One of the principal errors of Christian dogma is that we are fallen from an ideal state in Eden. Archeologically, this is absurd: mankind was distributed across most of the globe at the time of the direct encounter between Man and God in the Middle East. The Fall was a local event, that set in chain events (as the seed becomes the mighty mustard tree) that eventually enmeshed all of humanity.
But it appears also in our theological arguments: we hold that those closest to Jesus must have understood most clearly his intentions. This is a great comfort to those that do not wish to wrestle with the universalism of Christian love – they justify their prejudices by picking and choosing among early writers, rather than confronting the work that must be done in each age.
In fact, our modern dialog is far richer than that among the early adherents to the faith. The participants are more heterogeneous, and we possess words (such as EMPATHY, coined in the 1800’s) that were unknown to the elders.
We are not fallen, we are still rising. Christ is still at work in the world, and continues to lift us up, NOT LEAST through the agency of women that bear witness to virtue.
James Matichuk offers a review of a survey by Christopher Hall on the thinking of early church fathers on issues of modern controversy. In general, I am very sympathetic to James’ theology, and he is constrained in his format to representation of the content of the original work. I am not so constrained, and weighed in with this perspective.
The attitude to the fetus is idealistic. Did the early fathers recognize that there are mothers and fathers that are incapable of providing such nurturance, and that in fact the pressure of adding a child to a household might guarantee suffering and death to both mother and child? I am not asking this to be contrary, but simply as a matter of record: did they grapple with the practical issues of pregnancy and birth from a woman’s perspective?
If they didn’t, why do we reference them?
A contrasting practice is the Roman prenuptial rite. This created a physical experience comparable to child birth, which in its traumas can break either body or mind. If the woman could not endure the ritual, she was encouraged to withdraw from her engagement.
This same type of critical analysis can be extended to others among the selected issues.
My introduction to patristics came through the Desert Fathers. I picked up a book (I can’t remember if I read Helen Wadell’s or Benedicta Ward’s collection first) and discovered there compelling voices from another age. They were ethereal and strange, sometimes legalistic, but always thoughtful. They offered a compelling vision of the spiritual life. Since then I’ve read more widely the church fathers, exploring the saints of both the Christian East and West. Because their time was so different from our own, and not so different, I think they have a tremendous capacity to speak prophetically into our age.
Christopher Hall is an excellent guide to the thought world of the fathers. He is the associate editor of IVP’s Ancient Commentary on Scripture and his newest book is the fourth and final volume of his Church Father’s series (previously published, Reading the Bible with the Church Fathers, Learning Theology with the…
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