their teeth upon him, because they were mocking themselves rather than him.

Nor was the Lord then forgetful of Antony’s wrestling, but was at hand to help him. So looking up he saw the roof as it were opened, and a ray of light descending to him. The demons suddenly vanished, the pain of his body straightway ceased, and the building was again whole. But Antony feeling the help, and getting his breath again, and being freed from pain, besought the vision which had appeared to him, saying, ‘Where wert thou? Why didst thou not appear at the beginning to make my pains to cease?’ And a voice came to him, ‘Antony, I was here, but I waited to see thy fight; wherefore since thou hast endured, and hast not been worsted, I will ever be a succour to thee, and will make thy name known everywhere.’ Having heard this, Antony arose and prayed, and received such strength that he perceived that he had more power in his body than formerly. And he was then about thirty-five years old.

The entire book is short, and could be read in an hour or two. But if you’re only going to read one more passage, read Antony’s advice to the other Christians in the desert on prayer, temptation, and spiritual battles (para. 16–43).

An Introduction to the Confessions on the Feast of Augustine

St Augustine of Hippo (354–430). Portrait by Philippe de Champaigne, 1645–50.

Today the liturgical churches of western Christianity commemorate the life of Augustine, bishop of Hippo and doctor of the church.1 At our home we are having a feast tonight because our hearts have been made glad in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which we have come to understand better because of Augustine.

The first book I read from the early church was Augustine’s Confessions—a common choice, since the Confessions are almost certainly the best known book from Christian antiquity. One could even make the argument that no book (in the western world, at least) has been more significant in shaping the way that modern people think about the self.2 The book takes the shape of an extended prayer, in which Augustine confesses his sins and acknowledges God’s goodness. And yet Augustine also intended this work as a confession ‘not unto Thee, my God; but before Thee unto my own kind, even to that small part of the human race who may chance to light upon these my writings.’ (2.3.5)

The entire work is rich both in explaining Augustine’s life viewed from faith and in confessing the God in whom he believed. Indeed, the theological richness of the work might be summed up in a phrase from another of Augustine’s works: Deus est qui deum dat’, ‘God is he who gives God’ (On the Trinity, 14.26.46). In the Confessions Augustine detects and acknowledges how God revealed himself even throughout Augustine’s waywardness and false belief, because ‘Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.’ (1.1.1)

And so I point you to four well-known and particularly insightful passages in the Confessions.

First, Augustine gives a clear-eyed explanation of the sinfulness of sin. In one passage, he describes stealing pears, though he had better pears of his own and only fed them to swine. (The parallels to the story of the fall in Genesis are not accidental.) Oliver Wendell Holmes dismissed the passage, writing, ‘Rum thing to see a man making a mountain of robbing a pear tree in his teens.’ But Augustine explains that to sin is to replace the love of God with the love of sin for its sinfulness. (Read 2.4 and 2.6.)

St Monica (331--387)

St Monica (331–387)

Second, the Confessions are noteworthy for their rich descriptions of Augustine’s human relationships, none of which is described with more detail and feeling than his relationship to his mother, Monica. In book 3, Monica has a dream that her son, who has become a Manichean heretic, will come to the true faith, symbolized in the dream by a wooden ruler which represents the ‘rule of faith’, or the creedal faith of the catholic church. She also pleads with a bishop to intervene with her son, whose word she takes as a prophetic utterance: ‘It is not possible that the son of these tears should perish.’ (Read 3.11 and 3.12.)

Third, both Monica’s dream and the bishop’s word come to pass when Augustine converts. In what is perhaps the most famous passage in the Confessions, Augustine describes how he heard a child’s voice in the garden saying, ‘Take up and read, take up and read’, and read from Paul’s epistle to the Romans. (Read 8.12.)

Fourth, in the Confessions Augustine expresses a kind of piety in which the believer returns to his heart, on which is written the law of God, and there finds God. In looking into one’s heart, one imitates the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Return to your heart, O ye transgressors, and cleave fast unto Him that made you. … Descend that ye may ascend, and ascend to God.’ It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of this passage for ‘heart religion’, which is the hallmark of most of Western Christianity from before the time of the Reformation, including Christians writers from such diverse traditions as Philipp Jakob Spener and Nicholas von Zinzendorf (Pietism), Jonathan Edwards (evangelicalism), and Ignatius of Loyola (Catholicism). (By the way, notice the heart that Augustine is holding in the portrait at the top of this post. The heart, which is aflame with love, transforms the mind and points to veritas.) (Read 4.12.)

If you plan to join us in reading the fathers of the church and want to read something before we officially begin, or if you do not intend to take on the full course of reading but would to read one book, I commend to you Augustine’s Confessions.

Why Do *You* Want to Read the Fathers?

A number of people have written to us to say that they are planning to read the church fathers. We’ve asked a few of them to write a brief (or not so brief) blog post explaining why they plan to join the reading group. We assume the reasons are as varied as readers.

If you would like to explain why you plan to read, please send us a note and we’ll be glad to consider your post. The post can be as short as 100 words, or whatever length suits you.

We’ll run the first post from one of our readers on Monday. We hope to hear from you.

Patristic Theology Is for Everyone

Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395)

Our modern era tends to see theology—especially the kinds of theology that the fathers loved, such as the doctrines of the Trinity and incarnation of Christ—as recondite, elitist, and (most damning of all) irrelevant. But this is a modern idea. Instead, thinking about theology can and should belong to all believers.

Here is a well-known passage from Gregory of Nyssa about popular discussions of theology. “Gregory of Nyssa describes the unending theological arguments in Constantinople at the time of the second General Council [A.D. 381]:”

The whole city is full of it, the squares, the market places, the cross-roads, the alleyways; old-clothes men, money changers, food sellers: they are all busy arguing. If you ask someone to give you change, he philosophizes about the Begotten and the Unbegotten; if you inquire about the price of a loaf, you are told by way of reply that the Father is greater and the Son inferior; if you ask “Is my bath ready?” the attendant answers that the Son was made out of nothing (On the Deity of the Son [P.G. xlvi, 557b]). 1

If you read the fathers with us, you too can make the theological tradition of the church your own. And since we will be reading Gregory of Nyssa, you might even learn better answers than the Constantinopolitans!

Google Calendar for Read the Fathers Now Available

Thanks to the labors of Amy Cavender (@acavender), we now have a Google Calendar available with the reading schedule for the first year. You can subscribe to the Google Calendar directly, or you can import the iCal version into programs like Apple’s iCal, Microsoft’s Outlook, or other calendar programs.

Thanks, Amy!

The Study of Patristics in Nineteenth-Century America

The latest issue of Church History includes a review of Duke professor Elizabeth A. Clark’s book Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). The review is online (subscription required, unfortunately).

Founding the Fathers might be of interest to readers of this blog since it gives the history of six American historians of the early church, among them Philip Schaff, an editor of the collections of the church fathers we’re using for Read the Fathers. For me, the book combines three interests: patristics, nineteenth-century American religion, and the development of the study of religion into an academic profession. I haven’t read it yet, but I hope too.

Here is the publisher’s description:

Through their teaching of early Christian history and theology, Elizabeth A. Clark contends, Princeton Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, and Union Theological Seminary functioned as America’s closest equivalents to graduate schools in the humanities during the nineteenth century. These four Protestant institutions, founded to train clergy, later became the cradles for the nonsectarian study of religion at secular colleges and universities. Clark, one of the world’s most eminent scholars of early Christianity, explores this development in Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America.

Based on voluminous archival materials, the book charts how American theologians traveled to Europe to study in Germany and confronted intellectual currents that were invigorating but potentially threatening to their faith. The Union and Yale professors in particular struggled to tame German biblical and philosophical criticism to fit American evangelical convictions. German models that encouraged a positive view of early and medieval Christianity collided with Protestant assumptions that the church had declined grievously between the Apostolic and Reformation eras. Trying to reconcile these views, the Americans came to offer some counterbalance to traditional Protestant hostility both to contemporary Roman Catholicism and to those historical periods that had been perceived as Catholic, especially the patristic era.

Fr. Georges Florovsky on “The Lost Scriptural Mind”

Georges Florovsky

Fr. Georges Florovsky

Father Georges Florovsky (1893–1979) was an Eastern Orthodox priest, theologian, and historian. Expelled from Russia in 1920, he became a professor at Orthodox seminaries in Paris and New York, then a professor at Harvard University and Princeton University. In this excerpt from a 1951 essay titled “The Lost Scriptural Mind,” Florovsky argues that the fathers of the Christian church are more relevant than modern theologians. You can read the full essay here.

Christian ministers are not supposed to preach their private opinions, at least from the pulpit. Ministers are commissioned and ordained in the church precisely to preach the Word of God. They are given some fixed terms of reference — namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ — and they are committed to this sole and perennial message. They are expected to propagate and to sustain “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Of course, the Word of God must be preached “efficiently.” That is, it should always be so presented as to carry conviction and command the allegiance of every new generation and every particular group. It may be restated in new categories, if the circumstances require. But, above all, the identity of the message must be preserved.

One has to be sure that one is preaching the same gospel that was delivered and that one is not introducing instead any “strange gospel” of his own. The Word of God cannot be easily adjusted or accommodated to the fleeting customs and attitudes of any particular age, including our own time. Unfortunately, we are often inclined to measure the Word of God by our own stature, instead of checking our mind by the stature of Christ. The “modern mind” also stands under the judgment of the Word of God.

Modern Man and Scripture

But it is precisely at this point that our major difficulty begins. Most of us have lost the integrity of the scriptural mind, even if some bits of biblical phraseology are retained. The modern man often complains that the truth of God is offered to him in an “archaic idiom” — i.e., in the language of the Bible — which is no more his own and cannot be used spontaneously. It has recently been suggested that we should radically “demythologize” Scripture, meaning to replace the antiquated categories of the Holy Writ by something more modern. Yet the question cannot be evaded: Is the language of Scripture really nothing else than an accidental and external wrapping out of which some “eternal idea” is to be extricated and disentangled, or is it rather a perennial vehicle of the divine message, which was once delivered for all time?

We are in danger of losing the uniqueness of the Word of God in the process of continuous “reinterpretation.” But how can we interpret at all if we have forgotten the original language? Would it not be safer to bend our thought to the mental habits of the biblical language and to relearn the idiom of the Bible? No man can receive the gospel unless he repents — “changes his mind.” For in the language of the gospel “repentance” (metanoeite) does not mean merely acknowledgment of and contrition for sins, but precisely a “change of mind” — a profound change of man’s mental and emotional attitude, an integral renewal of man’s self, which begins in his self-renunciation and is accomplished and sealed by the Spirit.

We are living now in an age of intellectual chaos and disintegration. Possibly modern man has not yet made up his mind, and the variety of opinions is beyond any hope of reconciliation. Probably the only luminous signpost we have to guide us through the mental fog of our desperate age is just the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” obsolete or archaic as the idiom of the Early Church may seem to be, judged by our fleeting standards.

Preach the Creeds!

What, then, are we going to preach? What would I preach to my contemporaries “in a time such as this?” There is no room for hesitation: I am going to preach Jesus, and him crucified and risen. I am going to preach and to commend to all whom I may be called to address the message of salvation, as it has been handed down to me by an uninterrupted tradition of the Church Universal. I would not isolate myself in my own age. In other words, I am going to preach the “doctrines of the creed.”

I am fully aware that creeds are a stumbling block for many in our own generation. “The creeds are venerable symbols, like the tattered flags upon the walls of national churches; but for the present warfare of the church in Asia, in Africa, in Europe and America the creeds, when they are understood, are about as serviceable as a battle-ax or an arquebus in the hands of a modern soldier.” This was written some years ago by a prominent British scholar who is a devout minister too. Possibly he would not write them today. But there are still many who would wholeheartedly make this vigorous statement their own. Let us remember, however, that the early creeds were deliberately scriptural, and it is precisely their scriptural phraseology that makes them difficult for the modern man.

Thus we face the same problem again: What can we offer instead of Holy Scripture? I would prefer the language of the Tradition, not because of a lazy and credulous “conservatism” or a blind “obedience” to some external “authorities,” but simply because I cannot find any better phraseology. I am prepared to expose myself to the inevitable charge of being “antiquarian” and “fundamentalist.” And I would protest that such a charge is gratuitous and wrong. I do keep and hold the “doctrines of the creed,” conscientiously and wholeheartedly, because I apprehend by faith their perennial adequacy and relevance to all ages and to all situations, including “a time such as this.” And I believe it is precisely the “doctrines of the creed” that can enable a desperate generation like ours to regain Christian courage and vision.

The Tradition Lives

“The church is neither a museum of dead deposits nor a society of research.” The deposits are alive—depositum juvenescens, to use the phrase of St. Irenaeus. The creed is not a relic of the past, but rather the “sword of the Spirit.” The reconversion of the world to Christianity is what we have to preach in our day. This is the only way out of that impasse into which the world has been driven by the failure of Christians to be truly Christian. Obviously, Christian doctrine does not answer directly any practical question in the field of politics or economics. Neither does the gospel of Christ. Yet its impact on the whole course of human history has been enormous. The recognition of human dignity, mercy and justice roots in the gospel. The new world can be built only by a new man.

The Modern Crisis

The first task of the contemporary preacher is the “reconstruction of belief.” It is by no means an intellectual endeavor. Belief is just the map of the true world, and should not be mistaken for reality. Modern man has been too much concerned with his own ideas and convictions, his own attitudes and reactions. The modern crisis precipitated by humanism (an undeniable fact) has been brought about by the rediscovery of the real world, in which we do believe. The rediscovery of the church is the most decisive aspect of this new spiritual realism. Reality is no more screened from us by the wall of our own ideas. It is again accessible. It is again realized that the church is not just a company of believers, but the “Body of Christ.” This is a rediscovery of a new dimension, a rediscovery of the continuing presence of the divine Redeemer in the midst of his faithful flock. This discovery throws a new flood of light on the misery of our disintegrated existence in a world thoroughly secularized. It is already recognized by many that the true solution of all social problems lies somehow in the reconstruction of the church. “In a time such as this” one has to preach the “whole Christ,” Christ and the church—totus Christus, caput et corpus, to use the famous phrase of St. Augustine. Possibly this preaching is still unusual, but it seems to be the only way to preach the Word of God efficiently in a period of doom and despair like ours.

The Relevance of the Fathers

I have often a strange feeling. When I read the ancient classics of Christian theology, the fathers of the church, I find them more relevant to the troubles and problems of my own time than the production of modern theologians. The fathers were wrestling with existential problems, with those revelations of the eternal issues which were described and recorded in Holy Scripture. I would risk a suggestion that St. Athanasius and St. Augustine are much more up to date than many of our theological contemporaries. The reason is very simple: they were dealing with things and not with the maps, they were concerned not so much with what man can believe as with what God had done for man. We have, “in a time such as this,” to enlarge our perspective, to acknowledge the masters of old, and to attempt for our own age an existential synthesis of Christian experience.1

N.T. Wright on Getting It Wrong

No one will miss that when it comes to patristics I am an amateur, both in the sense that I am not academically trained in this field, and in the etymological sense that I write as a lover (amator). Doubtless, much of what I write about the fathers will therefore be amateurish, so let me adopt this paragraph from N. T. Wright as my own:

I frequently tell my students that quite a high proportion of what I say is probably wrong, or at least flawed or skewed in some way which I do not at the moment realize. The only problem is that I do not know which bits are wrong; if I did I might do something about it. The analogy with other areas of life is salutary: I make many mistakes in moral and practical matters, so why should I imagine my thinking to be mysteriously exempt? But, whereas if I hurt someone, or take a wrong turn in the road, I am usually confronted quite soon with my error, if I expound erratic views within the world of academic theology I am less likely to be convinced by contradiction. … We all have ways of coping with adverse comment without changing our minds; but, since I am aware of the virtual certainty of error in some of what I write, I hope I shall pay proper attention to the comments of those—and no doubt there will be many—who wish to draw my attention to the places where they find my statement of the evidence inadequate, my arguments weak, or my conclusions unwarranted. Serious debate and confrontation is the stuff of academic life, and I look forward, not of course without some trepidation, to more of it as a result of this project.1

How to Learn a Tradition: Daf Yomi and Patristics

A page from the Vilna Talmud

The opening page of the Vilna edition of the Talmud (Berakhot 2a)

One of the things that gave us the idea to try to organize this reading group was learning about daf yomi, a plan for studying the Talmud. My knowledge of Talmud is scanty: I’ve read the Penguin edition for an overview, and I’ve read tractate Berakhot in the Steinsaltz edition, along with some introductory works. I also owe a debt to a friend who took some time to explain a page of Talmud to me, and thus the basics of Talmud study. (Before I read some of the Talmud, I never understood what the Psalmist’s phrase, “Oh, how I love thy law!” really looked like.) In my brief excursion, though, I learned that one way many Jews study Talmud is through daf yomi.

In the daf yomi reading plan, the student studies one folio page front and back (daf) per day (yomi) of the Babylonian Talmud. Since the Talmud has 2,711 folios, the student can read the entire Babylonian Talmud in seven and a half years. If you read the Talmud in the Steinsaltz or Schottstein editions, which are translated into English with commentaries that explain the brief statements of Mishna and Gemara, you’ll read about seven or eight large pages per day. The idea for daf yomi came from the Polish rabbi Meir Shapiro in 1923. Since then, daf yomi has gone through almost twelve cycles.

Borrowing the idea of daf yomi, we wanted to come up with a comparable reading plan for Christians. The nearest thing to the Talmud for Christians is the writings of the church fathers. Seven pages per day in the Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers leads to a seven-year cycle for reading a very large selection of the Christian fathers.

It’s not just the technique, but the idea of education behind daf yomi that we want to borrow, because daf yomi is a brilliant idea for educating a large number of people in a tradition. As I see it, these are the educational principles that are attractive:

  1. Learning comes from reading a foundational body of texts. You could learn from reading modern books, but there is a better way. The foundational texts are perpetually fresh, and those primary sources can be as foundational for your faith as they were for the tradition. Though the foundational texts are ancient, they are likely more accessible than modern works.
  2. Learning is therefore broad and varied. Both Talmud and the works of the church fathers are broad works encompassing a tremendous variety. They cover every topic relevant to the practice of your religion: theology, history, liturgy, apologetics, biblical commentary, and devotion, to name a few. While you could and perhaps should become an expert in some narrowly defined aspect of the tradition, it is of first importance that you become broadly educated in your whole tradition, just as life is lived as a whole and not as parts.
  3. Learning is a conversation. The first thing a beginner in Talmud (like me) notices is that the work is a conversation taking place across centuries; you can even see it in the design of the Talmud page. In Mishna, rabbis discuss the Oral Torah; in Gemara, rabbis discuss the debates in Mishna; Rashi comments on Mishna and Gemara; the Tosafists debate with Rashi; the student discusses it all with the teacher. The works of the church fathers are a conversation too: Jerome and Augustine send some heated letters back and forth; the tracts and polemics of the fathers are addressed to one another as well as to non-Christians. This conversation continues even to the present, and by studying these foundational texts, you are invited to participate (see #7).
  4. Learning is manageable. Most people are not students or scholars, and therefore do not have the opportunity of devoting their entire day to study; even fewer of us are scholars of patristics. Ideally, everyone would have the privilege of an in-depth, sustained, formative period of study at some point in their life, as the fathers demanded of their catechumens. But what we all need is a way to continue our study in a way that can fit into the rest of our lives. That’s why we’ve settled on seven pages per day (which will likely not feel manageable at first, but will become so).
  5. Learning is routine, habitual, disciplined. Discipline is the only way to learn anything, and discipline usually means routine and habit. That is why the reading is daily, and why we’ve recommended that you attach the habit of reading the fathers to some other habit, like daily prayer. Christianity is by its nature a discipline. Learning by routine and habit is thus a way of learning not just about Christianity, but of practicing it.
  6. Learning is accretive. A manageable daily portion multiplied by many days leads to a great accumulation. Slow, gradual accretion is the way of wisdom.
  7. Learning is communal. You will learn more and be more likely to succeed in being disciplined if you learn in a community. We’ve set reading the fathers to a calendar so that anyone, anywhere can be reading the same texts at the same time. That’s also why we’ve recommended that you find a study partner—a spouse, a friend, a pastor, a fellow churchgoer—with whom you can study and discuss.

Will you join us? Here is how to start reading.

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