July 2, 2017
What is Patristics, and why is Patristics important?
Patristics is the study of the ancient or classical church writers, theologians, religious, and clergy. As the name indicates, this field of expression was dominated by men. There were some women, especially among the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the solitary's that headed to the wilderness around Alexandria seeking a deeper understanding of the ways of God in Christ.
One of the more important of the women in these early theological and faithful exemplars is Macrina, the younger (4th century Saint and religious). She was born and lived in Caesarea Cappadocia. Her family was very involved in the establishing church in Cappadocia, her grandmother, Macrina, the elder, was sainted. Betrothed, her fiancé died before they could be married. She thought it not proper to wed after that and she took the position that she would be perpetually married to the Lord. Later in life she turned her family's estate into a nunnery. Her life and theology is contained in a book written by her brother, also a saint and bishop, Gregory.
This past week, Tuesday, June 29, was the Feast day for one of the important Patristic Fathers, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon. My reason for mentioning him is the following quotable saying, "The glory of God is the human being fully alive, and to be alive consists of beholding God." As, I said in my sermon last week, compound sentences are often difficult for humans to process, and many times the quote for Irenaeus stops just before the and. But it is worth noting that Irenaeus was wrestling with alternative forms of Christianity, especially forms of Christianity that deny the full humanity of Jesus, and preached that only those with "secret knowledge" of God were "saved."
Irenaeus, in his work Against the Heresies took the position that sided with all humans who participated in the church life of baptism and communion were included in God's plan, not just those with secret knowledge. This line of theological reasoning was, and still is, embraced by the Great Church, both the Roman West, and theological descendants, and the Orthodox East. It was Irenaeus, confident in these actions by the church and its members, who stated that "the business of the Christian is to be ever preparing for death." That preparation was to include not only a rigorous practices of personal piety, but also the serving those with whom Christians live, a rigorous sense of social justice.
There are probably no new heresies under the sun, only new ways of expressing them. The thoughtfulness of these early Christian leaders and there examples set standard and patterns for later generations. Some of their works and lives appear fresh, even in today's world. The study of the Patristics and "Matristiscs" (my made up word) is a worthy pursuit, even for us moderns.
The Rev. David Lucey