Modern Patristics

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Von Harnack

In his History of Dogma, Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) emphasized that the discipline of the history of dogma distinguished itself from that of church history by its narrower subject matter, and differed from systematic theology in refusing to see dogmas as timeless truths: "the business of the history of dogma is, in the first place, to ascertain the origin of Dogmas (or Dogma), and then secondly, to describe their development (their variations)" (von Harnack 189 7:1). He developed a notion of development in which writers from Augustine onwards "disclosed a new conception of Christianity, but at the same time appropriated the old dogmas" (von Harnack 1897:8), recognizing some continuity but denying that the Roman Catholic Church and her doctrines constituted a natural and necessary outgrowth from the early Church and stressing that

"Protestantism must . . . under all circumstances be recognised as a new thing" (von Harnack 1897:9, n.2). The idea that dogma unfolds itself was dismissed as "unscientific" and von Harnack famously declared that "dogma has its history in the individual living man and nowhere else" (von Harnack 1897:12). Consequently, the scholar must attend to the context in which dogmas originated and developed, taking into account the influence of Scripture and tradition (both doctrine and "blind custom"); the liturgical and institutional life of the Church; prevailing intellectual, religious, political, social, and moral trends; the needs both for logical consistency and for coherence of belief within the Church; and the Church's need to reject error (von Harnack 189 7:12).

Although it can easily be argued that von Harnack failed to live up to this method himself, and that some of these ideas entered modern patristics by other routes, this contextualizing and historical approach has colored all patristic research since. However, he is influential not just for his method, but for his conclusions reached by it. First, he claimed that the development of dogma in the early Church represented a process of Hellenization, as Christian beliefs came to be expressed, explained, and justified with Greek concepts. Secondly, in his lectures on The Essence of Christianity (delivered in Berlin between 1899 and 1900) von Harnack drew some more strictly theological conclusions from his research. Like previous church historians, he located authority in an original unified state; his novelty, however, was to draw a clear dividing line between "the gospel" and "dogma," seeing the former as the true "essence of Christianity" and defining it in moral-religious terms as Jesus's message of the fatherhood of God, the value of each human and the ethical obligations that spring from those truths. Dogma, then, represents a falling-away from this central religious truth, and Hellenistic modes of thought were the form this falling-away first took. Thus by moving patristics away from the use of early Christian literature as "proof texts" toward a more critical approach whilst still asking about the essence of Christianity, von Harnack raised the question which has pursued it for the hundred years since: what is the relation between patristics and theology?

Finally, through works on writers like Marcion (1924), von Harnack promoted the historical study of writers on the fringes of the Christian tradition and emphasized the importance of establishing reliable texts, since most marginal or heretical writers were lost and fragments from them were quoted only by their opponents. This interest was carried on by von Harnack's successor at Berlin, Hans Lietzmann (1875-1942), whose work on Apollinaris of Laodicea (Lietzmann 1904) greatly facilitated the study of the Christological controversies by its attempt to distinguish genuine and spurious Apollinarian texts. He also produced the notable History of the Early Church (4 volumes, 1932-44).


Von Harnack's work was most positively received among Protestants, although more so by academics than by the Lutheran Church, with which von Harnack had a somewhat uneasy relationship. However, some Catholic historians used the same methods in order to challenge his conclusions. Thus, the Frenchman Louis Duchesne

(1843-1922) insisted on the necessity of rescuing church history from the current inadequate and narrow approach, yet criticized von Harnack for neglecting "everything which is rite, hierarchy, sacrament, popular devotion" (Duchesne 1892:403). Duchesne did not abandon the early church texts used by the seminarians' textbooks, but he approached them more critically and complemented them with the use of the new archeological and epigraphical techniques being used by secular historians (an advance on von Harnack's approach, which was almost exclusively textual).

Duchesne was a devout and loyal priest; yet he inevitably raised the hackles of his fellow Roman Catholics, particularly since he challenged some dearly held myths about the southern French sees, which were popularly supposed to have apostolic foundations. This opposition had its effect on his career: having been elected to the Chair of church history at the prestigious Institut Catholique in Paris in 1877, he resigned in 1885, after adverse reaction to his lectures on the history of doctrine. He carried on his work at the École Supérieur des Lettres and, from 1895, the French School at Rome. However, his effort to establish church history as a scientific enterprise earned Duchesne the respect of the secular French academic establishment at a period when Catholicism had a far from comfortable position in France, and he was elected a member of the Académie française in 1910. By 1963 Duchesne's Histoire ancienne de l'Église was being cited by the future Cardinal Daniélou as "still useful" - a comment which speaks both for the quality and durability of Duchesne's scholarship as well as for the Church's changed attitude to his historical method.

The "ressourcement ": de Lubac and Daniélou

The Roman Catholic movement known as "modernism" questioned further the relation between history and the Church. By emphasizing how much the Church had changed, the modernists gave the impression that no particular historical instantiation was important, that all Church doctrines, forms, and customs were merely useful pointers to (or outgrowths of) a subjective and interior experience. They challenged the contemporary neo-scholastic orthodoxy, which eschewed modern historical techniques and tended to use the past as a kind of source-book to prove the correctness of the Roman Church's current dogmas and constitution. Although the modernists were few in number, they startled Rome and were condemned by Pius X, most famously in his encyclical Pascendi in 1907, which summed up their errors as "historicism," "imma-nentism," and "agnosticism."

The gulf between modernism and neo-scholasticism formed the theological backdrop for the most important development within Roman Catholicism from the point of view of patristic studies: the ressourcement and the interconnected development of the so-called nouvelle théologie. The political and social background was no less important: theologians of all denominations felt a need for reassessment and renewal after the experiences of World War I and this combined with the end of a long period during which anti-clericalism had dominated France. In the 1930s many theologians returned from exiled monastic communities with a desire to renew Roman Catholic theology in a mode which took seriously not only modern historical and philosophical develop-

ments but also a sophisticated theological reflection upon them. A vital part of this movement was a return to the sources (a ressourcement) of Christian life and faith -both biblical and patristic - investigating them through historical research and using them to renew current theology. Historical studies of the Bible and of early Church doctrine, liturgy, and ecclesiology became interconnected and the new research was conducted in an ecumenical spirit: these Roman Catholics emphasized that the early Church was - historically speaking - the root of all modern denominations and not just the church of Rome (whilst admittedly often still emphasizing typically Roman elements in the tradition). This spirit of scholarship and renewal had an important impact on the Second Vatican Council, at which several prominent ressourcement scholars, including de Lubac and Daniélou, were periti.

The examples of de Lubac and Daniélou illustrate well the development of Roman Catholic patristic studies in this period. The first publication of the Jesuit Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) was an analysis of the biblical exegesis of the third-century Origen of Alexandria (de Lubac 1950); his most famous historical work (de Lubac 1998) studied exegesis in the medieval period. Even those of his works which claim not to be historical reveal de Lubac's dependence on the thought of the early Church. In the introduction to Catholicism he declared:

If the quotations are numerous ... it is because I wanted to [draw] on the treasures, so little utilised, in the patristic writings. This is not to overlook in a frenzy of archaism the precisions and developments in theology which have been made since their time, nor do I take over in their entirety all the ideas they offer us: I seek only to understand them and to listen to what they have to tell us. . . . The greater becomes one's familiarity with this immense army of witnesses . . . the keener is one's realisation of how deep is the unity in which all these meet together. (De Lubac 1988:19-20)

As Professor of Theology at Lyons from 1934, de Lubac taught two other influential scholars during their training as Jesuits: the Frenchman Jean Daniélou (1905-74) and the Swiss Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88; he left the order in 1950). Although most of Daniélou's important work was in patristics, and most of von Balthasar's in systematic theology, both men, like de Lubac, illustrate the integration of historical and theological reflection together with a desire to communicate with the contemporary world, which characterized nouvelle théologie. In the field of patristics, von Balthasar published two detailed, albeit highly individual, monographs on Maximus the Confessor (von Balthasar 1941) and on Gregory of Nyssa (von Balthasar 1995) plus articles on Origen (von Balthasar 1957). Daniélou's first work was an enormously influential study of the spiritual theology of Gregory of Nyssa, an author to whom he returned frequently in his career (Daniélou 1944); this was followed by studies of Origen (Daniélou 1955) and Philo of Alexandria (Daniélou 1958), surveys of various aspects of the early Church such as liturgy, sacraments, and use of the Bible, and large-scale histories of early Christian doctrine and church history.

The choice of these subjects indicates a strong interest in the Greek Fathers. Writers like Gregory and Origen appealed because of their use of contemporary philosophy, their attention to Scripture, and their belief that true piety lies in the transformation of the soul. Furthermore, the Greek Fathers' theology helped resolve one of the tensions between neo-scholasticism and modernism. While both depended in different ways on a distinction between nature and grace, the Greek Fathers and the new Catholic writers questioned it. They emphasized that God worked throughout the whole of human history (facilitating ecumenical dialogue and conversation with other religions), and they focused on the spiritual as opposed to the purely doctrinal or liturgical aspects of Christianity.

De Lubac and Danielou were also instrumental in introducing patristic writers to a wider non-academic audience with their more popular works, and their writings indicate two issues of increasing concern to patristics: the study of premodern hermeneutics and of the influence of Judaism on early Christianity.

Ecumenism and patristics

The great divisions of the Church occurred in the Middle Ages (the Schism of 1054 between East and West) and at the end of the Middle Ages (the divisions of the Reformation). When modern ecumenism began in earnest with the Second Vatican Council, the patristic texts had the attraction of providing authoritative guidance on the common faith of the undivided Church. This encouraged the churches meeting in bilateral or multilateral dialogues to make extensive use of scholars with specialist patristic knowledge among their numbers.

Patristics and other disciplines

In the latter half of the twentieth century, much more interest was paid to archeolog-ical evidence and much more such evidence relating to early Christianity became available, especially in North Africa. It is particularly useful in helping the historian map the geographic spread of Christianity in the first few centuries. It has provided evidence about early Christian life and belief where extant literary sources are very rare (e.g. Britain), or for heretical writers and groups whose texts were not preserved (e.g. Montanists and Donatists). It can also illuminate artistic and liturgical developments, which are poorly reflected in texts, if at all (Frend 1997:29ff.).

Though the archeologist can be unsympathetic to the concerns of the student of the texts, one major subset of archeological discovery has been the unearthing of new texts. Of great importance to the study of patristics has been the study of the finds at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. The texts, which are probably late fourth-century copies of works written in the second century, are important because they provide concrete evidence of the beliefs of the gnostic groups on the fringes of Christianity, which were attacked by writers like Irenaeus - although any mapping of the specific views he cites directly onto the Nag Hammadi texts is very difficult.

Although the texts were discovered accidentally by a local man in 1945, the complexity of preparing them for publication meant that they did not make a real impact on patristic studies until the 1970s. A provisional translation appeared in 19 77 and a photographic facsimile was produced in the same period, but definitive editions are still being produced (some in the series Nag Hammadi Studies). The study of other papyrus finds, for example those at Oxyrhynchus, helps scholars fill out the picture of early Christian society by studying texts like letters and various sorts of church documents. Use of archeological evidence has stimulated a growing trend for the study of early Christianity, in particular geographic centers such as Alexandria, Syria, Antioch, and Caesarea. This research has further emphasized the diversity among early Christians and, in particular, it has become clear that not only Hellenistic culture but also that of diaspora Judaism affected the beliefs and practices of early Christian communities in very different ways.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, patristic scholars have become more sympathetic to the methods of the social sciences: current studies of the early Church often use categories like culture, society, class, hierarchy, and gender in order to interpret the historical evidence. They have also benefited from developments in the study of rhetoric and late Platonism. In their awareness of similarities which cut across the whole world of late antiquity, patristic scholars have become closer than ever to classicists, especially in the United States: see, for example, the work of Peter Brown (Brown 1988) and Elizabeth Clark (Clark 1992).

Establishing the texts and creating the scholarly apparatus

The first series of modern scholarly editions of patristic texts was the Vienna Corpus (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum), begun in 1866. Von Harnack, with O. von Gebhardt, founded the series Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur (1882- ); he also initiated the Commission on the Church Fathers at Berlin, which produced editions of the early Greek Fathers, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte (189 7- ). In 1942 de Lubac and Daniélou established the series Sources Chrétiennes, which provided new editions of patristic texts with a parallel French translation. By the year 2000 the series had run to over 450 volumes. In the German-speaking world the increasingly strong influence of German classical philologists on patristics studies facilitated the production of such editions as Werner Jaeger's series of works by Gregory of Nyssa. The latter half of the twentieth century saw the appearance of the important Corpus Christianorum editions, with series of Greek, Latin, and medieval works.

New theological works are very rarely found on ancient papyrus; occasionally they emerge through the discovery of Byzantine or medieval manuscript copies (for example, the texts and translations of some newly discovered letters by Augustine of Hippo were published in the 1980s, and of some of his sermons in the 1990s). Some patristic texts which were no longer extant in Greek have been recovered through the careful study of their Syriac translations: this process began at the beginning of the twentieth century but has gathered pace in recent years. Texts rescued in this way include, for example, works by Evagrius of Pontus, whose importance for the history of monasti-cism has only recently been fully appreciated.

Dictionaries and study-aids

The Patristic Greek Lexikon was begun on a suggestion made by the Central Society for Sacred Study in 1906 at the time when H. B. Swete was the Warden of the Society (Lampe 1961:iii). Within three years eighty clergy and others had been found who were sufficiently interested in patristic studies to be willing to be included in a list of searchers. C. H. Turner was writing to Alexander Souter on March 1, 1916 with a progress report and a request. "Our scheme" for the Lexikon is, he says, "rapidly taking shape. I wonder if you could help us with the section of Greek words used in the Latin Fathers - we have as yet no collection of these, and I think they should clearly come in" (Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. C615). The prospective searchers were to be allocated portions of the Patrologia Graeca of J. P. Migne, from which they would collect material for the Lexikon on slips. (The flavor of this task is captured in correspondence on another task. On June 12, 1933, C. H. Milne was writing to Alexander Souter about his collection of "a goodly number of Hilary quotations" from the Gospels. "I have now completed those from Matthew. They consist of 759 slips, and are ready to be dispatched. I retain them until (not without some degree of satisfaction!), I can show you the pile.") For the Lexikon, a Committee of Direction was formed and in 1915 an editor was appointed. He was Darwell Stone, then Principal of Pusey House, and he was to serve until his death in 1941.

After 1941, the Committee, which was by then chaired by N. P. Williams, and from 1943 by R. H. Lightfoot, appointed F. L. Cross to be the new editor. He was then the Librarian of Pusey House, and later Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. The editor who brought the project to completion in 1961 was G. W. H. Lampe. The Patristic Greek Lexikon in the end covered the period from Clement of Rome at the end of the first century to Theodore of Studium.

The Preface to the Patristic Greek Lexikon reflected the policy decision which had been arrived at by 1965, to make the object of the work "the provision of as full a treatment as possible of all words of special theological or ecclesiastical significance" and the listing of words in the Fathers which do not appear in Liddell and Scott or which are "but poorly attested there" (Lampe 1961:iv).

The Thesaurus Linguae Latinae was conceived as an attempt to include in one wordlist the Christian with the secular Latin tradition up to the sixth century. However, even if it seemed acceptable in England at first to base the Patristic Greek Lexikon on Migne it was apparent elsewhere that Migne would not do as a basis for a dictionary, where it was essential that the words listed as contained in a given text or context be accurate. When the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae was planned it was realized that first it would be necessary to create reliable editions of the writers whose "words" were to be included. This was the beginning of the Vienna Corpus, under the guidance of Johannes Vahlen (Hanslik 1966:71-4).

Journals and conferences

In 1951 the enormous four-yearly Oxford Patristic Conferences began, drawing hundreds of patristic scholars from all over the world, with their proceedings published in an expanding batch of Studia Patristica volumes, at first in the series Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Altchristlichen Literatur (Berlin) and then by the Pergamon Press, then by Cistercian Publications, and then Peeters, Leuven.

The four volumes of the Proceedings of the Third Conference, of 1959, begin with an introductory essay by A. Mandouze; he takes the patristic age to be the "golden age" of Christian writing (aetas aurea scriptorum ecclesiasticorum). He celebrates the range patristics now embraces as reflected in the sections into which papers are divided by the Conference and its Proceedings: editiones, critica, philologica, biblica, judaica, historica, liturgica, iuridica, theologica, philosophica, monastica, ascetica (Mandouze 1961). Some major individual patristic writers now have their own conference series.

The vitality and scope of patristic studies is also demonstrated by the current existence of over half a dozen journals specifically dedicated to the discipline, besides others which frequently publish articles on the early Church.

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