Patristics the Forming of a Discipline

Get Paid To Write Online

Get Paid to Write at Home

Get Instant Access

The Oxford Movement of the mid-nineteenth century was the starting point of modern patristics in England. John Henry Newman became excited as a young man by the history of Arianism. His The Arians of the Fourth Century, first published in 1833, grappled not only with the source-texts (abundantly available to him in Oxford in early printed books), but with the underlying questions of genre and authoritativeness. He does not yet see patristics as a discipline in its own right; he describes Arianism (Newman 1876:2) as a period which "especially invites the attention of the student in ecclesiastical history." He speaks of "ancient writers" (1876:3) as readily as of "the Fathers."

Both in their scholarly editions (e.g. Pusey's of Cyril of Alexandria and Newman's of Athanasius) and in their conviction of the theological usefulness of the period, members of the Oxford Movement were keen to gain the writings a wider audience, through projects such as A Library of the Fathers, which was planned in 1836. In the 1830s Newman was seeking to popularize the patristic background in colorful accounts in the British Magazine (Newman 1835a:662-8; 1835b:41-8, 158-65, 277-84). Other translations appeared in the wake of this: an SPCK popular edition (The Fathers for English Readers, late nineteenth century) and most importantly the two large series Ante-Nicene Writers and A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. J. B. Lightfoot's The Apostolic Fathers (1869ff.) provided a translation of Clement of Rome, the Ignatian Epistles and the Epistle of Polycarp.

Owen Chadwick speaks of the respect of the Oxford Movement for the tradition of the ancient and undivided Church (Chadwick 1990:30), but it is apparent that toward the end of his long life Newman had got beyond that in the sophisticated understanding of what was appropriate in the treatment and handling of patristic texts. In the 1881 edition of his translation of the Select Treatises of St. Athanasius in Controversy with the Arians Newman wrote reflectively about his assumptions of this period:

In some quarters an over-estimation prevailed of the early Christian writers, as if they had an authority so special, and a position so like that of a court of final appeal, that those who had a title to handle their writings were but few. . . . Things are much altered since 1836-1845. I yield to no-one still in special devotion to those centuries of the Catholic Church which the holy Fathers represent; but I see no difficulty at this day in a writer proposing to himself a free translation of their treatises, if he makes an open profession of what he is doing. (Newman 1881:vi)

"Théologie, tendant la main de l'histoire" was the description of the Archbishop of Malines in his introductory remarks to the first issue of the Revue d'Histoire Ecclésiastique 1 (1900). Theology needed to incorporate critical method, historical method, philosophical method. Patristics, like theology at large, had become an interdisciplinary subject, which means that it crossed traditional disciplinary boundaries. It was not classics. It was not history. It was not philosophy. But it participated in each of these areas of intellectual endeavor, and others.

It was also conspicuously a common endeavor of a community of scholarship. Among the correspondence preserved in the Bodleian Library are exchanges between the scholars who (we can now see) were forming this modern discipline of theology. The Journal of Theological Studies (JTS), begun in 1899, brought together at its launching many of the leading theological scholars of Oxford and Cambridge, who met and talked and exchanged papers, using the JTS, as H. B. Swete put it in his introductory statement to the first issue, as "a regular organ of communication between students whose lives are spent at the universities and elsewhere, in the pursuit of scientific theology" (Swete 1899:1). The Committee of Direction included the two Regius Professors of Divinity from Oxford and Cambridge (Inge and Swete); the two Regius Professors of Hebrew (Driver and Kirkpatrick); Lock (Dean Ireland Professor at Oxford); Moberly (Pastoral Theology, Oxford); Ryle, the Hulsean Professor at Cambridge; and Stanton, the Ely Professor at Cambridge; with J. Armitage Robinson, formerly the Norrisian Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and Robertson, the principal of Kings College London. All except Turner were clerics. And indeed some contributors did make the Journal their commonplace-book. The editor, C. H. Turner, included nine of his own pieces in Volume I; others too appear several times in the early volumes.

Turner remarked in his "History and Use of the Creeds" for the Church Historical Society that although he was not a liturgiologist, he had had scholarly friends to whom he had been "fortunate in being able to appeal" (Turner 1910:5). F. C. Burkitt "rendered into English" the Hymn of Bardaisan in 1899, noting that "it was first edited in the great series of Apocryphal Acts published in 1871 by the late Dr. William Wright," but that it had been republished with "a fresh translation" a year ago "by my friend Professor Bevan, of Cambridge." This community of friendship (and rivalry) is evident in the surviving correspondence of scholars, asking one another questions about their research, sending one another drafts for comment, engaging in informal "peer-review." C. H. Turner wrote to Alexander Souter on January 8, 1906, "I don't agree with you . . . but I have, in deference to your view, whittled down 'surely' into 'I think'" (Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. C615). C. H. Milne wrote to Alexander Souter on March 10, 1929, "Many thanks for your 'review' of my paper. It will be of the utmost value to me when I attack the subject again," and on September 3, 1931, "I hear that in a review of C. H. Turner's book you are very eulogistically referred to in The Times Literary Supplement."

The contrast of "culture" in the sense of national "scholarly characteristics" is also visible. The Benedictine G. Morin was an assiduous correspondent with Oxford theologians and the contrast of his flowery and exuberant style with theirs is obvious.

As a new Honours subject in Oxford from 1870, Theology had to distinguish itself from the existing ones, and that principally meant establishing that patristic texts needed a treatment of a different kind from that which they would receive if they were secular Greek or Latin classics. However, the recognition that Patristics is distinct from Classics was slow to come. While the Patristic Greek Lexikon was beginning its lengthy progress from the germ of the idea in 1906, a ninth edition of the Greek dictionary of Liddell and Scott was planned. H. S. Jones recognized in his Preface that it was no longer satisfactory to include haphazard entries labeled "Byzantine" or otherwise recognized not to be classical Greek usage, when it was now apparent that the field of such usages was vast and could not be casually "sampled" in this way. As late as 192 7, James Mountford at Cornell wrote to Alexander Souter to thank him for a copy of his "Earliest Latin Commentaries." He comments that, "The book is a further demonstration that the field of scholarship is not to be bounded by the death of Juvenal to Tacitus. Unhappily, there is still a large number of Latinists whose interests extend only from

Lucretius to Lucan and who cannot believe that any good purpose is served by overstepping those limits" (Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. C611).

One of the difficulties was that the natural chronological endpoint for the Eastern authors was not the same as that for the West. The history of Latin Christian writing after the end of the ancient world did not run parallel with that of Greek Christian writing. The need for work on Christian Latin obtruded itself in various connections. For example, C. H. Turner wrote to Alexander Souter on January 4, 1906: "I forgot to ask yesterday whether you have any further references for 'rector' in the technical sense of a Christian ruler or bishop in Ambrosiaster" (Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. C615). On May 29, 1919, W. M. Ramsay wrote to C. H. Turner: "I have been working a little at some names in your Latin Nicene lists. Have you any view as to the time when the translations into different languages were made? Do they represent translations made at the time, or shortly after the Council was held, or were they made at some later day? He believes they date from close to 325. They are therefore an extremely valuable authority" (Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. C617).

On May 3, 1928, Christine Mohrmann, one of the pioneers who made the history of Christian Latin a study in its own right, wrote to Alexander Souter. He was beginning his period as Professor of New Testament Greek at Oxford, but his lasting interest was in the Latin tradition. She told him that she was "at work on a linguistic study of the language of Augustine," and she asked for "a few practical hints in the matter." In 1947 she was co-editing the new journal Vigiliae Christianae: A Review of Early Christian Life and Language, the first paper of whose first issue is her "Le latin commun et le latin des chrétiens" (Mohrmann 1947). She drew together there a variety of evidences that Christian Latin is "une langue spéciale" in the sense that there is a functional difference between it and secular late classical Latin. She points to Augustine's consciousness that new words were being formed. He gives the example of salvare and salvator, formed from salus, and he comments: "The grammarians do not ask whether it is Latin, but the Christians enquire how far it is true": nec quaerant grammatici quam sit latinum, sed Christiani quam verum (1947:4; and Augustine, Sermon 299.6).

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Study Aid

Study Aid

This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Getting A Scholarship And Financial Support For Your Studies.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment