The hermeneutical practices of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and their implication for Christology

JohnChrysostomNPThat’s easily the longest title I’ve ever had for a post, particularly what is going to be such a short post. I’ve been studying for my final in Latin and haven’t had much time to post lately. However, I’ve been reading John J. O’Keefe and R.R. Reno’s “Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible.” This book is a rarity; instead of dealing with the development of dogma or the underlying philosophy of a patristic author, the book is solely focused on analyzing the hermeneutical practices of the Fathers. It is an introduction to the way the Fathers read Scripture and an invitation to do the same. This has been a neglected element of patristic scholarship. They note that “were we to put the often-read doctrinally oriented treatises next to the volumes of largely unread patristic commentary and homily, the latter would dwarf the former.” (4)

A great many people are familiar with Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, or Augustine’s Confessions, but too few take the time to read the texts that actually make up the bulk of patristic literature: commentary. In chapter three of their book they discuss the Christological reading of the Fathers. “The ideal interpretation is the most elegant and comprehensive. For this reason, a general theory of the data, something like a ‘total reading’, serves as a scientific goal.” (25) This “total reading” is a Christological reading of the text that accounts for all the data. They quote Ignatius in his Letter to the Philadelphians (8:2) saying(ἐμοὶ δὲ ἀρχεῖά ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός) “To my mind it is Jesus Christ who is the original documents.” (27) They then add that “the central role of Jesus is clear in Ignatius, and it comes to dominate the patristic exegetical tradition.” (28) This, of course, is clear in the New Testament where various institutions and persons are given a fresh explanation in the light of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

So, what does this have to do with anything? As I read the book and think about the numerous books on Christology in the early Church, I can’t help but notice the lack of scholarship concerning the Christ-centered hermeneutics of the Fathers and what this tells us about Christology. Can we gain insight by observing not only what the Fathers said, but how they arrived at that point after their reading of the Scriptures? Has anyone already written on this?


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3 responses to “The hermeneutical practices of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and their implication for Christology

  1. Frances Young touches on it at points throughout Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture.

  2. Thanks for the insight on this book. I admit to being perplexed by the Ante-Nicene Fathers’ hermeneutics, and Christopher Hall’s books helped get me out of my 20th-century Protestant rut. I’m now finding myself wanting to go through the ANF again and assess what they wrote in light of my re-oriented (better?) perspective.

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