Reading the Bible Like the Fathers of the Church
*This course is now available to take by video at your own pace.
The word ‘Father’ is used in the New Testament to mean a teacher of spiritual things, by which means the soul of man is born again into the likeness of Christ: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:15-16; cf. Galatians 4:18-19). The first teachers of Christianity seem to be collectively spoken of as “the Fathers” (2 Peter 3:4).
Thus St. Irenæus defines that a teacher is a father, and a disciple is a son (iv, 41,2), and so says Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.1.1). A bishop is emphatically a “father in Christ,” both because it was he, in early times, who baptized all his flock, and because he is the chief teacher of his Church. But he is also regarded by the early Fathers, such as Hegesippus, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, as the recipient of the tradition of his predecessors in the see, and consequently as the witness and representative of the faith of his Church before Catholicity and the world. Hence the expression “the Fathers” comes naturally to be applied to the holy bishops of a preceding age. (Adapted from New Advent)
These earliest interpreters of a two-testament canon of Sacred Scripture—i.e., the first interpreters of the whole Bible—present to us later readers a method of interpreting the Bible that we can learn! And our interest in this course is to get to know their approach better, so that we can begin to read the Bible like they do.
Therefore, each class will comprise two main parts: First, we will get to know one of the Fathers by reading excerpts from his writings. We’ll take our cue from Mike Aquilina’s helpful new book, How the Fathers Read the Bible: Scripture, Liturgy and the Early Church, which we’ll use for our course text (soon to be available from Gloria Deo; please help us support our local Christian bookstore!). We’ll focus our investigation less on biographical details and more specifically on how that particular Father read and interpreted Scripture in relation to other Fathers.
We’ll note that as a rule, the Fathers rarely consider a single biblical text in isolation, but “hear” the Bible speaking in two “registers.” This is because for [most of] them, the Bible comprises two testaments (just as God is both fully divine and fully human; the nature of reality includes heaven and earth; etc.), and thus interpretation of any text from one testament is a twofold task.
So for the second part of each class, we will survey two or more of the lections from the four to be read at each subsequent Sunday’s Mass and apply the approach to interpretation we’ve drawn from that evening’s Father (St. Barnabas, to begin). For example, our first class will be on September 6. The following Sunday (September 11) is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, with the following lections:
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
1 Timothy 1:12-17
So after we get to know St. Barnabas’ hermeneutic (his theory of and approach to interpretation), we’ll apply his hermeneutic to the task of “hearing” the interplay between the readings listed above. In so doing, we will be equipping ourselves to enter the Mass more deeply each Sunday, in accordance with the very best tutors the Church has to offer. Come join us in this exciting how-to journey!
- Bible (preferably ESVCE [English Standard Version, Catholic Edition] or RSVCE 2 [Revised Standard Version, Second Edition])
- How the Fathers Read the Bible: Scripture, Liturgy, and the Early Church, by Mike Aquilina (available at Gloria Deo)
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