The Patristic Vision

Tradition is neither transmitted nor received mechanically, but requires from us an historical appropriation and hermeneutical Incarnation. The Tradition of the Fathers is a powerful guarantee against individualism in spirituality and unrestrained enthusiasm in theology. It guards against an exclusive focus on the present context and contemporary culture, and restores the emphasis on theology as an activity of the Church in and through all its ages, agents and areas. There is no justification for Patristic fundamentalism. All periods, all people, and all places stand within the Patristic Tradition. We are all its heirs, irrespective of our present condition, confession, or context. Beyond, therefore, the catholic imperative in the study of the Church Fathers, one may also refer to the ecumenical imperative that broaden’s one’s historical and theological outlook. This is not an argument for traditionalism, but an invitation to listen to and learn from the Patristic Tradition.

The catholic and ecumenical dimensions of the Patristic culture are in turn the very reason for its trans-historical and trans-cultural significance. Hermeneutics has done much to convince us that traditional conceptual systems are culturally limited and historically conditioned. Western Christianity has in the past often been more critical towards culture, while the Orthodox Church has regularly been uncritically identified with culture. However, there is a very real sense in which the Patristic methodology lays a claim to our attention because in it we recognize a reality that at the same time treasures and transcends both context and culture. Patristic methodology discloses a reality that is truth, and with this method one discovers the way towards this truth.

Much contemporary scholarship has abandoned the sources so carefully edited, translated and studied in the past―doctrinal treatises, biblical commentaries, lives of saints, homilies and documents―describing the rold and activity of the laity, liturgy, rituals, art and culture. The desire today is to correct the concentraion of earlier scholarship solely on orthodox institutional Christianity and on mainline groups within the church. There is an attempt to balance these with an emphasis on the popular levels and diverse expressions of Christianity.

However, this in no way undercuts the trans-historical or trans-cultural element of the Patristic way. Irrespective of the strata or structures within which one lives, one is always discovering or uncovering the same vision and the same vitality. In studying the various branches of the Byzantine civilization, it is almost impossible to single out a particular aspect that is unrelated to the Patristic vision. In medieval society, as we well know, this religious vision formed a necessary and accepted part of every intellectual, social and political concern. It is this vision that deserves our reverent attention and responsible study.

Fr John Chryssavgis, The Way of the Fathers: Exploring the Patristic Mind. First edition, pp 20-21.