Update on the North America Pastristics Society meetings

The conference ended Saturday, and I am still recovering from the 20 or so presentations I attended. My Saturday presentations were:

“Novatian on the Nature of the Father and the Son”
“Apophaticism and the Language of Revelation in Hilary of Poitier’s De Trinitate”
“The First Person Singular in Hilary of Poitier’s De Trinitate”
“The Evolution of Nicene Theology in the Church of the East”
“After Babel? Rome 410 and the Transformation of Patristics”
I found DH Williams presentation on the development of eastern Christianity particularly fascinating. By eastern is meant Persia and beyond into Central Asia and China. The point made was that Christianity was very much indigenous to these areas and not the importation of Western structures and formulations. Of the seven ecumenical councils there is found only an emphasis on the first two councils, and there is consistent restatement of Nicene theology apart from an exact rendering of the Nicene Creed.
In fact, there is no one dominating creed in the East but continual restatements. The typical accusation in the academy that Western theology is imperialistic. The facts don’t support it.Chrisitanity has a power all of its own to win the hearts and minds of nations and peoples.
I found it interesting to attend an academic conference in which the subject is early Christianity and its cultural impact without the framework of piety or visible spiritual commitments.
The meetings were sheerly academic. This had a positive impact on me. There were no topics out of bounds and there was no apology for intellectual curiosity. I often found this to produce a better Christianity than I have found at many a so-called Christian conference. Of course, there were many professing Christians presenting and listening. But the bottom line is that Christianity is a historical phenomenon of such impact that it deserves explanation and exploration. Its concepts and categories flowed into the ancient world and changed culture, politics, economies, social structures and lives by the millions. The dismissive attitudes of the new atheism can’t stand in such a meeting. It thinks in too private terms as if Christianity is only a personal preference that this or that person may have. In fact, Christianity is the very air being breathed by both Christian believer and non-Christian skeptic.
After three days of meetings, going to church on Sunday was an interesting contrast. In a typical non-denominational church manner, the service was ahistorical. The presentation was totally in terms of psychological states of being, as if there was no real history, no thought structures, and no handrails to guide reflections. It was supposedly Christian worship but with no reference to God as trinitarian, no mention of the Holy Spirit, no assertion that Jesus was God or even passing allusion to His sacrificial death on the cross.  I no longer wonder how this happens. I think I know.
It is simply a disconnect with the church. These people are believers, deeply so. But there is no real, live connection with church as church. It is mostly what we make up and frame according to the moment.
Church history is a referee who is free to blow the whistle when our gatherings no longer bear any resemblance to the Great Tradition that stands over time and sometimes against it to bear witness to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At worship I could hear the whistle being blown again and again.

Did St Augustine “go both ways?”

Below are the presentations I went to yesterday. Usually about 20 or so people are at each one as people spread out to go to their preferred topics or presenters. I went to 11 presentations and the plenary meeting to hear another speaker. 12 in all. My brain felt like it was walking upstairs all day. There were moments of brilliant scholarship and tight reasoning that simply amazed me. I did get to meet DH Williams of Baylor who has written several books dealing with the early church as resource for Evangelicals (without becoming Roman Catholic).
Many publishing houses are here to show their wares. It is amazing how expensive books for the academy are. Many of the volumes are $80 to $120, virtually nothing when compared to texts for the scientific community but still exorbitant for us readers in the arts.  Was pleased to check in at the Inter Varsity Press table and meet the rep. Lines of friendships cross and we had the opportunity to compare notes.
What is most expensive is getting your hands on commentaries of the Fathers. The actual interpretive work on a text is where you really get to know them. One would not usually buy them but use them in the library, and the libraries that will have them are rare.
Of course there is the obligatory time given to sexual identity issues, and in the plenary presentation the speaker tried to demonstrate that evidence would lead us to conclude that St Augustine’s struggle with lust was most problematic in his relationship with men. I considered it to be poor scholarship, but at such meetings the academia has to find that someone we thought was heterosexual was not. It’s sort of the mantra that has to be rehearsed. The speaker was sophisticated and handled all sorts of issues with amazing breadth and insight, but the evidence for the assertion is so scant that while it might suggest itself to the mind, it should not come out of the mouth. The same thing happens with the David and Jonathan relationship. It was the poorest piece of scholarship during the whole conference.
“Providence, Punishment, and Perfection: Clement and Basilides on Suffering”
“Stoic Paradigms in Augustine’s Account of Grace and Free Will”
“St. Jerome on Predestination, Free Will, and Divine Foreknowledge in his Exegesis of St. Paul”
“Divine Contingency in Nemesius’ Rejection of Stoic Compatibilism”

“Origen and the Christian Canon of the Old Testament”

“The Clothing of Divinity: Scripture as Incarnation According to Origen”

“Origen and the ‘Tractus de epithalamio’ of Gregory of Elvira”

“Origen and Africanus on the Hebrew Criterion of Canonicity”

“Can a Heavenly Body be Disabled?

“Resurrecting Deformities: Augustine on Scars and Marks on Heavenly Bodies”

“The Rhetoric of Heaven: Augustine’s Exposition on the Psalms of Ascent”

Attending the North American Patristic Society Meetings in Chicago

I am in Chicago visiting my son, Jon, and participating in the NAPS annual meeting. About 200 or so scholars are in attendance.

The days are essentially presentations of papers by graduate students. Each day has 4 sessions for papers plus two plenary sessions. Each sessions has about 8 to 10 topics you can choose from, and within that topic there are 3 25 minute papers.

The first session I went to was titled “Other Latin Nicenes I.” The papers were “Phoebadius and the Beginnings of Latin Nicene Theology,” “The Christology of Gregory of Elvira,” and”The Eschatology of Hilaryof Poitier’s Tractatus super Psalmos: Eternal Life in the Body of Christ.”

The second session I went to was titled “Theodoret, Leontius, and Symeon” The papers were “Peace as A Criterionoif Successful Rulership in Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History,” “Relationship or Person? Reassessing Leontius of Byzantium’s Notion of Hypostasis,” and “Symeon the New Theologian: Singing the Divine Reality.”

Following the afternoon sessions there was a plenary speaker addressing the evolution of preaching Constantine, particularly tracing the change from education to inspiration in homiletical style. It was fascinating and entirely relevant to our day. The task of catechesis remains. Of course, it has given way to the affections as the dominant motif, but many church fathers did not give up the teaching aspect of pastoral ministry.

Today is more of the same, except we have a full day. Yesterday was the beginning of the conference with things starting off at noon.

Part of my strategy is to attend those workshops which focus on church fathers of whom I know very little even if the other workshops have more interesting subjects but in which I have some background. I want to broaden my awareness  of the period in church history and pick up reading resources so I can continue to learn after the conference. Of course, the bookstore in phenomenal. This is not your typical Christian bookstore. The titles alone are an education. Once again, I will not be picking up any books, but I am jotting down the titles of ones I may read through library loan, though most of these are not available even that way.

Inter Varsity Press is represented with all of their early church resources. A great offering by IVP and a surprise. The only way it could have been done was through special gifts. If I spent any money (and I am not!!!!) I would buy some of the IVP volumes.

Well, off to the conference. More to report later on.