An App for the Church Fathers
I recently downloaded a new Bible study tool with an emphasis on the Church Fathers. It is called Catena and it lays out interlinear commentary from the Church Fathers in a Bible app. A double-tap on a particular verse pulls up related content by Church Fathers like St. John Chrysostom and St. Cyril of Alexandria. And if you aren’t familiar with a particular author, clicking on his name reveals his wikipedia page. The app describes itself as, “a collection of commentaries on the Bible from the early Church Fathers. With 35,000+ ancient commentaries, and growing, the goal is to provide the most insight possible into the Word of God.” Available for iOS and Android here.
The Hermeneutic of the Church Fathers
In 2015, Pr. Uri Brito penned an article called “Interpretive Maximalism and James B. Jordan” which came to mind as I was using this new app. In that article, a quote from Jordan explains that the commentary offered by the Church Fathers was not always limited to a strict grammatico-historical method of interpretation. Using an app like Catena could aid the modern bible student is exposing him to historical insights or alternate readings of familiar texts. According to Brito, Jordan sees the grammatico-historical interpretation to be valid, but incomplete without the aid of a rich biblical theology that also includes narrative and symbols.
In a culture thirsty for an ancient faith, Reformed leaders would do well to once again reclaim the Church Fathers as their own heritage. As David Steinmetz of Duke Divinity School once noted in Christianity Today, “The Reformation is an argument not just about the Bible but about the early Christian fathers, whom the Protestants wanted to claim.” Even in their great diversity, the Church Fathers offer a consistent emphasis on the importance of personal holiness, fidelity to the church, and the importance of the scriptures to guide believers. Are the fathers important to Reformation theology? A quick glance at the number of references to Church Fathers in Calvin’s Institutes says yes.
Church Fathers in Their Context
Of Course, the best practice is reading the fathers directly and in the context of the entire work and historical period. Catena could be a tool to whet your appetite for the patristic and historical commentaries. I was first introduced to the work of St. Athanasius through the snippets introduced in David Chilton’s Paradise Restored. I then stumbled through the patristic masterpiece “On the Incarnation of the Word” with a bit of encouragement from a preface by C.S. Lewis.
A word of warning is also due. The Christian faith did not climax at Nicaea (in the same way it’s zenith is not Westminster) and our patristic authors do not claim the final word on Biblical interpretation. As James B. Jordan puts it, “When we see that God’s history will span thousands of generations, we see how silly it is to assume that history ended in the early centuries, everything was settled, and no significant progress remains to be made.”
- Biblical Horizons Newsletter, No. 62: Thinking About Church History (back)