Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Christian Humanist Episode #3: The Crazy Uncles No One Talks To: The Church Fathers

The third episode of The Christian Humanist Podcast should be up on iTunes shortly. In the meantime, you can download it here (not at the time I'm writing, but soon). In this episode, we discuss the Church Fathers and our relationship with them today. Listen as I display my utter ignorance of Church history! Listen as David and Nathan put me to shame! Just listen.

Show Notes

General Introduction
Who are the Church Fathers?
- Are all Fathers saints?

Our Own Experiences with the Patristics
And how do we feel today?
- Reformers and Patristics
- The hazy lines between Apostles and Fathers

The Fathers' Relationship with the Classics
Their concern with philosophers
- Augustine's City of God
- Tertullian's denunciation of Christian humanism

The Church Fathers in Our Own Disciplines
John Updike's Roger's Version
The Wife of Bath objects!
- The Patristics up for grabs in the Renaissance

The Elephant in the Room
Are we incorrect in our interpretations of the Bible when they differ from the Patristics'?
- The tyranny of the democracy of the dead
- C.S. Lewis suggests a via media
- The big Orthodox question
- What does "unanimous consent" even mean?
- Apostolic succession or unanimity of teaching?

Are the Patristics Fathers to Protestants, Too?
Too influential to ignore
- Don't skip fifteen centuries of theology
- The Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Augustine. City of God. Trans. Henry Bettenson. New York: Penguin, 2003.

Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Trans. Ford Lewis Battles. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Ed. V.A. Kolve and Glending Olson. New York: Norton, 2005.

Chesterton, G.K. The Everlasting Man. Ft. Collins, Co.: Ignatius, 1993.

Fathers of the Church. The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. Charlotte, N.C.: TAN, 2009.

Justin Martyr. The Writings of Justin Martyr. Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Berkeley, Ca.: Apocryphile, 2007.

Lewis, C.S. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1994.

Luther, Martin. The Bondage of the Will. New York: General Books LLC, 2009.

McGrath, Alistair. Christianity's Dangerous Idea. New York: HarperOne, 2008.

Milton, John. "The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce." The Major Works. Ed. Stephen Orgel and Jonathan Goldberg. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. 182-226.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper and Row, 1956.

Norris, Frederick W. Christianity: A Short Global History. Oxford: Oneworld, 2002.

Tertullian. On Idolatry. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger, 2004.

Updike, John. Roger's Version. New York: Knopf, 1996.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library
The Catholic Encyclopedia: Fathers of the Church


shinigami-sidhe said...

I've been listening to your podcast, and I know you guys said at the beginning you didn't want to discuss the relationship between faith and reason, but I can't help but notice a certain hostility toward science that bothers me, particularly as I am listening to this while doing scientific research. Which I am abandoning for the moment to comment on blogs, but whatever.

Yeah, as scientists we have Dawkins the angry atheist et al, but a game of 'who is more obnoxiously violent, the scientists or the theologians' is just not going to end well for anyone.

So in the recent episode, the mention of the snot-nosed computer science student who wants to prove God using a computer, bothers me personally as a computer scientist listening to a podcast on Christian Humanism. Granted, I am not well-read enough to actually know anything more of this referenced text than what was said, but it bothers me that a computer scientist trying to prove God (which, by the way, is a fundamentally ignorant view of what computer scientists do) is a snot-nosed kid, while people like St. Thomas Aquinas and Anselm can spend all their time trying to prove the existence of God complete with, in Anselm's case, snide comments about fools who would need this, and be respected, or at least they were in my brief excursion into philosophy classes.

What I'm trying to say is that scientists and theologians are not necessarily a disjoint set. Also, interestingly enough, many prominent anti-religious scientists such as Michael Shermer actually came from a Christian background originally and left Christianity under something of a cloud. I did much the same thing, and I'll admit to saying a certain amount of nasty things about Christians publicly, but maybe we could all just be dear dear friends or something anyway.

Michial said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

I do not mean to be hostile toward science or reason. We didn't discuss faith and reason in the introduction to the Calvin episode because it really deserves its own episode; I don't know how we could give it the attention it deserves in the five minutes we would have been able to allot it.

I can't speak for David or Nathan, but I accept almost wholesale Kierkegaard's teleological suspension of the ethical, with "ethical" understood the way Walker Percy understands it in "Lost in the Cosmos," as including science and reason. So reason can lead you to the edge of the precipice, but you must temporarily abandon it in able to make the jump. Reason has its place before and after the moment of faith--but not during it.

I'm sorry you were offended by my description of Dale Kohler. I certainly didn't mean to imply either that (a) all computer scientists are snot-nosed kids; or (b) that computer scientists are as a whole interested in proving the existence of God. I was remarking on a particular character in a particular novel, and since the novel is narrated from Roger's point of view, it presents Dale Kohler quite negatively.

I've got nothing but respect for scientists provided they admit their presuppositions and the limits of their discipline. I'll do the same and admit that a study of the humanities can't tell you all that much about the natural world and that my own brand of Christian humanism takes it as a presupposition that matter is not all there is.

As for Aquinas and Anselm, be listening in a month or so when we discuss the efficacy of apologetics. I don't believe you can "prove" God through science or theology, and in as much as that's what they're up to, I don't like them. (I'm not sure that IS what they're up to, by the way; my understanding on Aquinas is that he's writing to people who already believe in God in order to give them the logical foundation after they've already made the requisite "leap of faith.")

As for scientists and theologians being mutually exclusive...I agree with you that that is not necessarily so. In fact, I'm with Nietzsche in that science depends on a theological outlook to be useful. (For more information on this, click the Nietzsche tab on the right and read my post "Science Is Dead.") Science is absolutely a necessary and wonderful thing; it is when it seeks to say more than it is capable of saying that I develop a problem with it.

Anyway, thanks for listening, and I am genuinely sorry if I was harsher than I meant to be; again, I was just relating Updike's own description of the particular character in the novel.

shinigami-sidhe said...

Thank you for the clarifications I tend to be very reactionary about Christians talking about scientists because of my own experiences, so I hope I do not seem to be leaping to conclusions. Particularly, thank you for the clarification on the snot-nosed computer scientist comment, I am not, alas, familiar with the text so I couldn't tell if this was a description appropriate for the text or if it was coming from ye typical computer nerd stereotype. I tend to be very defensive about descriptions of computer scientists because there are so few favorable portrayals of us and what we do, so that's why I jumped on that.

I agree, the relationship between faith and reason is too complicated to discuss briefly, and it's complicated from both perspectives. I'll also admit scientists have their problems, one of them being a tendency to try to explain too much. Someone famous once said something along the lines of, when you have a hammer, all problems tend to look like nails. Mostly, I think science and the humanities need to sit down over coffee more often.

Thank you for the very thoughtful response; I'm looking forward to the apologist episode!

Michial said...

I agree with you--more dialogue between the humanities and the sciences would be great. That used to be not only possible but necessary; the Renaissance and the Enlightenment are full of folks who are conversant in both disciplines.

I'm not sure where it went wrong. It could be our modern university setup, which encourages specialization to the point where non-English majors sometimes don't even have to take a literature class and humanities majors often don't go beyond one semester of science. (I didn't, for example.)

Or it could be the lack of a shared concern. Francis Bacon did science and humanities because they both testified to him of the truth of Christianity. Since far fewer people on both sides of the great divide have a religious orientation nowadays, there may be no reason to approach the middle.

This would itself be a good podcast topic; problem is, I don't know hardly anything about science beyond what you'd learn in high school.

shinigami-sidhe said...

I have the same problem, I simply do not have the background in the humanities necessary to have any kind of expert conversation. But there's hope, we're talking to each other and over the topic of theology, right? It's a start.

Also, I can recommend anything written by Michael Shermer. He can and does get a little hostile toward Christianity at times, but he came from a fundamentalist background, so I attribute this to bitterness. Anyway, the interaction between science and faith is sort of his deal.

IaKovos said...

Just for clarification: Constantine the Great is considered to be a saint in the Orthodox Church, which I would assume is based on the fact of his conversion and efforts toward the legalizing of the faith in the fourth century. Emperors were not automatically considered to be saints (I'm not sure if this was the question or not), but like all other saints their "canonization" was based on their willingness to be used by God, and not on their character traits (or so says my priest). St. Cyril of Alexandria was one bad cat, but he is still considered to be a saint for championing some of the right ideas. I wouldn't want to go out on a limb defending some of the Church's choices of saints, but then again I, on my own, am not the Church.

Don't fear the Fathers! Read them, and be critical, both of them and of those that condemned some of them as heretical (Tertullian, Origen, Paul of Samosata). The Fathers have an edge on us as thinkers. I am shocked by what I see in Origen. How could someone think in such a deep and penetrating way? He probably should be a saint in the Church, and probably would be, if it weren't for those who later took his work and went in weird directions with it.

I think that all Christians should have at least a little engagement with the Church Fathers, or at least with early monastic text such as writings by the desert fathers.

Note: Gregory Palamas, not John.

For more accurate and interesting discussion about the Roman empire and its actual end as the Byzantine Empire, listen to the podcasts on http://www.12byzantinerulers.com/, by Lars Brownworth. It is excellent stuff, and sets the record straight as to when the Roman Empire ended in truth, and demythologizes the "Christian" empire of Byzantium.

Good stuff, guys.


Michial said...

I must admit that I am not particularly pleased with my part of the discussion for this episode; as I mentioned in the podcast, I have read hardly any of the Church Fathers and am not really qualified to talk about them.

Thank you for the recommendations, Jamey.