Flemming Rutledge: Who was Jesus of Nazareth?


Flemming, who posts on the blog “Generous Orthodoxy” has a post up today on why the Patristic thinkers are so useful for us to study today:

“I have been re-reading the Church Fathers for several months. What a wonderful experience it has been. It is often said that the gathering of great minds in the American colonies at the time of the Revolution was a sort of miracle. This could equally be said of the assemblage of thinkers who carved out the shape of the orthodox Christian faith in the first four centuries after the Crucifixion and Resurrection. One marvels at the sheer intellectual firepower of these figures, and at their numbers spread all over the Mediterranean world. Moreover, many of them suffered all sorts of indignities, being deposed, exiled, or anathematized on account of their unflagging efforts. Their disputes were ferocious and often vicious, as is unfortunately typical of human controversies, but the final product is a firm anchor in a safe harbor for the believer in these difficult times.”

She then leads us to this idea:

[T]he Church Fathers left [intellectual] markers for us, like those that guide skiers downhill. There is great freedom in this. The purpose of the markers is to tell us that we may enjoy a great range of exciting trails at various speeds, observing only the boundaries that say “beyond this, you will be off-piste”—which may be exhilarating but may also mean a badly broken leg or even death.

In other words, since the Fathers have already been down a certain intellectual/philosophical trail and found it to be wanting, they’ve left warning signs for us to avoid getting ourselves lost in what is at best a thought process that leads to a dead-end.

My theological training in seminary followed the “patristic track” rather than the “modern theology” track. (Both were options at Yale.) Flemming is absolutely correct in what she points out – and her reminder that orthodoxy is really a set of boundary markers rather than simply prescriptive formulas is a very helpful image.

Read the rest here: Who was Jesus of Nazareth?

(Via Ruminations.)

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Threats are not too effective these days — going off track from the Church Fathers has been freeing for many.

  2. Flemming’s skiing metaphor gives us a vehicle to examine several unstated assumptions of orthodoxy, such as:
    * that the Fathers exhaustively and accurately surveyed all the possible routes down the slopes, and authoritatively knew which were safe and which were not — a questionable assumption, given that billions of people seem to have descended quite successfully via other routes (at least we have no way of verifying any claim that their descents were somehow unsuccessful);
    * that the slopes haven’t materially changed (e.g., through forest growth, rock slides, etc.) in the intervening centuries.

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