Episode 1: Introduction
Welcome to the wonderful world of Patristics!
As we explain in this first episode, a lot of people have a hard time getting into Patristics. It’s difficult to know where to begin with the Church Fathers and then, once you do, it’s hard to figure out what the heck they are talking about. It might be that they use words you’ve never heard or that they use words you do know, but in a weird way. Or it might be that you aren’t familiar with the events or issues or to whom the author is responding.
We realize that most people have no interest or time to invest in historical research just to read a short letter or treatise. We get it…it’s kinda boring. Lucky for you, we are boring as hell! We love doing historical research. So, our goal is to make the whole process easier by giving you the information you need in a way that is worth your time (i.e., not boring), so you can jump right in.
For each episode of our podcast, you can come to our website to find out how to access the texts we discuss. We’ll do our best to find you free versions. For our fellow language nerds we will tell you where you can find the texts in their original languages. If you want to do a little more reading on the topic we’ll also give you a list of the books and articles we use in preparation for each episode.
To get started with Patristics, here are a few resources you might find handy:
Christian Classics Ethereal Library has tons of ancient (and some not-so-ancient) Christian texts, translated into English, that you can read for free! Just use the search bar at the top of the webpage. The downside: these translations come from the mid-1800s. Sometimes it feels like you’re reading the KJV because the English is so stiff and old-timey. Also, some of their translations are based on corrupted or incomplete manuscripts. For instance, CCEL’s translation of Hippolytus’ Commentary on Daniel is based on an incomplete version. The complete version was found years later and hasn’t yet been translated into English. But, this really only matters if you are trying to do research, in which case you would want to use more recent translations, anyway. All in all, CCEL is a great resource.
For our fellow language nerds, check out Michael Holmes’ Apostolic Fathers, which has the writings of the apostolic period in Greek and English. Holmes doesn’t attempt to provide an exact translation, so at times it feels a little like a paraphrase. But it’s still nice to have his version to check your own translation. If you’re still a Greek padawan (or just a bit rusty), pick up A Readers Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers by Dan Wallace and Brittaney Burnette. They tag every word that occurs 30 times or less in the New Testament. That way, if you have studied NT Greek, it’ll be easy to jump into the Apostolic Fathers.
Finally–and we can’t emphasize this enough–get your story straight. If you don’t know what’s going on in the world it’s hard to figure out why a text is important.
Justo Gonzalez’s two-volume work, The Story of Christianity is one of the most accessible introductions to church history. It’s broken up into bite-sized chunks and is pretty easy to read. It’s also relatively cheap. Even if you don’t want to plow through the whole thing, you can use it as a reference work. If you find an ancient text you want to read, just pick up Gonzalez and read his section about the author or time period.
The Lost History of Christianity by Philip Jenkins discusses the neglected story of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. It’s a short, accessible introduction to Eastern Christianity, including early interactions with Islam.