Understanding the Bible Through the Fathers, Part 3: About the Fathers
We continue with the final part of Dr. Jeannie’s introduction to her Bible studies podcast, “Search the Scriptures”, in which she explains why we trust the Fathers’ interpretations of Scripture, the differences between Orthodox Fathers and those of the Roman Catholics, what it means to understand something “according to the fathers,” and other important points relevant to the study of Holy Scripture.
The Orthodox tradition is to interpret the Bible according to the Fathers. In the last couple of podcasts I have been talking about the Fathers extensively, but it occurred to me that perhaps before we go any further, that is, before we begin our Lenten Bible study, I should explain what qualified someone to be considered a Father in the Orthodox Church, and what I think Scripture interpretation according to the Fathers really means.
Who were the Fathers?
As I had said before, the Fathers were saints who were highly educated men, the leading thinkers, writers and theologians of the Church. Generally speaking, women didn’t leave writings behind because they were not educated—at least not to the extent that men were—because they did not pursue careers in those days. The Fathers were not generally trained for an ecclesiastical life; in fact, most of them were educated for secular careers, and some of them had very successful secular careers until they left the world to serve the Church—among these are Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Augustine, St. John of Damascus, and others. Other Fathers also received a secular education, a very excellent education; however, at a young age, before they actually started a career, they decided to become monks. We see this in the case of Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory the Theologian, who while still in their teens, while still involved in their university studies, had decided to become monks. Most of the Fathers were bishops, even though very often they did not want to be bishops. Many times they did not want to be ordained at all—they wanted to live a quiet monastic life, but the Church called upon them because of their great brilliance, their many talents, their skills in oratory and their great holiness. So the Church called upon them, recognizing these great talents, and ordained them. Some of the Fathers were not bishops but were presbyters, others were monks and yet others were laymen.
Now the Fathers helped to express and define Church doctrine; they defended it against heresies—that is, false teachings. They defended it from attacks by pagans and Jews, because these were constantly attacking the Church during those eras. They wrote many treatises on moral topics, such as virginity. They also wrote many books explaining the Bible. In fact, however, many of the writings which we consider commentaries about the Bible, that is, a book which explains the Bible verse by verse, were in fact not written down by the Fathers, but were sermons the Fathers delivered to their congregations. Because they were famous orators (people like Augustine, Jerome or Chrysostom), as they were preaching, stenographers wrote down what they said, then later those were put into books and published. So, many of the writings of the Fathers that we have are actually sermons, preached orally. In addition to these types of writings, theological treatises, etc, we have many letters by the Fathers to people who wrote to them asking for spiritual advice or direction, or with a theological question, and the Fathers gave their answers. So we have hundreds of letters from different Fathers.
Now, what qualifies someone to be called a Father of the Church? These are the general standards understood among the Orthodox: First, brilliance of mind. Obviously, they weren’t ordinary thinkers. Second, orthodoxy of doctrine. They were not a Father if they taught heresy. Third, holiness of life. The Father had to have died as a saint. And fourth, catholicity; that is, he had to belong to the Church, he could not have been a schismatic.
Orthodox vs. Roman Catholic Fathers
Now, Roman Catholics do not have the same standards. Practically any church writer is called a Father of the Church by the Catholics. Let’s see how the Orthodox standards compare to the Catholic understanding, one at a time. First, brilliance of mind—the Catholics agree with this one. The Fathers were outstanding thinkers and writers. But after that the Catholics depart from us. I think they have fewer standards perhaps because the Fathers are not as important to them. I’m not certain about this, I’m just speculating, but certainly the Fathers are not as important to the Catholic church as they are to us, because for us the Fathers stand as authorities in the Church. For the Catholics, of course, authority lies in Rome. We often see the Fathers quoted in papal documents, but the decision of the Pope is what is important, for that’s where their authority lies. But for us, the authority lies in the Fathers. So perhaps that’s why the Catholics are not quite so picky about whom they call a Father. I’ll give you an example.
Take the second requirement: orthodoxy of doctrine. Catholics call Origen a Father of the Church. Perhaps you’ve never heard of Origen. He was a brilliant man, a great writer and preacher. He was a presbyter who lived in the first half of the third century. He wrote thousands of books and was extremely influential in the Church, but he made some serious theological mistakes. He’s a very important early writer, but much later, about 200 years after his death, he was condemned by the Church for his errors. It is not appropriate to call him a Father, but the Catholics still call him a Father of the Church.
Now, what about holiness of life? Another person who is considered a Father of the Church by Catholics, but who isn’t one for the Orthodox, is Clement of Alexandria. Many Orthodox don’t know that Clement of Alexandria is not a Father of the Church. He does not meet the criteria of holiness of life. Clement died around the year 200. He was the head of the catechetical school of Alexandria. In fact, he’s the one who preceded Origen there. He may have been a saint, but the fact is, we know virtually nothing about Clement of Alexandria’s life, and because of this, he’s not on the canon of saints of the Orthodox Church. People have said that he is, but the dates that they give are the dates for other Clements, such as Clement of Rome. Now the fact is that we don’t know anything about the life of Clement of Alexandria, so he is not a saint. We don’t make people saints whom we don’t know anything about, and if he is not a saint, then he is not a Father.
What about the standard of catholicity? Well interestingly enough, the Catholics don’t observe this requirement either. They accept as a Father of the Church a famous Latin writer, Tertullian, who died as a schismatic, that is, he was once a member of the Church, but then he left and joined this breakoff movement called “Montanism”, and died outside the Church. So Tertullian is not a Father, but the Catholics still call him a Father.
Now, Catholics also add another requirement, and that is antiquity. For someone to be called a Father by the Catholics, he had to have lived in the first few centuries. Catholics also have a designation that they call, “doctor of the church”. They say that there are four outstanding Fathers of the East and four outstanding Fathers of the West, whom they believed were especially important in explaining church doctrine. We don’t identify any Fathers as particularly important or more outstanding than others, perhaps with the possible exception of the three hierarchs [Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom.—O.C.].
What does “according to the Fathers” mean?
Now that we know who the Fathers were and what makes them a Father, let’s talk about what it means to interpret the Bible “according to the Fathers.” On one occasion I was explaining the Bible and I was not quoting the Fathers, and someone said to me with some alarm, “Don’t you interpret the Bible according to the Fathers”? Of course I was basically accused of not being Orthodox because I was not quoting the Fathers. Now so far in these podcasts I have been talking a lot about the Fathers, but when we embark on our Bible study, I’m not going to cite the Fathers extensively every week, especially when we are giving the introduction to the Bible, when we’re talking more about the historical aspects of the Bible, the formation of the Bible, etc.
Now, if I’m not quoting the Fathers, does that mean I’m not Orthodox? I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it means, as Orthodox Christians, that we interpret the Bible “according to the Fathers.” Can we interpret the Bible “according to the Fathers” without quoting from the Fathers? I would say yes. “According to the Fathers” does not mean that we explain the Bible primarily by quoting the Fathers. When the Fathers themselves used the phrase “according to the Fathers”, they did not mean quoting the Fathers who preceded them. They meant according to the Tradition of the Church. As long as one is in line with Holy Tradition, one is interpreting the Bible according to the Fathers, because the Fathers were the ones who personified that tradition, and that’s why they’re important—not as sources of quotations like proof texts.
So conversely, let’s say someone quotes the Fathers, but does not use them or understand them properly. Is he Orthodox? Of course not. I’ll give you an example that really illustrates this point. This came to my attention recently. Someone told me that Mormons are now using the Fathers to support Mormon doctrine. The Mormons are very anxious that they be accepted as Christians, and of course, Mormons are not Christians. In fact, they are polytheists. They believe in the existence of many gods. They also believe that God the Father was once a human being just like us, but he “elevated” himself to the status of a god. And furthermore, if a man lives a good Mormon life, he too can become a god, equal to God the Father. Now the Mormons are supporting this by quoting the Fathers because they want to prove that they have some connection with early, historical Christianity, and of course, they have no connection with Christianity. They popped up by themselves in nineteenth century America. So what are they doing? They are pointing to the patristic doctrine of theosis, deification, to support the Mormon doctrine that human beings can become God. That’s abhorrent. It is an abuse of the Fathers. Not only is it heresy to say that we can become God, literally gods (not god-like); because the Fathers are not saying that we become actual gods, but that we can become god-like, we can imitate God. The fact is that Christianity teaches that God has always been God, He has never been a man, and we have always been creatures and we will never be God. We will never be anything other than creatures. In fact, Mormon doctrine is not only heresy—it’s blasphemy to say that we can become equal to God. And yet, they’re using the Fathers to support their doctrine. So does that make them Orthodox if they find lots of Fathers to quote? Certainly not! That’s ridiculous.
So there are many reasons why “according to the Fathers” does not mean that we restrict our explanation of the Bible to only what the Fathers had to say—and here is why. The Fathers themselves did not simply repeat what those before them had said. They used their minds, their education and all of the resources and information available to them to interpret the Bible. That is the patristic tradition. Furthermore, there are some books of the Bible for which we do not have patristic commentaries. Does that mean that we are not to read or interpret them because we don’t have any Fathers to quote about those books, to tell us what they mean? Of course not. Sometimes a Father also skips over a detail which you wish he would have explained. Does that mean that we cannot arrive at an understanding on our own that is informed, something which we have decided upon from study? Fathers also addressed a specific audience. Very often they were giving a sermon, so their words reflect their times, their pastoral consideration, the needs of their congregation, the heresies which were rampant at the time, and other details which happened to come to their mind while they were preaching.
So, we don’t restrict ourselves only to what the Fathers said because they were addressing a specific situation at the time. We also don’t restrict ourselves only to what Fathers have already said because the Fathers did not exhaust the meaning of the biblical text. Chrysostom was absolutely adamant on this point, and he repeated himself when he made this point. This is what he said: “It is not possible, I repeat, it is not possible to exhaust the meaning of the Bible.” Well if it’s not possible to exhaust the meaning of the Bible, dear brothers and sisters, then certainly we cannot simply restrict ourselves to what the Fathers have already said about the Bible, because the Fathers themselves did not exhaust the meaning of the biblical text. So, we are not limited to only saying what the Fathers have already said. The Fathers themselves also tell us to study the Bible on our own. It is in fact an insult to God to not study the Bible and to apply our own mind, our own intellect, to the study of the Scriptures. The Fathers used their entire education; they used aspects of even their pagan education to apply to the understanding of the Bible, because they were educated in many things and not just in theology. They learned astronomy and mathematics and history and philology and grammar, etc., and they applied all of this to interpreting the Bible. And they expect us to do the same.
Why the Fathers?
Now, the Fathers had their own limitations. They did not know everything. They were also men of their times and of their culture. In some ways, we have a certain advantage over them, at least from a historical perspective. We know much more about the Bible from a historical perspective through recent archaeological discoveries than the Fathers ever did. We know more about first century Judaism, we know more about ancient Egypt—all of these things which relate to the Bible, which relate back to discoveries that have happened in recent years. We can use that information to help us interpret the Bible. That’s perfectly Orthodox. That’s what the Fathers would have done. They would have told us to learn about these things and use them. So, if the Fathers had some limitations, because they were men of their times, why are they so great? They are great because we simply cannot match their theological and spiritual insights. Because the Fathers were holy, and they were close to God. Their understanding of the biblical message is so much deeper than what we can arrive at on our own, because we’re not simply studying the Bible from a historical perspective.
So, the Fathers have an understanding of the Scriptures, especially their spiritual message, which is much, much higher than what we can attain on our own. How are we to use the Fathers, then? First we must read the Fathers carefully and wisely with discernment, because just like the Bible, the Fathers themselves can be misunderstood and distorted. As with the Bible, when we read the Fathers we must understand them in the context in which they wrote. They were men of their times and in some ways they expressed the ideas that were common in their historical culture and era. Of course, in many ways, their thoughts are timeless, but they were nonetheless men of their times.
For example, St. John Chrysostom is sometimes accused of being anti-Semitic. He’s sometimes accused of being a misogynist, someone who has disdain for women. This is really unfair, because this is not recognizing that Chrysostom was a man of his time. You’re not trying to understand him in the culture and time in which he lived if you level these kinds of accusations.
Understanding the context.
So, we have to understand also not only the times in which a Father spoke or wrote, but the context of his particular statement. When he was speaking in his sermon, was he addressing an ordinary congregation in the city, or was he addressing monks? It’s very important that we pay attention to this context, because instruction given to a group of monks is not necessarily appropriate for people living in the world. We also must understand that the Fathers speak rhetorically. They used certain rhetorical techniques in which they were trained. They use hyperbole, which means they exaggerated a bit for emphasis. They will say things such as, “It is not possible to be saved without reading the Scriptures.” This is hyperbole. This is an exaggeration for emphasis, and we have to understand that we can’t always take them literally at their word, because if you were to press them and say, “Are you serious that you can’t be saved without reading the Scriptures?” They would say “Of course not. You can be saved even if you do not read the Scriptures.” But by saying, “You can’t be saved without reading the Scriptures,” they’re emphasizing the importance of the Scriptures. So we need to understand this when we read the Fathers.
In addition, we must remember when we read the Fathers in English that we are reading a translation. We have to be careful about the conclusions we draw, because sometimes a translator misunderstood the meaning of a Father, or mistranslated a passage. Some translations are simply better than others. So we have to be careful about drawing conclusions about what a Father said. In order to be certain, we need to go back to the original text; it is also very helpful if you are very well read in a particular Father, so you know whether or not this is something he says consistently and is truly part of his thoughts or opinion, or whether it seems to be an aberration. We need to remember that simply because we read something in the writings of the Fathers, even if it is an accurate translation, this does not automatically mean that it is correct, because the Fathers had their own opinions.
Dogma vs. opinion.
Now, of course, on matters of dogma, such as the nature of Christ or the Holy Trinity, they were in agreement. But on some things the Fathers were not in agreement, and occasionally they expressed an opinion that was a little bit out of line and is not held in agreement with other Fathers—so they may stand alone. Or maybe one or two Fathers express a certain opinion. And theologians call this a “theologoumenon.” This is a matter of opinion held by one or perhaps a few other Fathers. A “theologoumenon” does not have the same weight as a teaching that is widely held among the Fathers, so we must be careful not to find one detail that a Father said, then use it to support a whole theology, because it maybe something he’s incorrect about.
Other times there are opinions expressed that are clearly wrong, even when they’re given by a Father who is recognized by the Church. The most famous example of this is Gregory of Nyssa, who seems to have taught a doctrine called “the restoration of all things” (apokatastasis panton). This is the teaching that in the end everyone would be saved. Some people don’t agree that St. Gregory actually taught this, because this doctrine has been rejected by the Church and condemned. Others believe that Gregory may have held this belief; however, it is still okay to read him, but we simply ignore this little teaching of his that is incorrect. One Father who said this is St. Photios the Great. He says Gregory may have said this, but we just read everything else and we ignore that aspect of his teaching.
So we must be careful as Orthodox Christians not to become patristic fundamentalists. Just because we find one teaching in the writings of the Fathers, we must not understand that literally and adhere to it as though it is absolute truth. There is also no such thing as patristic infallibility. The Fathers were human. They were saints, but they were not perfect. Only God does not make mistakes. So occasionally we see little mistakes, usually very minor things, among the Fathers. Therefore, we can’t insist that just because a Father said something, especially on a historical matter, interpreting the Bible, this does not mean that he absolutely correct and perfect, because there is no such thing as infallibility in the Orthodox Church, except in the manner in which we understand it: the Holy Spirit guiding the Church as a whole. But overall, we can rely upon the Fathers as authentic witnesses to and the guardians of Holy Tradition. So along those lines it’s important that when we are drawing conclusions and citing the Fathers we consider the totality of the patristic witness before we draw conclusions. We do the same thing with the Bible. We may find one verse in the Bible that seems to run contrary to the rest of the message of the Bible. In that instance we have to understand that we cannot take it literally, because obviously it is saying something that disagrees with the rest of the Bible, so we must use discernment on this point.
So, we have to understand the totality of the biblical message and not arrive at a conclusion about one that differs from the Bible as a whole. It is the same with the Fathers. This is where the Catholics went wrong with St. Augustine, and I’m going to discuss him specifically in a moment, because I did quote St. Augustine in an earlier podcast and I will be quoting him again in the future; I want to explain to you why I am using Augustine, because many Orthodox raise their eyebrows at anybody who is quoting St. Augustine.
Toward a mature understanding.
I’m telling you these things about the Fathers not to upset you or scandalize you, or certainly not to disparage the Fathers in any way—God forbid—but to help you understand that my point of this podcast is to lead you from a simplistic understanding of the Bible and the Fathers to a more complex, new, and mature one. When you were young and you asked about Heaven, your parents may have told you, “Heaven is a beautiful place where there is lots of grass and beautiful flowers and your friends are all there and you get to play all the time.” Or perhaps if you discussed God, your parents may have told you that God is in the sky looking down on you, watching over you. But when you got older, hopefully, you replaced these notions with more mature ones, because Heaven is not like a park and God is not an old man in the sky. It is appropriate to explain things like this to children because they cannot understand abstract concepts, so we give them these images that are more concrete, something they can understand. Now many of us have never really left the childlike and simplistic notions we have about the Bible, because no-one replaced those understandings with something which is deeper, more mature. That’s what I’m trying to do when I’m explaining the Bible to you and these things about the Fathers. I may say things that you don’t like or don’t agree with, but I’m hoping that you will bear with me; and if you think that I’m trying to say something that is not Orthodox, it is my hope and my prayer that you will continue to listen and try to understand what I am saying. You may find out that I make a lot of sense and that I’m actually right. I have spent a lot of time thinking about these things, and I guarantee you that there is a very good reason for what I say.
“That’s not according to the Fathers!”
I want to take a moment to share with you one experience I had at Holy Cross when I was teaching there at our Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. I started the semester; it was the first day of class, and I walked into the classroom. They knew that the instructor was Constantinou, but nobody knew who Constantinou was. I walked into the class, and what do you know… it’s a woman. Now I really believe that if had I walked in and I was a man wearing a cassock, some of the students would not have been so suspicious of me. But there was a group of hardcore, very conservative Orthodox Christians, who were immediately suspicious of me. They did not give me the benefit of the doubt, let’s put it that way. Now of course (they assumed) if I’m a woman I must be a feminist. I have a theological degree from Harvard, so that too, of course, immediately makes me suspicious. I have an Orthodox degree too, but, you know, perhaps I had been corrupted over there at Harvard. Now I want to illustrate with you something that happened in the class that shows how carefully they were watching me to judge my Orthodoxy. I will tell you that in the end, over the course of the first few weeks, I won them over and they were convinced of my Orthodoxy; but in the beginning it wasn’t so easy. This group would sit in the back of the class and whisper to each other and look at each other, indicating, “We’re not so sure about her.”
Now, here’s what happened. We were discussing the Gospel of Mathew. The course was on the Gospel of Mathew, and we arrived at chapter 5, the Sermon on the Mount. Now, chapter 5 of Mathew’s Gospel was explained by Chrysostom so brilliantly that I wanted to spend the entire class session talking about how Chrysostom explained this section of the Gospel. Normally I would explain the Gospel from a historical perspective and add the Fathers in, but in this instance I told the class at the beginning of the session that on that day, whatever they heard me say came from Chrysostom, unless I told them otherwise.
So, I began, and eventually we arrived at the place where the Lord says, “It was once said that thou shalt not commit adultery, but I say to you, do not even look at a woman with lust.” I said, “It is not a sin to lust after your wife.” And immediately a student in the back of the class shouted out, “This is not according to the Fathers!” Well, I paused and I simply smiled, and the entire class burst out laughing. That student had forgotten that I said at the beginning of the class that everything I said was coming from Chrysostom, and you can’t get much more patristic than Chrysostom.
But you see, what this showed me is how carefully we judge each other’s Orthodoxy. They were watching me to know and decide whether or not I really deserved to be considered Orthodox. And the fact is, dear brothers and sisters, that it is a very unfortunate characteristic amongst us as Orthodox Christians that we have the tendency to judge each other’s Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, it is always on the basis of our own opinions about what we think it means to be truly Orthodox, and very often those opinions are quite superficial. We decide if a priest is really Orthodox based on whether he wears a cassock everyplace he goes, or whether he has a beard, or whether a woman covers her head in church. We judge each other on the extent to which we fast. If you’re an ethnic Orthodox, you might be a little suspicious of the converts. If you’re a convert, you might be judging the ethnic Orthodox and consider them too tied to their ethnic traditions. We judge each other’s Orthodoxy based on whether we visit monasteries or not. Now this kind of critical assessment of others by prejudging them—not because they have done anything to illustrate that they’re not Orthodox, but on these superficial matters—is a terrible sin.
Now I know why we do this and I know why my students did this and I loved all of my students. They did this, and we do this because we love our holy Orthodox faith and we want to preserve it. That’s a good thing. But we have to be very careful that we do not judge each other’s Orthodoxy. Remember what St. Paul said in Romans 14 on the matter of eating: Let not him who eats despise the one who does not eat, and let not the one who does not eat judge the one who eats. So you know this passage. Who are you, he says, to judge another man’s servant? It is before his own master that he must stand or fall, and God is able to make him stand. Now, should we follow our traditions? By all means, yes. But these are not the things which make us righteous in the eyes of the Lord, especially if we’re judging our own brothers and sisters.
Don’t blame St. Augustine.
So along those lines, let’s talk about St. Augustine. Many Orthodox reject Augustine, and they might question my Orthodoxy because I have quoted him in an earlier podcast and I will again in the future. At one time I also rejected Augustine for the same reason that others have, having read certain Orthodox writers who talk about all of the errors of St. Augustine. But I changed when I read him myself, and I developed, I think, a more mature appreciation for St. Augustine. I believe that many Orthodox reject him without ever having read him extensively, and I challenge you to read the sermons of St. Augustine and not come to the conclusion that this man was a holy man, a saint and a brilliant Father. Now, I’m very aware of the fact that Augustine is the source of many of the errors in the Latin West, but in defense of Augustine I would like to say the following: First of all, Augustine is not to be blamed for the departure of the Roman Catholic church. Augustine lived a very long time ago, and it’s not his fault. Augustine himself asked people to correct him if he was wrong about a conclusion that he reached, but no one corrected him. He was not proud, he asked for correction, but because he was so brilliant, and because he was the leading authority in the West at the time—there was no one that could approach him in his education or influence. So very rarely did anyone say, “I disagree with you on this,” or correct him. But he was willing to correct himself.
Another thing which we must consider about St. Augustine is that he wrote many, many works, and when you write a great many works, it’s almost impossible not to make some mistakes. Another factor to consider that certainly hindered Augustine is that he did not have the benefit of a theological education. He did not read Greek well, so he didn’t read the Greek Fathers extensively. He tried to figure out answers to theological questions that had already been resolved in the East, but he did this not by his theological education, which he didn’t have, but through his training as a philosopher and a rhetorician. So he began to use philosophy and reason in arriving at theological conclusions, and that was a departure from the established tradition of the Church. In the East we do not use reason, we don’t reason our way to theological conclusions. But even that was not really the problem. The problem about Augustine arose because of the way the Latins used Augustine. They relied on him almost exclusively for their theology, because he became the great Latin Father; he so eclipsed all other Latin Fathers in importance in his brilliance, in the number of writings, in the variety of topics that he addressed, that no one in the West even approaches him. He was so outstanding that the Catholics, and before they were Catholics, and the Latin Christians, relied on Augustine almost exclusively, and sometimes they exaggerated his teachings to the point where they actually distorted what he was trying to say. Now the East had many great Fathers, so they were able to balance out the opinions of the other Fathers—because, as I said before, the Fathers didn’t always agree on everything. So the East had many great Fathers to read and this gave them a more balanced understanding, but in the West they primarily read Augustine because he wrote in Latin, and that’s what people in the Latin West read. So, he became the standard for the West; they relegated the Eastern Fathers to a secondary position and did not read them, so they didn’t have a balanced view of the theology of the Church. This was certainly not intended by Augustine.
Now, as for the other Fathers who make an occasional error—and I had mentioned Gregory of Nyssa—we can and we should read Augustine and simply ignore the things he said that were incorrect. As for those Orthodox Christians who say that Augustine is not a Father or he is not a saint, and they arrive at this conclusion because they see themselves as the guardians of Orthodoxy, I would say that they are doing the most unorthodox thing of all, because they are substituting their private opinion for that of the Church. I find that so ironic, because it is entirely Protestant. To preserve Orthodoxy, they become Protestants by rejecting Augustine, because they think he shouldn’t be considered a Father. Now the fact is the Church declared Augustine a saint and a Father, rightly or wrongly. So, as far as I’m concerned, Augustine is a Father and a saint until or unless the Church decides that he is not. If the Church ever decides that he is not a saint or a Father then I will conform myself to the opinion of the Church, and I think that’s the correct stance to take as an Orthodox Christian.
So, let us conclude by summing up what it means to interpret the Bible “according to the Fathers.” “According to the Fathers” does not mean that we are limited to simply quoting the Fathers and saying only what they have already said. Rather, “according to the Fathers” means that we are in line with the Fathers, that is, consistent with Holy Tradition. “According to the Fathers” means that we read them, we use them, and we honor them as our guides in the interpretation of the Bible, especially in the areas of theology and morality. “According to the Fathers” means that we’ve also followed their example and advice about how to study the Bible, by learning about the context in which the Scriptures were written, the archaeology, the history, geography, grammar, etc. The Fathers did not draw their conclusions about the meaning of the verse from their imaginations, dear brothers and sisters. And they didn’t say simply pray and wait for the Holy Spirit to inspire them. Certainly the Holy Spirit did inspire them, but when they ascended the pulpit to preach on the Scriptures, they were well prepared, they had studied, they were already holy men, they were already educated, already brilliant, but they studied the Bible in preparation for their sermon and they continued to study the Bible seriously all their lives. That is the patristic tradition. That is the Orthodox tradition. They advised us to do the same. So let us truly study the Scriptures “according to the Fathers” by imitating their devotion to the serious study of the Bible. We’re going to begin with the next podcast with a special series of Bible studies on the trials and Crucifixion of Christ.
Presbytera and Dr. Jeannie Constantinou’s podcasts can be found here.
See the next podcast: the Trials and Crucifixion of Christ
18 / 03 / 2017
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