My friend Scott, inspiration for this post, also noted that evangelical Christians read the Fathers because the Fathers are relevant to today. His comment was the following:
“… to disbelieve all, because that which says that all are untrustworthy is included in the number of those that are so” Clement of Alexandria Stromata 8.7. He could have been speaking to any number of people in the ‘post-modern’ world.
The quotation above points to the deconstructionists of the world, the people who take apart language and ideas to the point where they have no real meaning but are entirely unreliable, the products merely of language itself or of upbringing or education or genetics. It points to the reductionists who take a thought and reduce it to a single aspect, ‘Nothing but’-ism (as Brian J Walsh once said). It points to those who look at a Church on a Sunday morning and proclaim it a distasteful place — full of hypocrites.
The Fathers know of such people, and although they get fiery at times, they are not modernists, and they do not simply quip, ‘There’s always room for one more hypocrite.’ They speak words and pray prayers and lead lives that penetrate to the situation of this world as it loses the anchor and the tower of modernism — built on a flawed foundation — tumbles down around them.
The elegant universe calls forth to the glory of a God Who has designed it and set in motion with care. A God Who sustains it, even? So say the Fathers.
A universe with chaos at its root calls our attention to the reality of a world not entirely right. Fallen, maybe? So say the Fathers.
Texts have a multiplicity of meanings. The ancients knew this — we can rediscover this reality with them, as in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.
There is a loss of trust in the manifold structures of the institutions of this world, structures of church and state, of philosophy and family, of social norms and corporations. The Fathers can provide rootedness that goes deep, whether through the mysticism of Origen and Evagrius or the preaching of Chrysostom and Ambrose or the prayers of Basil and Hippolytus or the ethics of the Didache or the philosophy of Augustine and Gregory of Nazianzus. It is a grounding that is not monolithic, that must be tested carefully, but it can draw us to the living God, Who Himself is the surest foundation of all.
Not that God himself is fully knowable. Not that He is always what we want or expect. We must expect to have our expectations changed and shattered as we approach the Cloud of Unknowing.
And in unknowing what we thought we know, we enter into relationship. As helpful as Leo’s and Augustine’s and Cyril’s propositions are, the Living God is a real Person, living and active and abroad in the world.
The Fathers help draw us to Him. We are able to move beyond an intellectual assent to the propositions of Christianity into fellowship and communion with the One Who Is Himselfs Communion. And Communion lies at the heart and root and core of this Elegant, Chaotic Universe.
In a world torn asunder by war, by religion, by politics, by crumbling families, by disintegrating jobs, by falling marketplaces, by faceless governments, by rude neighbours, by fallen, failing humans, isn’t what we crave a deep relationship with someone who will be true, trustworthy?
I offer to you Big Brother Christ, explored in manifold ways and manifold paths by the Fathers. He is relevant to the sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, and dying of this world and our brief, flickering lives. Do not miss out on Him, for He loves you and would know you intimately.