Monday, November 28, 2011

"What did patristic research look like 100 years ago?"

In commemoration of its fifteenth year, Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum has published a theme issue on the historiography of the patristic period around 1911.  Included are articles on patristic scholarship in Germany, Armenia, Belgium, and Italy.  There are also articles covering important works published during this time such as the Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum and the third edition of the Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche.  The following is taken from the opening editorial:

The Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum/Journal of Ancient Christianity (ZAC) is celebrating its fifteenth “birthday” this year. On this occasion, the editors have decided to dedicate the thematic issue not to a specific topic from Early Christianity but to a question pertaining to research history: “What did patristic research look like 100 years ago?” The issue focuses, above all, on the German context, given that patristics played a prominent, if not central, role in German academic life of the late Wilhelmine period. This perspective is complemented by observations on the situation in Belgium and the Netherlands, Armenia and Italy. These angles are, of course, paradigmatic, and the selection was made for pragmatic reasons. For research on France and the English-speaking area, let us refer to the conference proceedings edited by Jacques Fontaine et al. (Patristique et Antiquité Tardive en Allemagne et en France de 1870 à 1930, Paris: Institut d’Études Augustiniennes, 1993) and to recent studies published by Elizabeth A. Clark, respectively. The contribution looking at Armenia shall serve as an incentive to produce analogous research for other linguistic areas as well. The same goes for the entire Russian speaking area.


  1. I see that anonymous comments disparaging the likes of Liz Clark are not allowed by this blog-owner. Strange. It's not as though it reflects poorly on the blog-owner for perfect strangers to suggest that Liz Clark is a jaundiced historian.

  2. I'm not opposed to substantive criticism, but the previous comment didn't offer much of anything for readers to work with. Beyond being unhelpful, it offered something of an unsubstantiated personal slight... this is why it was deleted rather than simply ignored.

    You are welcome to criticize the legitimacy of ZAC's endorsement of Clark's work if you can offer us some interesting, if not compelling, justification for your views. Personal feelings unanchored to reasons fit for public consumption are less in the spirit of this blog.*

    *Excepting, of course, garden-variety gestures of affirmation or assent, which tend to be rather vacuous in themselves but also don't bear any very significant burden of proof.

  3. It's a blog, first of all; so I didn't feel like writing an essay to people I don't know. But even more, I didn't feel it needed justification: in the field there are certain things that are pretty obvious. I mean, it's not like many at NAPS think Elaine Pagels, for example, is operating at an objective or near-objective level any more. Same with Bart Ehrman. These are anti-Christian, or at least anti-ecclesiastical, writers. Their work is so drenched in the hermeneutics of suspicion as to render it well beyond worthy of charity. I just can't trust historians who distrust their sources BECAUSE those sources are Christian. I am suggesting Liz Clark, in her recent book, is headed down the same path. But she has been on that path since the beginning, really.

    I suppose you may suggest that, in Christian scholarship, there are no scholars who are beyond the hermeneutics of charity, seeing as you went to Wheaton and probably have read Alan Jacobs or studied with him. But there comes a time when, in an academic guild, it is just to discredit, or at least roundly ignore, scholars who cannot be trusted. Self-loathing "church historians" like Liz Clark are just that sort of scholar.

  4. I know this is a bit like beating a dead horse (several months after it died), but the criticism of Liz Clark is completely out of bounds. It is also clear that anonymous has either never read Prof. Clark or, if so, has failed to offer the same charity being demanded as a standard in the comments above.

    The fact of the matter is that the field of Patristics in its modern expression is every bit as polemical and political as the source material can be that it studies. Clark's latest book is a welcome examination of one particular instance of this: the impetus behind the ANF/NPNF series. The impact of this translation series is tremendous. But little scholarly attention has ever been given to the polemical impulse at its very core.

    The editorial comments which permeate the entire ANF/NPNF series - comments which are unabashedly anti-Catholic - require commentary from the guild which has received these translations. The ANF/NPNF series helped to set a research agenda among scholars of early christianity for a generation. Moreover, the CUA press Fathers of the Church series was, in a certain sense, not simply an attempt to update the ANF/NPNF translations but also a way to counteract their anti-Catholic rhetoric.

    I take it is a sign of a discipline's vitality that it can take stock of how its discourse has developed. One need not view history as a shimmering Icon to show it hermeneutical charity. Perhaps anonymous is chagrined that Prof. Clark does not approach history from a more ecclesially sympathetic perspective. But precisely whose ecclesial perspective would you prefer Prof. Clark to adopt? Your own? It is interesting that the people who wail the loudest about "anti-Christian" Church historians being egregiously uncharitable are often the single most uncharitable people I meet.