Resources: Reading over the Fathers’ Shoulders

Getting to know the Fathers

Christopher A. Hall’s Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (InterVarsity, 1998) is the best short introduction to the subject for modern Protestants. Hall understands the questions and reservations this audience brings to this study, and he addresses them helpfully. His book manages to retain the liveliness and passion of both the people it profiles and the contested questions it covers.

In Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (Yale, 2003), Robert Louis Wilken gives an account of early Christian thought and practice that is scholarly, clear, and compelling. Wilken shows how Scripture provided the church with a dynamic foundation for worship, theology, and mission. He demonstrates convincingly that early Christian thought is no mere era of church history, but a vital source for the church’s continued health.

Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters, Donald. K. McKim, ed. (InterVarsity, 1998) is a helpful guide to biblical interpretation through the whole span of Christian history, explaining the contributions of the church’s most notable exegetes. The book provides a brief biography and historical introduction to the noteworthy works of each figure. It also outlines the major debates and controversies

of each era, including the early church’s Gnostic crisis and the diverse methodologies of Eastern and Western interpreters.

Books from the Fathers

Readers who want to access English-language translations of the Fathers’ own writings will find a number of editions, some newer and more readable than others. Here are some of the best, culled from Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers and Donald K. McKim, ed., Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters.

• IRENAEUS

Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, translated by J. Behr (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997).

Against the Heresies, translated in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1 (1885: repr. Eerdmans, 1987).

• ORIGEN

Commentary on Matthew, AnteNicene Fathers vol. 4, pp. 409–512 (Hendrickson, 1994).

The Commentary of Origen on St. John’s Gospel: The Text Revised with a Critical Introduction, edited by A. E. Brooks (2 vols.; Cambridge University Press, 1896).

On First Principles (Harper & Row, 1966).

Homilies on Leviticus: 1–16, Fathers of the Church vol. 83.

Homilies on Luke and Fragments on Luke, edited by Joseph T. Lienhard, Fathers of the Church 94 (Catholic University of America, 1996).

The Philocalia of Origen: A Compilation of Selected Passages from Ongen’s Works Made by St. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. Basil of Caesarea (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1911).

Selections from the Commentaries and Homilies of Origen, edited by R. B. Tollinton (London: SPCK, 1929).

• ATHANASIUS

On the Incarnation (St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 1982).

Letters of Athanasius, Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 4 (Hendrickson, 1994). This volume includes the first declaration of the 29 New Testament books as canonical.

• GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS

Orations and Letters, Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 7 (Hendrickson, 1994) and Christology of the Later Fathers (Westminster John Knox, 1995). Both sets include the five great orations delivered by Gregory in Constantinople.

• BASIL TIlE GREAT

The Letters, translated by Roy J. Deferrari, 4 vols., Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press, 1930; reprinted 1953, 1962, 1986)—Greek and English.

Letters and Select Works, translated with notes by Blomfield Jackson, Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 8 (Hendrickson, 1994). Includes the Hexaemeron, which provides a glimpse of Basil’s method, and an index to the biblical texts referred to in his letters.

• AMBROSE OF MILAN

Letters to Bishops, Fathers of the Church, vol. 26 (The Catholic University of America Press, 1987). The best way to begin exploring Ambrose is to read his letters. Here, his colorful personality and his interpretive methods both emerge.

• AUGUSTINE

Christian Instruction, translated by John J. Gavigan, Fathers of the Church, vol. 2 (The Catholic University of America Press, 1947). This volume includes Augustine’s exegesis of the first chapters of Genesis.

The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 2 vols., translated by John Hammond Taylor, Ancient Christian Writers, vols. 41–42 (Paulist Press, 1982). Includes Two Books on Genesis Against the Manicheees and On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis: An Unfinished Book, the heart of Augustine’s exegetical work.

On the Psalms, 2 vols., translated by Dame Scholastica Hebgin and Dame Felicitas Corrigan, Ancient Christian Writers, vols. 29–30 (New York: Paulist Press, 1960, 1961). These treatments are in sermon form.

Tractates on the Gospel of John, translated by John W. Rettig, Fathers of the Church, vols. 78, 79, 88, 90, 92 (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988, 1988, 1993, 1994, 1995). This book sheds light on Augustine’s New Testament exegesis.

Joseph W. Trig, Biblical Interpretation, Message of the Fathers of the Church, vol. 9 (Michael Glazer, 1988). Includes fascinating correspondence between Jerome and Augustine in which they discuss exegetical questions.

• THREE MODERN SERIES

The 38-volume Ancient Christian Commentary series, mentioned in our introduction (page 9), represents both a valuable tool for research, teaching, and preaching, and a unique, Scripture-centered window into the thought of the Fathers. Its translations (unlike those of some earlier editions of the Fathers’ writings) are highly readable and its introductions and notes thorough and helpful.

Paulist Press’s Classics of Western Spirituality series is an ever-expanding set of affordable paperback editions that provide modem translations of many seminal Christian writers, along with critical introductions and notes. Though ranging throughout church history, this series includes several important works from the early church fathers.

Paulist’s Ancient Christian Writers series includes some less well- known figures and works along with major figures like Augustine and Origen. These are more expensive hardbacks.

By Collin Hansen

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #80 in 2003]

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