Friday, January 05, 2007

Who is a Church father?

Basing itself on passages from the New Testament, this online article from the 1917 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia described a Church father as "a teacher of spiritual things, by whose means the soul of man is born again into the likeness of Christ."

It goes on to note that in the Western Church, the last of the Church fathers was St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) and in the East St. John Damascene (d. ca. 754) was the last. It goes on to note that, for some in the West, the line of the fathers extends as far as St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153).

However, it quickly dismisses such a notion saying that the limits of the period of the fathers into the high Middle Ages is "evidently too wide."

I would tend to agree. As with defining just about any category, the broader the definition becomes, the less meaning that it really has.

That having been said, if my own preferences in reading the works of those who are teacherrs of spiritual things would be a guide in determining who is a Church father, I would certainly include John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1891).

Now for general usage, that is certainly stretching the limits of the period of the fathers too far. But in my own experience, his works have certainly been a means by which my soul is born again into the likeness of Christ.

Granting that different people respond to different writers in different ways, I still would not hestitate to recommend the writings of Cardinal Newman, who may be now on the verge of being beatified, to anyone who wishes to grow both in the knowledge of the faith but also in how that knowledge is to be applied to the way the faith is lived out from day to day.

To that end, I heartily refer those interested in reading the works of Newman (both before he became Catholic in 1845 as well as those subsequent to his reception into the full communion of the Church) to the Web site, The Newman Reader, maintained by the National Institute for Newman Studies.

Cardinal Newman was a prolific writer and I believe that all of his published writings as well as biographic material about him in the public domain are all housed at this terrificly useful site. Visit it and enjoy the spiritual insights to be gained from this father (?) of the Church.

No comments: