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How Not to Read the Fathers

[With this post we welcome Scholiast as a contributor. Scholiast previously wrote a post about why one should read the fathers, published on his own blog and excerpted here. In our last week before our reading begins, we will run several posts about how to read. Scholiast starts this series with some helpful suggestions about how not to read the fathers. —LAM]

The Church Fathers (11th-century Kievan image)

The Church Fathers (11th-century Kievan image)

In a little over a week, this exciting, ambitious project to read most of the Church Fathers will begin. I thought I might offer some insights into dangerous ways of reading that many of us are tempted to use from time to time as we meet with the Fathers. These ways of reading are suspicion, the related habit of heresy-hunting, ‘they’re just like us’, and prooftexting. A fifth way is not necessarily unhelpful but could be dangerous, and that is independent, devotional reading.

Suspicion

As you know, I dislike suspicious readings of texts, as discussed earlier this year in relation to Perpetua. This is a form of reading that is hostile — the least respectable of all interpretations is always taken. For example, one of my Presbyterian students read Leo the Great’s third sermon on his accession and declared that it looks like Leo is worshipping Peter! The same student later said that St. Francis’ Rule of 1221, in calling for ‘obedience and reverence’ to Innocent III, was distracting people from Christ and directing them to worship the Pope. Sigh. This is the sort of hostile reading that certain kinds of Protestants engage in with anything that resembles a pope or papism.

A friend of mine has this trouble with his students at an unnamed evangelicaliberty university who are automatically opposed to anything that looks ascetic or includes celibacy because it looks like Roman Catholicism and doesn’t contribute to evangelism.

Be ready for things in the Fathers that look Roman Catholic. They’re there. But do not assume the worst possible reading of all. Please. It tires me.

Heresy-hunting

Heresy-hunting is like suspicion. I first learned of this at Phil Snyder’s now-defunct blog Hyperekperissou. In this framework, people read the earlier Fathers looking for later heresies. So Justin is accused of being a Monarchianist or Cassian of being a Monophysite or even a Pelagian (!). We cannot back-read later orthodoxy or heresy onto the earlier Fathers. I believe that this stems from conservative Protestants, probably evangelical, who wish to discredit all Christian history between St. John’s vision on Patmos and Martin Luther on the one hand, and liberal Protestants, probably Anglican (quite frankly), who wish to find a way to justify their own eccentricities and dress them up like ‘progresive’ orthodoxy.

You will inevitably find things in the Fathers that sound like heresy to you. Ask what heresy, why this guy looks like a heretic, and why he is still a Church Father if he has allegedly committed ‘heresy’.

They’re Just Like Us

I once read this series of Christian romance novels called ‘The Mark of the Lion.’ True story. Anyway, what I found remarkable there was that late first-century Christians, rather than looking like the Didache look a heckuvalot like 20th-century nonconformist/free church evangelicals. Like Baptists, in other words. This, of course, was probably derived from not reading the Fathers. More commonly, this looks like something another friend of mine encountered at another evangelical university where a student pulled out Clement of Alexandria and said, ‘Look, third-century Christians believed in justification by faith!’ It is most commonly done by Orthodox who claim that Luke was the first iconographer and have all their modern, Byzantine practices confirmed. This practice, even if not used polemically, completely ignores the historical context of the writers involved.

Ancient Christians are very much like us. They believe in Jesus, that faith in him will save us. They pray. They have the same Bible. But they are not us. They are different. Be thankful for the similarities, but be wary of imagining that you and Aphrahat the Persian are the same.

Prooftexting

This is another dangerous way of reading the Fathers. It is often used in anti-Orthodox and anti-Catholic polemics. Passages such as St. Epiphanius of Salamis tearing down images in his local church are used in arguments with other Christians to prove to them that they are not as much like the early Christians as they thought. Sometimes the argument from silence is, that no Ante-Nicene Father seems to pray to saints — ha ha! You Orthodox scum are hellbound idolaters! Or it is clear from the Didache that the fasts were not the 40-day long abstinence-fests of Roman Catholicism originally. Ha ha! You Papist pagans have corrupted your own Tradition!

This is very, very dangerous. For example, we have Christian images that pre-date Epiphanius. So not all early Christians were iconoclasts. And, although the earliest pray-er to saints I can positively affirm is St. Paulinus of Nola, the Martyrdom of Polycarp seems to include relics and a saint’s shrine; Polycarp died in 155, so he’s not exactly a latecomer to the Christian tradition. Furthermore, although 40-day long abstinences are a development in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, by Melito of Sardis’ (d. ca. 180) time there seems to already have come into existence proto-Lent.

For every prooftext you can draw from the Fathers to fight the Orthodox and Roman Catholics, they’ll find a way to defang it. All you’ll do is fight with fellow Christians and get nowhere.

Devotional Reading

Devotional readings of the Fathers are not inherently bad. This is when you read a passage or text from the ancient Church and say, ‘Wow, this really speaks to my situation.’ Or you say, ‘Hey, this helps with x, y, or z modern problem.’ Or something like that. This is not a bad way of reading. I do it. I even do it on this blog.

But we have to distinguish between what the Fathers may say today and what the Fathers meant. Sometimes they are the same thing. Sometimes they are not. To help you distinguish, most modern translations of the Fathers come with handy introductions. Some, such as certain volumes in the Ancient Christian Writers series, have commentary. There are also handy introductory books such as Routledge’s Early Church Fathers series. Resources like these can help us distinguish between what Leo the Great means to me as a 21st-century Christian facing all the challenges this world holds, and what Leo the Great meant as a fifth-century Christian facing all the different challenges his world held.

I hope you can avoid these kinds of readings. The Fathers, I believe, are best read on their own terms and for your own edification — not as fuel for the battles for Christian identity that have raged since before 1054.

Originally posted at the pocket scroll.

Year 2 Calendar Posted

We’re gearing up for the start of year 1 of our reading cycle in a little over a week, but we’re ready with the year 2 schedule already, which we’ve posted to the calendar page. With a little numerological ingenuity, the second year ends the Ante-Nicene Fathers down to the page. Special thanks (again) to Amy Cavendar for converting the year 2 schedule into a Google calendar that you can subscribe to.

Here are the fathers that you can look forward to in the second year:

  • Cyprian
  • Novatian
  • Gregory Thaumaturgus
  • Dionysius of Alexandria
  • Archelaus the Bishop
  • Methodius of Olypus
  • Arnobius
  • Lactantius
  • Victorinus
  • The Didache
  • The Apostolic Constitutions
  • Pseudo-Clement
  • Tatian
  • Origen
  • and a number of minor fathers

A Gentle Introduction to the Fathers: The Didache, part 3

On Monday we posted the first part of the Didache as a gentle way to begin reading the fathers, and yesterday we posted the second part. Here is the third part of the Didache (11–16), containing a set of guidelines for the transition from an itinerant, charismatic ministry to a settled ministry.

Chapter 11. Concerning Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets. Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not. But if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet who speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. But not every one who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known. And every prophet who orders a meal in the Spirit does not eat it, unless he is indeed a false prophet. And every prophet who teaches the truth, but does not do what he teaches, is a false prophet. And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself does, shall not be judged among you, for with God he has his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets. But whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for others’ sake who are in need, let no one judge him.

Chapter 12. Reception of Christians. But receive everyone who comes in the name of the Lord, and prove and know him afterward; for you shall have understanding right and left. If he who comes is a wayfarer, assist him as far as you are able; but he shall not remain with you more than two or three days, if need be. But if he wants to stay with you, and is an artisan, let him work and eat. But if he has no trade, according to your understanding, see to it that, as a Christian, he shall not live with you idle. But if he wills not to do, he is a Christ-monger. Watch that you keep away from such.

Chapter 13. Support of Prophets. But every true prophet who wants to live among you is worthy of his support. So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his support. Every first-fruit, therefore, of the products of wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you have no prophet, give it to the poor. If you make a batch of dough, take the first-fruit and give according to the commandment. So also when you open a jar of wine or of oil, take the first-fruit and give it to the prophets; and of money (silver) and clothing and every possession, take the first-fruit, as it may seem good to you, and give according to the commandment.

Chapter 14. Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day. But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.”

Chapter 15. Bishops and Deacons; Christian Reproof. Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Therefore do not despise them, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers. And reprove one another, not in anger, but in peace, as you have it in the Gospel. But to anyone that acts amiss against another, let no one speak, nor let him hear anything from you until he repents. But your prayers and alms and all your deeds so do, as you have it in the Gospel of our Lord.

Chapter 16. Watchfulness; the Coming of the Lord. Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come. But come together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you are not made perfect in the last time. For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet. And third, the resurrection of the dead — yet not of all, but as it is said: “The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him.” Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.

Why Read: Aaron Hayes

Blogger Aaron Hayes has enthusiastically recommended the Read the Fathers project. In one of his blog posts, which he has asked that we include as part of our series on why readers are reading, he lists five reasons  to read the Fathers. Here are his reasons:

1. You Will Know Your Family History.  Many Christians from a variety of traditions often refer to “our church family” and point out the frequent family language used throughout the Scriptures.  There is of course nothing wrong with this, but the view of family here is often limited to one’s local congregation.  Our family is MUCH bigger than this, and includes those who have gone before us (and are still alive in Christ).   In an age when orthodoxy is mocked and every opinion considered equally valid, reading and studying the fathers will show how temporal much of what passes for modern trendy theology and church is.

Michelangelo - Torment of St. Anthony

Michelangelo’s Torment of St. Anthony

2. You Will Be Inspired.  If as a Christian you do not weep at some point while reading the Martyrdom of Polycarp, you are doing it wrong.  And this is only one writing.  When you see these ancient Christians stand up to emperors, conquer the flesh, encourage the struggling, persevere through suffering, and do their best to live authentic Christian lives, it will make you want to “go and do likewise.”  This will also help you put our current situation in the West into perspective.  Speaking of the West…

3.  Restoring the West.  It is almost cliché to mention the decadence of the West, but the fact of moral, spiritual, and cultural decline is ever-present. One great way to help reclaim the culture is to rediscover our roots.  What is great about western civilization is founded on the Judeo-Christian and Classical traditions, and the church fathers were steeped in both.  Our own heritage is counter-cultural today, and one must be familiar with it in order to take action and educate others to “stem the tide.”  This is one way in which we can truly create culture, rather than just whine and complain about it.  Read Gregory the Theologian’s Poetry and set it to music if you must!

4.  It Will Help You Read the Scriptures.  As theologian Thomas C. Oden puts it, “The history of the church is a history of exegesis.”  The fathers knew the Scriptures extremely well (many had huge portions memorized), and many were active pastors teaching the Scriptures to their flock.  Reading how John Chrysostom teaches on Matthew, or how Gregory the Great deals with Job, will force you to dig into the text, and better understand the Scriptures yourself.  Even if you disagree with a conclusion, you will have to know why you disagree, meaning you are contending with Holy Scripture the entire time. The Holy Spirit has been with the church since Pentecost, so why not read how the Spirit guided what became some of the most foundational received doctrine in Christendom?

5.  It Will Help You Be Disciplined.  Self-denial and discipline, especially of the mind, are not popular in today’s entertainment and consumer driven culture.  We may admire those who are able to exhibit such behavior, but we rarely do anything ourselves.  By committing to do this in community, with a schedule and seeing how others respond, you will be amazed at how little time you will have for frivolous things.  In fact, if reading the fathers caused more Christians to get rid of most Christian self-help books based in individualist pop-psychology, many pastors would be in trouble (in a good way).  In a very real sense, reclaiming our classic Christian heritage could go a long way in regards to renewal in the church.

A Gentle Introduction to the Fathers: The Didache, part 2

Yesterday we posted the first part of the Didache as a gentle way to begin reading the fathers. Here is the second part of the Didache (6.3–10.7), an explanation of church practices for baptism, the Eucharist, prayer, and fasting. Check back tomorrow for the final part of the Didache.

And concerning food, bear what you are able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly careful; for it is the service of dead gods.

Chapter 7. Concerning Baptism. And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.

Chapter 8. Fasting and Prayer (the Lord’s Prayer). But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday). Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, like this:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Thine is the power and the glory for ever..

Pray this three times each day.

Chapter 9. The Eucharist. Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:

We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever..

And concerning the broken bread:

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever..

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”

Chapter 10. Prayer after Communion. But after you are filled, give thanks this way:

We thank Thee, holy Father, for Thy holy name which You didst cause to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You modest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Thou, Master almighty, didst create all things for Thy name’s sake; You gavest food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us You didst freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant. Before all things we thank Thee that You are mighty; to Thee be the glory for ever. Remember, Lord, Thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Thy love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Thy kingdom which Thou have prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.

But permit the prophets to make Thanksgiving as much as they desire.

A Book Sale, and Augustine on the Physicality of Books

The opening folio of a fifteenth-century manuscript of The City of God

Starting today and running through November 26, Christian Book Distributors is having a “Black Friday” sale on The Early Church Fathers—the compilation of English translations upon which we’ve based our reading schedule. If you are committed to the long, seven-year haul (or if you want to sink an investment to keep yourself motivated!), the entire thirty-eight volume set will be sold for $220, with free shipping within the U.S.A. At less than $6 a volume, this is probably by far the lowest price one could expect to pay for an extensive set of patristic literature.

Should you get the bound paper set? We’ve already noted a couple of drawbacks to this edited collection, in addition to the sheer bulk of nearly forty volumes looking for shelf space. The entire set has been made available free online (including all editors’ introductions and annotations), so if you’re reading this post, you already have all that you need to read the fathers.

Yet we know some of our readers may feel that the physicality of a book forms an important part of their reading experience. You are in good company if you feel this way—no less an eminent reader than Augustine of Hippo frequently pondered over his interaction with bound parchment texts—sometimes to an obsessive degree. When requesting that his recently completed City of God be copied, he wrote to the Carthaginian Firmus:

There are twenty-two books, which are too many to put together in one volume. If you want to make two volumes, they should be divided so that one volume has ten books and the other twelve. Those ten, of course, refute the vanities of non-believers, but the rest present and defend our religion, although, where it was more opportune, I defended our religion in the first ten and refuted their vanities in the last twelve. If you want more than two volumes, you must make five. The first of them should contain the first five books, in which I argued against those who maintain that the worship clearly not of gods but of demons contributes to the happiness of this life, while the second volume should contain the five that follow against those who think that many gods, whether such gods or any whatsoever, should be worshiped through sacred rites and sacrifices on account of the life that will be after death. Now the three other volumes that follow should have four books each. For we divided that part so that four books would explain the origin of that city, the next four its progress or, as we prefer to say, its development, and the final four the ends due to those cities.1

For Augustine, it was supremely important that the physical division of his writings not interfere with the conceptual divisions.2 One disadvantage to our seven-page reading regimen is that it risks obscuring the larger whole of a work, and keeping the physically bounded copy in one’s hands may lend a firmer sense of orientation, especially within longer works like The City of God. For this reason I for one am planning to read the fathers using paper books, either The Early Church Fathers set or other translations that we recommend along the way. Whether that’s the best choice for your situation is, of course, entirely up to you.

A Gentle Introduction to the Fathers: The Didache, part 1

A page from the Didache

A page from Codex Hierosolymitanus containing the Didache, from Early Christian Writings.

If you’re planning to join us in reading the fathers, perhaps you might be interested in easing into the reading with a few short selections. Or, if you’re on the fence, perhaps you’d like a few trial readings. So taking Scholiast’s suggestion, starting today we offer you three brief readings from the Didache. If you like, you can read these sometime between now and Advent to get a taste of the fathers; we’re not scheduled to read this important text until the second year.

The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a document from the late first or early second century. In the years before the canon was determined, a few fathers appear to have cited it as Scripture, though that judgment was not corroborated by the later decision of the church about the  New Testament canon. The document was lost to the church for centuries, until a copy was rediscovered in 1873 in the Codex Hierosolymitanus by Philotheos Bryennios.

The Didache is a manual for the godly life and for church practice. The first part of the text sets forth the two ways of life or death, as a pattern for Christian living.The second part of the text gives instructions on baptism, the Eucharist, fasting, prayer, and other church matters, concluding with a brief apocalyptic vision. For a full introduction to the Didache and for the text and translation, I have already recommended Michael W. Holmes’s The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (3rd  rev. ed., Baker, 2007). You can also find a dated introduction from the Catholic Encyclopedia, and several translations of the text from Early Christian Writings.

But enough introduction. Here is the first part of the Didache (1.1–6.2). Check back the next two days for the rest.

The Didache

The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.

Chapter 1. The Two Ways and the First Commandment. There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what. And coming into confinement, he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape from there until he pays back the last penny. And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.

Chapter 2. The Second Commandment: Grave Sin Forbidden. And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. You shall not covet the things of your neighbor, you shall not swear, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not speak evil, you shall bear no grudge. You shall not be double-minded nor double-tongued, for to be double-tongued is a snare of death. Your speech shall not be false, nor empty, but fulfilled by deed. You shall not be covetous, nor rapacious, nor a hypocrite, nor evil disposed, nor haughty. You shall not take evil counsel against your neighbor. You shall not hate any man; but some you shall reprove, and concerning some you shall pray, and some you shall love more than your own life.

Chapter 3. Other Sins Forbidden. My child, flee from every evil thing, and from every likeness of it. Be not prone to anger, for anger leads to murder. Be neither jealous, nor quarrelsome, nor of hot temper, for out of all these murders are engendered. My child, be not a lustful one. for lust leads to fornication. Be neither a filthy talker, nor of lofty eye, for out of all these adulteries are engendered. My child, be not an observer of omens, since it leads to idolatry. Be neither an enchanter, nor an astrologer, nor a purifier, nor be willing to took at these things, for out of all these idolatry is engendered. My child, be not a liar, since a lie leads to theft. Be neither money-loving, nor vainglorious, for out of all these thefts are engendered. My child, be not a murmurer, since it leads the way to blasphemy. Be neither self-willed nor evil-minded, for out of all these blasphemies are engendered.

Rather, be meek, since the meek shall inherit the earth. Be long-suffering and pitiful and guileless and gentle and good and always trembling at the words which you have heard. You shall not exalt yourself, nor give over-confidence to your soul. Your soul shall not be joined with lofty ones, but with just and lowly ones shall it have its intercourse. Accept whatever happens to you as good, knowing that apart from God nothing comes to pass.

Chapter 4. Various Precepts. My child, remember night and day him who speaks the word of God to you, and honor him as you do the Lord. For wherever the lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord. And seek out day by day the faces of the saints, in order that you may rest upon their words. Do not long for division, but rather bring those who contend to peace. Judge righteously, and do not respect persons in reproving for transgressions. You shall not be undecided whether or not it shall be. Be not a stretcher forth of the hands to receive and a drawer of them back to give. If you have anything, through your hands you shall give ransom for your sins. Do not hesitate to give, nor complain when you give; for you shall know who is the good repayer of the hire. Do not turn away from him who is in want; rather, share all things with your brother, and do not say that they are your own. For if you are partakers in that which is immortal, how much more in things which are mortal? Do not remove your hand from your son or daughter; rather, teach them the fear of God from their youth. Do not enjoin anything in your bitterness upon your bondman or maidservant, who hope in the same God, lest ever they shall fear not God who is over both; for he comes not to call according to the outward appearance, but to them whom the Spirit has prepared. And you bondmen shall be subject to your masters as to a type of God, in modesty and fear. You shall hate all hypocrisy and everything which is not pleasing to the Lord. Do not in any way forsake the commandments of the Lord; but keep what you have received, neither adding thereto nor taking away therefrom. In the church you shall acknowledge your transgressions, and you shall not come near for your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life.

Chapter 5. The Way of Death. And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and accursed: murders, adultery, lust, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rape, false witness, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him Who made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him who is in want, afflicting him who is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.

Chapter 6. Against False Teachers, and Food Offered to Idols. See that no one causes you to err from this way of the Teaching, since apart from God it teaches you. For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able. And concerning food, bear what you are able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly careful; for it is the service of dead gods.

Why Read: The Pocket Scroll

For about six months now I’ve been reading The Pocket Scroll, a blog that is “a home for GK Chesterton’s ‘Democracy of the Dead’ and “a place for musings about the Great Tradition of Christianity.” The author—Scholiast—has just written a post about why he is going to join in reading the fathers. Here is one paragraph—you can read the rest at the blog.

I cannot recommend this idea enough. The challenges and wonders and mind-stretching ideas that come from reading the Fathers are exactly what the pocket scroll is about. I started this blog not only to have a place to work through some ideas but as a place to encourage others to meet with the texts that have formed the Christian faith and made it what it is today to help bring them to a place of deeper faith in God, greater awe before Him, fuller strength in the face of trouble, truer holiness in a licentious society.

I hope you’ll read some of the other posts at the Pocket Scroll, especially the series about “classic Christianity.” As the paragraph quoted above states, the whole blog is an argument for reading the fathers to learn a deeper faith and practice, and it contains a lot of helpful information about the Christian tradition along the way. That’s why I’ve taken the liberty including these excerpts as part of our series of posts on why readers are reading.

In the Pocket Scroll’s sidebar you’ll see the list of posts that make up the “classic Christianity” series. After reading the introduction, you might pay special attention to the post “What is Classic Christianity?” Here is a taste:

Paleo-orthodoxy seeks to learn theology from dead guys, to encounter the truths of orthodoxy in the Scriptures and the Church Fathers, drawing from the rich well of the first 1000 years of consensual Christian witness to the Truth. Classic Christianity reads these ancient Classics, seeking always the Truth, always Christ, always a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and God’s revelation to us. Classic Christianity seeks to be in communion with all that is good in the Christian tradition, drawing from the wells not only of the first 1000 years, but of the great Tradition as it gallops across the world and through time.

Be sure to also look at the second post, “Why Classic Christianity?” which is followed up by an excerpt from G. K. Chesterton on reading.

How’s Your Greek? Getting Started Reading the Fathers in the Original

One of the best things I did as an undergraduate was minor in New Testament Greek. By taking a course in Greek each semester, I learned the discipline of studying an ancient language and how to read and translate the Bible. My teachers all taught their subject with skill and diligence (and patience).

The odd thing about studying biblical Greek, as opposed to studying classical Greek, is that I learned to interpret Greek, not to read it. I mean that my education emphasized the intensive exegesis of a particular text rather than the extensive reading of texts. A typical semester course covered Romans (7,111 words in Greek), whereas a course in classical Greek might cover the Iliad (c. 100,000 words in Greek). The emphasis on exegesis is entirely defensible, given that the study of the New Testament was the entire point of the curriculum.

Still, in looking back I’m surprised not that the emphasis was on exegesis, but that that emphasis was exclusive. I don’t recall studying a single passage from the Septuagint, or the apostolic fathers, or any other work in the vast corpus of Christian Greek writing, let alone the pagan classics. Besides the value of those texts in their own right, surely knowledge of them is helpful for a better understanding of New Testament Greek. Let me make an analogy. Suppose that English was not your native language, and that the only work in English you ever read was the King James Bible. Could you really say that you knew how to read English? For that matter, how well would you be able to read the English Bible without knowing anything of the vast number of texts surrounding it? My point is not that that Greek education in seminaries is fundamentally flawed, but that some of its weaknesses could be corrected by also teaching students to read other Christian texts in Greek.

Whitacre, A Patristic Greek ReaderFortunately there is an excellent book on how to read the church fathers in Greek, Rodney A. Whitacre’s A Patristic Greek Reader (Hendrickson, 2007). The heart of Whitacre’s book is a surprisingly wide-ranging collection of excerpts from the Greek fathers: the Didache, the apostolic fathers, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, and others. An affordable collection of Greek texts of this scope would be accomplishment enough.

But the real strength of the book are the aids to help you learn patristic Greek. An appendix offers a complete translation of each of the texts, so that you can check your translations. Footnotes to each text give definitions and parsings for each word used fewer than 50 times in the New Testament. (Users of the UBS Greek New Testament: Reader’s Edition or Goodrich and Lukaszewski’s A Reader’s Greek New Testament will be familiar with the format.) Each of the texts comes with a helpful introduction, and the texts are ranked in order of difficulty.

The difficulty of these texts (at least the beginning and intermediate ones) is no more challenging than most passages of the New Testament. Whitacre writes that the book is intended for someone who has completed one year of Greek courses. Consider these two verses from the Didache (9.1–2) about the Eucharist:1

Περὶ δὲ τῆς εὐχαριστίας, οὕτως εὐχαριστήσατε· 2. πρῶτον περὶ τοῦ ποτηρίον· Εὐχαριστοῦμεν σοι, πάτερ ἡμῶν, ὑπὲρ τῆς ἁγίας ἀμπέλον Δαυεὶδ τοῦ παιδός σου· σοὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας.

(My translation): Concerning the Eucharist, thus you should give thanks. First for the cup, “We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant; to you be glory forever.”

Keep in mind that the excerpt above does not include Whitacre’s helps. That passage is as easy as any in Mark or 1 John, which I was taught in my first year of Greek. Of course, some of the texts in this book are fiendishly difficult, but we all need a challenge.

People who are joining Read the Fathers but who do not know Greek should not be discouraged by this post. If Christians read the Bible in the vernacular, surely we can read the fathers in the vernacular. But I suspect that a large number of people who are taking up this reading project have some Greek, and I encourage you to broaden your ability to read Greek by trying your hand at the fathers contained in Whitacre’s collection.

Holmes, The Apostolic FathersIf you want another way to begin reading the Greek fathers, I recommend that you pick up a copy of Michael W. Holmes’s The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (3rd  rev. ed., Baker, 2007). Available in a beautiful diglot edition, Holmes’s work is a great source for both a critical text of the apostolic fathers and a readable English translation. The Greek of the apostolic fathers is sufficiently close to the New Testament that you can use BDAG (which is after all, a lexicon of the New Testament and ‘other early Christian literature’.

And as a bonus, our reading plan begins with the apostolic fathers!

John Chrysostom Wants *You* for Read the Fathers

In the wake of elections in the United States, we offer you this poster to encourage friends, relatives, co-religionists, and complete strangers to join Read the Fathers. You can see a preview image below; click for the printable, e-mailable PDF.

Where might you use this poster? Try office doors, bulletin boards, class handouts, church bulletin inserts, dorm room walls, e-mail, direct mail, street distribution, door-to-door canvassing.

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