Pope’s study of Church Fathers not just for Catholics
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia (Zenit.org): Benedict XVI’s Wednesday-audience series on the Apostolic Fathers can give us hope for unity among Christians, says a Catholic theologian who was once an evangelical Protestant minister. In this interview with ZENIT, David Warner discusses how reading Church Fathers led to his return to the Catholic Church and offers some reflections on the Pope’s teachings.
Warner is now a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in Steubenville, Ohio, and an adjunct professor for the University of Sacramento, California.
Q: Why would non-Catholic Christians be any more interested in the Fathers of the first couple of centuries than in later saints and doctors of the Church?
Warner: In the Apostolic Fathers and the earliest bishops and apologists, we have the earliest links in the chain that connects today’s Christians with the Twelve.
Quoting a second-century bishop, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Benedict XVI reminded us that St. Clement, the third bishop of Rome in succession from St. Peter, had the first apostles’ “preaching in his ears, and their tradition before his eyes.”
Q: What common ground can Christians find in the Fathers, and how might this help ecumenical efforts?
Warner: The Fathers can inform and challenge Christians of every description. Protestants can rediscover their forgotten roots. This in turn often results in an increased appreciation for Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other episcopal and liturgical traditions.
In other cases, openness to the Fathers becomes a steppingstone toward embracing what we believe to be the fullness of Christian faith and practice found within the Catholic Church.
Catholics can and should rediscover some of the patristic priorities that modern evangelicals are noted for, including: living in and for Christ; reverencing and studying the Bible as the unique, authoritative written word of God; and becoming better informed and enthusiastic witnesses to Jesus Christ, the one and only savior of the world.
We can reaffirm our Catholic tradition of promoting all of the gifts of the Spirit – including the charismatic and hierarchical gifts – toward the end of Christian maturity and unity. All of these distinctive traits are clearly taught and modeled in the Fathers.
We can relearn how to “breathe with both lungs,” a phrase Pope John Paul II often used to refer to drawing from both the Western and Eastern Christian traditions of theology and spirituality.
Many of the earliest Fathers were in fact “Eastern”; they lived in the Near East or Northeast Africa, and wrote in Greek and other non-Latin tongues. Our Eastern Orthodox brothers have the highest regard for the same figures the Pope is holding up for our example and instruction.
Benedict XVI gives us hope for Christian unity by directing us to Ignatius of Antioch who was “truly a doctor of unity.” He taught the unity of the Trinity, the unity of the Incarnate Logos, and the unity of the Church in the bonds of love.
Ignatius’ prescription for authentic spirituality and ecumenism was “a progressive synthesis between configuration to Christ – union with him, life in him – and dedication to his Church – union with the bishop, generous service to the community and the world.”