Wonderful article on the struggle to reclaim a way of studying theology and the early church that would seek to support people of faith:
“Theology and patrology represent is an inversion of the common academic approach. That is, its stance is within a living faith tradition in which the contributions of one’s predecessors are developed and amplified in order to increase one’s understanding of a worldview which differs substantially from the tradition behind modern academe. The concern of a patrologist is to ask questions about how the Fathers thought in order to provide resources to evaluate and re-evaluate our theology within the Christian church today. It is not to add to the database of some kind of abstract history-as-it-was database whose purpose is both unclear and, hence, represents, at best, a body of interesting reading and, at worst, unconnected (and, hence, trivial) antiquarian lore.
Patrology, as a result, is profoundly and truly counter-cultural in a way that Early Christian studies (for all its posing) cannot be. Early Christian studies is very much at home in the dominant intellectual culture of our day because it adopts the modern academic approach without question. Furthermore, it participates in the modern culture wars between religion and secularism with a decidedly slant to the latter. It can’t help it. If one’s job as a scholar is to check one’s theology, faith and beliefs at the door, this is to say that they are, ultimately, irrelevant to one’s scholarly discourse and to communal discourse as whole. And, after all, is this not the assumption of Western secular cultures–that religion (and not just Christianity) is, at best, irrelevant to our common life and, at worst, is a threat to it (by fostering division). “
You can see this in action be reading pretty much any modern treatment of the historical life of Jesus and the way that Pope Benedict handles the same material. Benedict makes it clear that he’s writing from the viewpoint of a believing Christian and reads scripture to help inform that belief (a faith seeking understanding mode). I have to admit that I’m finding Benedict’s book enormously helpful – and have slowed to reading it at a paragraph at a time pace right now…
Read the rest: Patristics and Early Christian Studies