Two lectures by Father John Behr

I first became aware of Fr. John Behr because I want to read his book The Nicene Faith. I haven’t yet because, quite frankly, the enormity of scholarship about fourth-century Christianity makes me shy away from it and stay happy in the fifth and sixth centuries instead!

Nonetheless, I have recently encountered two lectures given by Fr. John. The first I encountered will appeal more to those interested in early Christianity, the core of orthodoxy, and such things; the second is of interest to the same crowd as well as those who do theological anthropology and gender studies.

The First Lecture ‘The Shocking Truth About Christian Orthodoxy’

I found the first through a post on Bosco Peters’ excellent website Liturgy. This lecture was part of Augustine College’s annual lectures (the name of the series escapes me), only one of which I attended whilst living in Ottawa, that given by Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft.

The video, which is embedded below, is an hour long; but I highly recommend it. Dr. Behr addresses the two presuppositions of modern scholarship on Christ:

i. We must get behind the crucifixion and the apostolic writings to the ‘real’ Jesus

ii. Orthodoxy claims a strict uniformity and is opposed to any diversity

He deals with both of these presuppositions quite while, observing that all Jesuses are interpretations of the evidence and experiences of the historical events, coloured by each interpreter’s own cultural presuppositions. We will never be able to reach that ‘real’ Jesus of the Quest for the Historical Jesus.

He then makes the interesting shift in interpretation that the early heretics were driven out of a church unwilling to accommodate diversity by arguing that, in fact, people such as Marcion and Valentinian separated themselves from the Church because they found the Church unwilling to silence the symphony of voices and listen only to their monotones.

Orthodoxy contains much diversity. Anyone who has read the Fathers would know this, yet presupposition ii. above lies beneath much discourse about early Christianity. One can only hope Fr. John Behr and others of the current orthodox resurgence in Patristics can help dispel these false visions.

Here it is:

The Second Lecture: ‘Male and Female He Created Them’

With the second lecture, I was a bit more out of my league. I don’t even think I can properly reiterate his thoughts without getting into hot water with gender studies people. But it was a good, challenging talk! He addressed the question of men and women and humanness primarily through the Old and New Testaments, but drawing in strands of thought from rabbinical teachings, modern commentaries, modern Orthodox theologians, and the Fathers. I highly recommend it, especially if matters surrounding gender are important to you. It is available through the lovely people at Ancient Faith Radio.

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7 thoughts on “Two lectures by Father John Behr

  1. Thanks for sharing the lecture. It’s an interesting modification on the common idea that the heretics are deviations from an established “norm.” I haven’t listend all the way through yet, but based on your description, it sounds like it has potential.

    • Indeed, it is an interesting modification. That’s what first caught my eye! If you have the time, catching the rest is worthwhile. I think he would probably agree to there being a ‘norm’ of some sort, but that the norm is more like the beauty of concordant voices in a symphony that a soloist singing an aria.

      • I finished watching it, and while I find the proposal interesting, I’d have to pay closer attention to the details of his argument. It seems to be a sociological analysis from our perspective, but I’m not sure if it’s what the Fathers themselves thought they were doing (this is a general impression I have that is open to revision). I think the old proposal, which is practically untenable, articulates what the Fathers themselves understood to be happening, and I think that needs to be incorporated within our contemporary analysis which can analyze the various writings and articulate the trends of what was happening on a broader scale. But, again, I would have to listen again to see if his presentation deals with any of this.

      • I would say that the Fathers are aware of a certain diversity amongst themselves, as the famous letter of Augustine on the subject of variations in liturgical practice makes clear. Yet there is certainly a mindset of unity that is stronger, as we see in the regula fidei of Irenaeus, which has the same essential content even if it varies somewhat from telling to telling, and which he declares to be the same wherever you find Christians, East and West, North and South. I imagine any of the well-read later Fathers would have had to accept a diversity of opinion on certain subjects, for a religion that affirms Cyril and Theodoret as orthodox is necessarily diverse from the get-go!

      • I guess the question is then how much diversity were they accepting of. While maybe not explicit, Behr’s rhetoric seemed to imply an acceptance of a large diversity. Also, your comment on how the view changes as time goes on is a good point (I immediately thought of Vincent of Lerins). I can’t remember now, but Behr seemed to camp on Irenaeus. I’d be interested in seeing how it changes as time progresses, especially since most people assume that things naturally coalesce as time goes on.

      • I, too, have only watched this the once, but it seems Behr’s focus lies with Irenaeus, who seems less open to any diversity than Vincent or even Cassian.

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