A fantastic initiative is taking place in an online community, and I heartily recommend to those of you reading this to participate. It is simply called, “Read the Fathers,” and can be found at readthefathers.org. By dedicating yourself to reading just 7 pages a day, you will become familiar with the great treasures of early Christianity, and deepen your faith and worldview in the process. Here are just 5 reasons in no particular order of why I hope many do this:
1. You Will Know Your Family History. Many Christians from a variety of traditions often refer to “our church family” and point out the frequent family language used throughout the Scriptures. There is of course nothing wrong with this, but the view of family here is often limited to one’s local congregation. Our family is MUCH bigger than this, and includes those who have gone before us (and are still alive in Christ). In an age when orthodoxy is mocked and every opinion considered equally valid, reading and studying the fathers will show how temporal much of what passes for modern trendy theology and church is.
2. You Will Be Inspired. If as a Christian you do not weep at some point while reading the Martyrdom of Polycarp, you are doing it wrong. And this is only one writing. When you see these ancient Christians stand up to emperors, conquer the flesh, encourage the struggling, persevere through suffering, and do their best to live authentic Christian lives, it will make you want to “go and do likewise.” This will also help you put our current situation in the West into perspective. Speaking of the West…
3. Restoring the West. It is almost cliché to mention the decadence of the West, but the fact of moral, spiritual, and cultural decline is ever-present. One great way to help reclaim the culture is to rediscover our roots. What is great about western civilization is founded on the Judeo-Christian and Classical traditions, and the church fathers were steeped in both. Our own heritage is counter-cultural today, and one must be familiar with it in order to take action and educate others to “stem the tide.” This is one way in which we can truly create culture, rather than just whine and complain about it. Read Gregory the Theologian’s Poetry and set it to music if you must!
4. It Will Help You Read the Scriptures. As theologian Thomas C. Oden puts it, “The history of the church is a history of exegesis.” The fathers knew the Scriptures extremely well (many had huge portions memorized), and many were active pastors teaching the Scriptures to their flock. Reading how John Chrysostom teaches on Matthew, or how Gregory the Great deals with Job, will force you to dig into the text, and better understand the Scriptures yourself. Even if you disagree with a conclusion, you will have to know why you disagree, meaning you are contending with Holy Scripture the entire time. The Holy Spirit has been with the church since Pentecost, so why not read how the Spirit guided what became some of the most foundational received doctrine in Christendom?
5. It Will Help You Be Disciplined. Self-denial and discipline, especially of the mind, are not popular in today’s entertainment and consumer driven culture. We may admire those who are able to exhibit such behavior, but we rarely do anything ourselves. By committing to do this in community, with a schedule and seeing how others respond, you will be amazed at how little time you will have for frivolous things. In fact, if reading the fathers caused more Christians to get rid of most Christian self-help books based in individualist pop-psychology, many pastors would be in trouble (in a good way). In a very real sense, reclaiming our classic Christian heritage could go a long way in regards to renewal in the church.
There are many other reasons for doing this, such as the reasons provided here at the Pocket Scroll. He also has a great list of ways to NOT read the fathers, which I also recommend checking out. The website has links to all of the works for free online in late 19th century editions, and also provides some recommendations for other more modern translations should you need them. So, I challenge all of you to join me, just 7 pages a day, in participating in the community of saints.