Saturday, January 12, 2008

Why Study The Fathers?

“The Fathers are first and foremost commentators of the holy Scriptures. The treatises in which St. Athanasius questions the arguments of the Arians are nothing more than a commentary on the basic verses of Scripture, or those that are the object of controversy. The rules of St. Basil are interwoven with scriptural texts. St. Augustine preached his finest series of sermons in the form of a commentary verse by verse on the Psalms and on St. John. This patristic writing is also clearly pastoral, which explains its vigor and straightforwardness, characteristic of Church writing. For this very reason the Fathers introduced few subtle or unusual questions in their dogmatic writing, contenting themselves with a systematic investigation; but this does not mean that they abstained from the most profound meditations—take St. Augustine’s De Trinitate, for example. As a result of all this, and also because the Fathers’ attitude was wholly spiritual, their writing, when compared with the Christian reality, reveals an immediacy that brings it close to the simple and vigorous texts of the witnesses. Living with Scripture and nourished by it, when faced with the first heresies attacking the foundations of the faith, the Fathers concentrated their reflection on the essentials. They avoided introducing human and specific research into their teaching and never lost sight of the totality of the faith, united as it is by its center, namely, the Christian mystery, and converging toward its object, our union with God. From beginning to the end the Fathers are concerned entirely with the mystery of Christ, God made man to restore creation’s true meaning according to God and to bring man into communion with the divine life, to which he is destined and called by God. This is why, by always concentrating on the whole and on its center, the Fathers bring the whole to life in each of its parts. They do not speak of Christ without speaking of the Church, nor of baptism or the Eucharist without showing the totality of the mystery of our Redemption and of our introduction into the divine life. With them everything has its place in the harmony. The Fathers are men of unity; this is apparent in their lives and in their writing. With them there is no separation between ascesis and theology, or between the life of prayer and the speculative contemplation of the mysteries. Often having come from monarchism, they are the best examples of the ideal of a unified and fully integrated humanity, which is the model of Christian anthropology. They also succeed wonderfully in communicating a sense of its totality, centered on Jesus Christ, who is the principle itself of this Christological, anthropological and cosmic interpretation of the holy Scriptures, of which tradition is composed in its main dogmatic aspect. Their ethos, climate of thought and view of things are the actual ethos, climate and view of the Bible. They share its conception of the history of the world and of man, and of the history of salvation. All this explains why they are favored witnesses of tradition, whose spirit radiates and is absorbed from them; through them the influence of tradition is felt.”

-Yves Congar in The Meaning of Tradition.

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