Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for July 23, 2006

The Catholic Church is blessed with a rich heritage of tradition dating to the time of the Apostles. As the Apostles learned from Christ, they “handed on” that teaching through their writings, but also through the Sacraments and other unwritten traditions, preserving the Gospel in its fullness. In fact, our word “tradition” comes from the Latin “tradere,” which means to “hand over” or “hand down.” Therefore, the Apostolic Tradition is a gift handed on from Christ Himself, given to the Church through the ministry of the Apostles and their successors.

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the study of the successors of the Apostles and their extensive writings. Commonly referred to as the “Fathers of the Church,” these holy men lived and passed on the Faith through the earliest days of Christianity. Who exactly are the Fathers of the Church? They are the men, often bishops, who taught and nourished the early Church in Her infancy; the period of the Fathers usually ends with St. Gregory the Great in the West (d. 604) and St. John Damascene in the East (d. about 754). These dates are not fixed, however, and oftentimes St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) is described as the “Last of the Fathers,” owing to his stylistic similarity and clarity of doctrine.

The Fathers are further divided into “Greek” and “Latin” Fathers, depending on the language and culture in which they taught; both groups of Fathers develop different aspects of theology and teach in their own style and method. We are indebted to the teaching and lives of these men, who spent their lives at the service of the Church and her growth. Many of their names are well-known to the world, such as St. Augustine, St. Leo the Great, and St. John Chrysostom; others are more obscure, such as Vincent of Lerins and Dionysius.

By studying the Fathers of the Church and their writings, we encounter the Apostolic Faith in a new way, and often are captivated by the beauty and clarity with which these great shepherds fed their flock. Throughout the next year, I hope to be able to open the treasures of the Fathers of the Church through my weekly article, although enough material exists to last for a lifetime of prayer and study.

Apart from the teaching of the Fathers themselves, the method of theology they employed teaches us a great deal as well. Never was it more true that “their theology was learned on their knees.” That is to say, prayer and meditation – on the Sacred Scriptures above all – were the spring from which their doctrine flowed. Not content, however, with simply teaching and passing down the Faith, these men lived the consequences of their teaching to the fullest, with a deep concern for the poor; they often suffered for the Faith as well, and some were blessed to gain the martyr’s crown.

The study of the Fathers and their teaching is usually described as either patrology or patristics, although the distinctions between these two fields are often blurred. What is important, however, is to realize the proximity of the Fathers’ lives to the Apostles, and to the Apostolic teaching; as the Fathers agree on points of theology, morality, and discipline, we have a great resource to assist our own understanding of the teaching of the Church, as well as heavenly intercessors to aid our path to holiness.

The first era of the Fathers of the Church is known as the “Apostolic Fathers,” or those men who knew the Apostles and were their immediate successors. We will begin our study of the individual Fathers next week with the life and writings of St. Clement of Rome.

I pray that your summer vacations are restful and refreshing as well, and that this summer heat hasn’t been too overwhelming! May God bless you all.

As an online resource, enjoy the following sites, all dedicated to the Fathers of the Church:
The Fathers Online
Wikipedia Church Fathers Entry
More Fathers Online
The Way of the Fathers (blog)
"Fathers Know Best" (patristics tracts from Catholic Answers)
Crossroads Initiative Library