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Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by…
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528619,108 (3.87)2
Title:Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers
Authors:Christopher A. Hall
Info:IVP Academic (1998), Edition: First Paperback Edition, Paperback, 223 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:RT: Catholic Biblical interpretation 2012, finished, read 2012

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Reading Scripture With the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall



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Substance: A brief introduction and overview of the eight "most important" church fathers (exegetes in the first few centuries after Christ), including biographical information and excerpts (very small) from their works. Includes an analysis of the importance of their views on scripture, and an explanation of how their thought applies today.
Includes a nod to feminist critics on why there are no "church mothers" despite there being several prominent and esteemed female exegetes (they just didn't write much, or it wasn't preserved).
Style: Lukewarm, but serviceable.
Includes: Athanasius (and thus perforce Arian, albeit as a heretic not a father), Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory the Great. Origen's work is also considered, although he is not ranked by Hall as a father because of his forays into now-heterodox thought. ( )
  librisissimo | Jun 16, 2015 |
PINK - Divine Services, Prayers, Liturgics, Chant, Scripture Study
  TheotokosChurch | Dec 20, 2013 |
Hall's book provides a neat counterpoint to Fitzmyer's. He explores how Church Fathers were both unified and at odds in how to read scripture, and how they run counter to the way biblical scholars work in the academy. His book is a description of the Antiochian and Alexandrian schools of exegesis in the first few centuries of Christianity, but also a defense of these exegetes and a call to reclaim them for today. This book is meant to serve as an overture to Hall's Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series.

The Fathers were not tenured professors writing books in private offices. They were bishops, ministers, men whose reading of the Bible was done with an eye to homiletics and to the immediate needs of the Church. Their criteria for sound exegesis did not just include critical reading skills, but also the spiritual health of the exegete: just as sin blinds one to God, it blinds one to God's Word. We should pay attention to their mode of reading scripture not just because many are saints and Church Doctors, but because of their hermeneutical and historical closeness to Christ, their ability to hear the music of scripture that falls dead on our modern ears.

Hall goes on to describe eight of the major exegetes of the ancient Church, including Augustine, Basil, John Chrysostom, Athanasius, and Jerome. In really like how he describes their personal lives and the struggles they face: struggles between a call to ascetic contemplation and a need to serve the Church, between embracing the world or seeing its brokenness, between their scholarly sensibilities and the demands of the laity and leaders they served. These were men who fought heresies, such as Gnosticism and Arianism. At the end of describing these figures Hall points to good translations of their works for popular audiences, helping to bring ancient exegetes easily into the hands of modern readers.

Hall then goes on to compare the Antiochian school of exegesis with the Alexandrian. The Alexandrian school, with such famous figures as Ireneus, Origen, and Augustine, looked to highly speculative allegorical readings of scripture. They could find the deepest symbolism in even the most prosaic Levitical laws; the cloven hoof of a goat could represent the Father and the Son, as could any binary in the Bible. To me this was reminiscent of Jungian dream interpretation: they assume that there is deep, deep meaning in every small detail of the dream, and of course find what they are searching for. Allegorical interpretation is useful for "explaining away" factual contradictions in the text or places where God seems less than Godlike. Alexandrian exegetes, responding to the Jewish skeptics of Christ's Messianship and the Gnostics' own allegorical reading, used allegory as an apologetic tool. Yet without hermeneutical constraints, allegory easily turned into a free-for-all more telling of the exegete's imagination than the text itself. Ironically, the same criticism is given to dream analysts

Antiochian exegetes such as Theophilus of Antioch or John Chrysostom were more careful. While they were not above finding figurative meaning in scripture, they were clear that no figurative reading could contradict or take precedent over the literal meaning of a text. While there were surely viscious debates between these schools, Hall leads the reader through an examination of various exegetes' comments on Jesus' saying that a rich man's attainment of salvation is harder than putting a camel through the eye of a needle. The exegetes don't differ as much as one might think. While there were some wacky allegorists (Origen comes to mind), perhaps the polemics exaggerate the issue.

Hall holds up ancient Biblical reading as a way out of two dilemmas faced in the academy. One is a modernist way of reading scripture: a rational, individual reader publishes research marked as their own corner. The other is the postmodern lapse into subjectivism. What criteria can we have for reading scripture if ultimately it's only our own solipsistic perspective? Hall's mode of returning to the Fathers, which he terms paleo-orthodoxy, provides an out by placing all scholarship in the community and needs of the Church. His readings are always theological. The Fathers unanimously read every verse of the Bible in light of Christ, whether allegorically or more literally.

While I enjoyed Hall's book, his polemics at the end seemed unnecessary. I will keep in mind that this is published by InterVarsity Press, an Evangelical group, so perhaps his appeal to tradition needs to be defended more clearly. As a Catholic it seemed redundant. But perhaps this is my own failure to understand the mindset of his audience, a mindset that might disregard any Christian writer before Luther and Calvin. (Never mind that Luther was himself a Catholic monk nurtured on the Fathers!) Despite this annoyance, Hall's book is a solid user friendly introduction to how the Fathers read scripture. ( )
1 vote JDHomrighausen | Dec 8, 2012 |
Quite interesting.
  drjwsimmons | Jul 16, 2011 |
Hall employs a good deal of filler. The book could be reduced to half its size. But, then again, the subject could take up volumes as there is much to be said — of substance. An "OK" introduction. JND Kelly is much better. ( )
  chriszodrow | Nov 6, 2009 |
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