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Reading the Church Fathers: An Interview with James Papandrea


In 2012, Dr. James Papandrea revealed his textbook introducing novices to the writings of the early Church Fathers, the important thing gamers within the Church from the time of the apostles as much as the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.). Papandrea, a convert to Catholicism and professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Chicago, has simply launched a newly revised and expanded model of the textual content, Reading the Church Fathers: A History of the Early Church and the Development of Doctrine (Sophia Institute Press, 2022) which leads readers up via the 12 months 1200 A.D.

Dr. Papandrea was sort sufficient to area a couple of questions for CE’s readers.

Kapler: It’s not on daily basis that CE speaks with a Catholic scholar who’s employed at a United Methodist seminary. Can you share somewhat bit about your expertise at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary?

Papandrea: Our college and management are very various and dedicated to ecumenism – I’m dwelling proof of that. It’s form of ironic, really, {that a} conventional Catholic can symbolize variety, however within the liberal Protestant world, that’s typically the way it performs out. In any case, I’m the one Catholic on the school of an in any other case very progressive Protestant seminary. But I can actually say that when my colleagues say they worth totally different factors of view, the actual fact that I’m there proves that they apply what they preach. On the opposite hand, in this sort of tradition it may be true that conventional factors of view carry no extra weight than the most recent ones, and having stood the check of time is commonly extra one thing to be skeptical about than one thing that earns belief.

Having mentioned all that, I see it as my mission in that context to be one of many voices who name individuals again to the muse, who communicate for the Tradition of our religion, and for orthodox doctrine, with a purpose to present part of our college students’ formation that may maintain them grounded, or anchored. I train a category that each pupil has to take – the primary of two required programs in The History of Christian Thought and Practice. As the title implies, this contains each doctrine, in addition to the extra outward elements of the religion. For my half, I focus totally on the early Church, because the time of an important improvement and clarification of doctrine – all the pieces from the doctrine of the Trinity to ecclesiology, which is the Church’s understanding of itself. 

In my job, I’ve the privilege of taking part in a small manner within the ecumenical venture. On the one hand, I get to bust all of the myths about Catholicism which may permit a Protestant preacher to perpetuate deceptive stereotypes about our religion, or worse, which may forestall Protestants from working aspect by aspect with Catholics for causes of social justice and for works of mercy. On the opposite hand, I get to advertise unity within the common Body of Christ, and considered one of my favourite methods to try this is to steer ecumenical pilgrimages to Rome. I get to steer excursions of Rome the place individuals from totally different Christian traditions can discover the early roots of our religion aspect by aspect, and discover frequent floor.

Kapler: What impressed you to make the Church Fathers and historic theology your tutorial focus?

Papandrea: When I first got here into my PhD program, I used to be on the time an ordained United Methodist deacon, and I had the identical motivation that drives numerous evangelical Protestants, which is to see what so-called authentic Christianity was all about. I reasoned (and I nonetheless assume) that it ought to be necessary to us to understand how the earliest Christians practiced their religion and what they believed, since they had been closest in time to Jesus and the apostles. In truth, once I was developing within the Lutheran and Methodist denominations, I used to be instructed that the Protestant reformation was all about getting again to an authentic model of Christianity, so I at all times had this want to seek out out what that authentic model of Christianity was like.

As I quickly realized, it was the earliest bishops who had been in direct succession from the apostles, and so they make up a giant a part of who the Church fathers are, together with the opposite earliest theologians and catechists. These earliest Church fathers had a direct connection to individuals who knew Jesus personally, and they also had been those handing on his teachings, together with the teachings of the apostles, which suggests they had been in the very best place to know the distinction between fact and heresy.

So I began studying the writings of the Church fathers, and learning the early Church, and right here’s what I discovered. First of all, I realized concerning the idea of apostolic succession – that in truth, authentic Christianity is precisely what was preserved by the early bishops, and handed on to their successors, and that turns into our Tradition. Then I found that the concept that there was some form of authentic model of Christianity that pre-dated Catholicism is simply not true. There isn’t any such factor as “pre-Catholic” Christianity, and Catholicism isn’t one thing made up of numerous superstitions that had been added within the Middle Ages (as the parable goes). And lastly, I realized that the idea of “sola Scriptura” by no means existed till the Protestant reformation. This doctrine, should you can name it that, was invented to separate Scripture from Catholic Tradition, however the issue with that’s which you can’t faithfully interpret Scripture with out the assistance of Tradition. So to be clear, the Church fathers and earliest Christians didn’t learn the Bible the best way proponents of “sola Scriptura” do right this moment.

All that is to say that I began with a form of Protestant “restorationist” standpoint, as if I used to be going to enter into this Protestant venture of recreating the apostolic Church, however what I discovered was that the Protestants who do that often restrict themselves to the research of the New Testament for what the early Church was like, and so they don’t pay sufficient consideration to the early Church fathers. In truth, many Protestants will say they restrict themselves to the primary century, however they exclude different necessary first century paperwork such because the Didache and the primary letter of Clement of Rome. So I noticed that the important thing to the unique Church is within the Church fathers, and it’s there the place you can see authentic Christianity, and the place you possibly can perceive how the Church fathers handed down the teachings of the Church in order that they might not be corrupted. And then it turned clear to me that the Catholic Church is, in truth, the very best expression of authentic Christianity there’s, and I discovered myself in a spot the place I couldn’t not come again to the Catholicism of my baptism.

Kapler: What moved you to revise Reading the Church Fathers, and why now? How does this version differ from the primary?

Papandrea: I first wrote the e-book Reading the Early Church Fathers once I had been educating for just a few years. I had crafted my lectures in order that I used to be fairly pleased with them, and the e-book was written from these lectures. But now right here we’re a decade later, and so I’ve obtained one other ten years of analysis and educating underneath my belt. That’s additionally one other ten years of scholars’ questions and dialogue, and so the revised model incorporates numerous that, and anticipates and solutions numerous questions that weren’t answered within the first model of the e-book. I’ve additionally added some materials that’s primarily based on topics I hadn’t fairly “mastered” once I wrote the primary model.

So I believed it was time that I up to date the e-book. The e-book now has a barely totally different title: Reading the Church Fathers: A History of the Early Church and the Development of Doctrine. The new title extra precisely describes how the e-book actually tells the story of the early Church. It’s not simply concerning the Church fathers and their writings, but it surely covers the historic context that gave rise to these paperwork – issues just like the Roman background, the persecutions, in addition to the controversies inside the Church. It’s all in there, laid out like a narrative, which makes it simple to observe.

And on high of all that, I used to be capable of do much more of my signature myth-busting, particularly in the case of the chapter on the Christian Bible and the New Testament. I used to be ready to make use of a few of the newest scholarship to display how some current traits in biblical scholarship really distort our understanding of the early Church and the event of our Scriptures. So all that’s in there, and now it’s form of a one-stop-shop for all the pieces concerning the early Church. I really feel like I used to be actually capable of finding the steadiness of creating it each faithfully Catholic, and devoted to the historic proof.

Kapler: Your writing is extremely accessible, however for many who nonetheless really feel intimidated at simply the considered starting a research of the early Church, what encouragement would you give them?

Papandrea: Well, thanks for saying so. It’s at all times been my aim to make the Church fathers and the early Church accessible to everybody. I’d say that you simply don’t should be a scholar to grasp the historical past and theology of the early Church. You don’t even should be a scholar to grasp doctrine – in truth, if individuals learn this e-book, they’ll get a reasonably strong understanding of all of the necessary doctrines of our religion, no less than within the sense that we discover them within the early centuries. You’ll perceive the Nicene Creed, and also you’ll perceive sure elements of the liturgy as properly. This e-book isn’t quick, however it’s written for novices (that’s who takes an intro class, in spite of everything), and so that you don’t want any prior data to learn this e-book. It begins from scratch and catches you up all alongside the best way. Anyone can perceive it, and everybody who reads it will likely be launched to all of the necessary early Church fathers (and moms – and there are some!).

The different factor to bear in mind is that each one the heresies that had been tried and located wanting within the time of the Church fathers are nonetheless round right this moment, in a single kind or one other. So I believe it’s extraordinarily necessary for devoted Catholics, and devoted Christians of any expression, to know and perceive our frequent Tradition, and the historical past of the early Church, in order that lay individuals gained’t be taken in by the modern-day heretics who come to your door, or depart tracts in your automotive. And I’d go as far as to say that if we don’t perceive the place we got here from as Christians, it’s a lot tougher to cross the religion on to the following technology, in order that they’ll maintain on to it as we have now.

Reading the Church Fathers: A History of the Early Church and the Development of Doctrine is on the market now from Sophia Institute Press.



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