Sunday, May 14, 2017


Quiet Reading in Early Mornings in a Library Carrel

Thomas C. Oden (1931-2016), A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014), pp. 136-138:
Suddenly my irascible, endearing Jewish friend [Will Herberg] leaned into my face and told me that I was densely ignorant of Christianity, and he simply couldn't permit me to throw my life away. Holding one finger up, looking straight at me with fury in his eyes, he said, "You will remain theologically uneducated until you study carefully Athanasius, Augustine, and Aquinas." In his usual gruff voice and brusque speech, he told me I had not yet met the great minds of my own religious tradition.

He explained that he had gone through a long season of restitution after his erratic days and found it necessary to carefully read the Talmud and the Midrashim to discover who he was. Likewise he felt that I would have to go to a quiet place and sit at the feet of the great minds of ancient Christianity to discover who I was.


I asked myself, Could it be that I had been trampling on a vast tradition of historical wisdom in the attempt to be original?


I had read some Augustine, Aquinas and Luther, but I had never crawled through patristic texts with a listening heart. I had never truly inhabited that timeless, sacred world.


I plunged into reading the earliest Christian writers: Polycarp, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr. I wanted them to feed my soul.

The maturing of my change of heart took place only gradually through quiet reading in early mornings in a library carrel, allowing myself to be met by those great minds through their own words.

While reading Augustine's City of God on the ironic providences of history, I finally grasped how right Solzhenitsyn was about the spiritual promise of Russia. And while reading Cyril of Jerusalem's Catechetical Lecture on evidences for the resurrection, I became persuaded that Pannenberg had provided a more accurate account than Bultmann of the event of resurrection.

While reading the dialogues of fourth-century Sister Macrina and the women surrounding Jerome, I now could trace the profound influences of women on the earliest and richest traditions of spiritual formation, especially in monastic and ascetic disciplines.

While reading John of Damascus on the providence of God in The Orthodox Faith, I realized that the reordering of theological ideas I thought I was just then discovering had been well understood as a stable and received tradition in the eighth century.

While reading John Chrysostom on voluntary poverty, I discovered that the existential freedom Viktor Frankl had experienced in the Nazi concentration camp had been anticipated by fourth-century Christian teachers, martyrs, and confessors.

And so it went. All of that happened while I was reading, just reading.

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