Fr. Robert Dodaro on the importance of Patristic studies

UPDATE: The translation provided by Zenit was somewhat flawed.  Corrections have been made.

Pay attention to this very good interview done by Zenit with the President of the Patristic Institute Augustinianum

Be aware that is NOT a good English rendering of the Italian interview.  I will get it cleaned up tomorrow sometime and update you.

 

A Turn to the Fathers: Interview With Father Robert Dodaro

ROME, OCT. 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- There is a need to bridge a gap between the Fathers of the Church and the modern developments in theology, says a patristics scholar.

Father Robert Dodaro, director of the Augustinian Patristic Institute at the Pontifical Lateran University, [NO!  The Augustinianum is literally across the street from the colonade of St. Peter’s.  Fr. Dodaro also teaches across town at the Lateran.  The Augustinanum is an institute associated with the Lateran.] sees cause for optimism in this field, as he detects a trend toward more scholarly attention on the Church Fathers.

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Dodaro says that the study of the Fathers is the way to discover the answers to the problems the Church faces today.

Q: What are the difficulties limiting the number of students at the Augustinian Institute?

Father Dodaro: The greatest problem is the insufficient knowledge of Greek and Latin, and the lack of familiarity with classical studies. To prepare the students to take on the texts of the Fathers in their original languages, we began a prerequisite course of intensive Latin and Greek three years ago.

In this propaedeutic year there are also supplementary classes on ancient Roman history, classical literature and ancient philosophy. As you can imagine, students do not study these subjects adequately in schools and universities. Thus, the low levels in classical studies are for us the greatest challenge.

Q: What do you think about the relationship between patristic and modern theology?

Father Dodaro: The Second Vatican Council insisted that the updating of theology and Church praxis requires a return to the patrimony of wisdom in the Fathers of the Church. For this reason, the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI wanted an institute of patristic studies in Rome. But today’s theology seems to have set out on another path distinct from the Church’s tradition and, therefore, while patristic scholars investigate the historical context of the theology of the Fathers, theology today moves further away from its origins. The Church today needs to confront the question of the relationship between patristic and dogmatic theology.

Q: Perhaps the Fathers existed too long ago?

Father Dodaro: No, the Fathers are relevant to our times. Theirs is a beautiful spirituality, accompanied by a liturgical practice and theology that speaks clearly to us today. The general public is fascinated with patristics, and sales of the works of the Fathers in translation are remarkably good. Among ordinary people there is a lively interest in the Fathers.  It’s theologians who remain unconvinced about the Fathers’ teachings.

Q: You confirm that, among readers, there is an interest in the Church’s origins and especially in the patristic era, although many of these works are academic and little known. The challenge is, perhaps, maintaining a high academic level while making the content of the Fathers accessible?

Father Dodaro: This is another of the challenges to which we are trying to respond. The question is how we can offer the treasure of Patristic theology and spirituality to Catholics. In this regard, I feel proud when I see many of our students, after earning licentiates and doctorates, dedicating their time to translating the works of the Fathers into their native languages.

These graduates work with publishing houses well-known for this kind of publishing. I’m also pleased by the flourishing of patristic studies in Italy. Today, Italy is on the forefront in researching, studying and disseminating the works of the Fathers not only because the Patristic Institute is in Rome, but also because there is widespread interest in these writings within Italian public universities, where we have friends and collaborators.

For example, Italy’s Città Nuova Press publishes various Patristic authors, something that we don’t see in all Western countries, although the trend is spreading throughout the world. Some of our graduates are translating patristic texts even into Korean!  I think the spread of this kind of work can help local Churches respond to pastoral demands.

Therefore, we need patristic texts to be translated into many languages so people can deepen their knowledge of the Fathers. Then, courses are needed in the various spirituality and theology institutes. Bishops should challenge seminarians and young priests to study the Fathers of the Church.

Q: If you had to persuade youth to study the Fathers, what argument would you use?

Father Dodaro: I would speak about St. Augustine. But apart from that example, I would say: Take the 10 greatest and most difficult problems in today’s Church.  Choose whichever ones you want, and you will find that the Fathers of the Church had to deal with these same problems.  You will find in the Fathers the roots and answers to any and all controversies the Church must confront today. This is the reason for the importance of the Church Fathers.

This is my school and my dissertation director, by the way.

If you want a book you can really really chew on… or be chewed by, try this book by Fr. Dodaro.  It’s hard but really good.  Anyone deep into Augustine must read this.

Christ and the Just Society in the Thought of St. Augustine

 

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13 Responses to Fr. Robert Dodaro on the importance of Patristic studies

  1. When I was a boy, we began to learn Greek and Latin at preparatory school in England.
    I was 10 years old.

  2. These studies would also help in authentic ecumenical relations with the Orthodox churches as well … something Pope Benedict XVI wants to improve.

    Even a lower level of Latin and Greek language knowledge can help in understanding important things in our Western heritage. It’s certainly interesting that a basis of his emphasis on the Church Fathers is from Vatican II (there’s that hermeneutic of continuity again). Father Dodardo sounds like he approaches things with the right perspective.

  3. Andrew says:

    I am amazed again and again as I read St. Jerome (as for instance reading his “Dialogus adversus Pelagianos” right now) how many errors tackled by the Saint linger around to this day. It is truly amazing that things that have been definitively laid to rest continue to re-appear.

  4. LeonG says:

    Patristics, scholasticism and a thorough immersion in the classics is the perfect antidote to modernism and its foster children neomodernism and secular postmodernism. It is, therefore, quite explicable why modernists have sought to belittle these and have them made obsolete. School experience of Latin, some Greek and a good introduction to the works of the early church fathers, with St Thomas included later on, gives an excellent base for surviving and responding to the paganising & gnosticist onslaughts of modernist philosophy and postmodernist approaches to the social sciences in which I work. These also are invaluable tools for reading Sacred Scripture & avoiding the traps that liberal minds fall into, for example, taking scriptural verses out of context or falling prey to the “charismatic” personalisation of scriptural interperetation or yielding to the modernist arguments against the historicity of The Gospels.

    Dear Father Dodaro you have touched upon an essential area that has become negelected in seminaries and in “Catholic” schools & universities. This is a partial explanantion as to why the liturgy has suffered and has become so impoverished.

  5. Sid Cundiff says:

    Could cost be a factor in the neglect of Patristics? Last time I checked, the standard scholarly edition, the Migne, was very much — even for libraries — a Pearl of Great Price.

  6. RBrown says:

    Patristics, scholasticism and a thorough immersion in the classics is the perfect antidote to modernism and its foster children neomodernism and secular postmodernism. It is, therefore, quite explicable why modernists have sought to belittle these and have them made obsolete.

    School experience of Latin, some Greek and a good introduction to the works of the early church fathers, with St Thomas included later on, gives an excellent base for surviving and responding to the paganising & gnosticist onslaughts of modernist philosophy and postmodernist approaches to the social sciences in which I work. These also are invaluable tools for reading Sacred Scripture & avoiding the traps that liberal minds fall into, for example, taking scriptural verses out of context or falling prey to the “charismatic” personalisation of scriptural interperetation or yielding to the modernist arguments against the historicity of The Gospels.
    Comment by LeonG

    1. You seem above to use the word “modernism” in different senses. What do you mean by it?

    2. I don’t think exposure to Scholasticism is the answer. Perhaps the most harmful contemporary tendency, the notion that we can have direct experence of God, can be traced to Duns Scotus, who was one of the more prominent Scholastics.

    IMHO, many of the current problems can be seen as a reaction to Neo Scholastics.

    3. Karl Rahner knew Latin and Greek, read the complete Patrilogia, was familiar with neo scholasticism, but nevertheless, persisted in using Scripture out of context.

  7. LeonG says:

    I must apologise for my indifferent spelling earlier.

    Modernism has several faces including its secular counterparts. Thus, its perspectives appear in various forms and guises. It is difficult to give minute details here in a blog but unless Catholics have some education as I propose in a general sense then it is not always evident where modernistic ideas occur. These then can become part of our spirituality and our approach to our faith – relativised importance of doctrines & religious approaches; subjectivised view of being which transposes itself into primacy of individual consciousness and ultimately the individual conscience and so on, endlessly. It is an intellectual quagmire.
    Rahner like his other liberal and modernist contemporaries & predecessors demonstrates to us among other factors, the dangers involved when we want to impose our own personal learning and experiences of Faith on the universally validated norm. Briefly, he was part of a minority view held in check by legitimate ecclesiastical authority until such an index was removed giving free reign to such perspectives and those of his friends and colleagues which were mobilised into the church mainstream at Vatican II.

    Such an example cannot be used against the fundamental value of patristics, scholastic approaches and a sound theological formation which is more likely to act as a guarantee than not. As I have stated in my own personal formation, perhaps less intense than the likes of Rahner but similar in some respects, my masters have served me well and helped protect my Roman Catholic Faith. They provide an objective reference point essential in the milieu in which I work.

    Finally, I am not proposing scholasticism as the sole solution: rather it should be seen as part and parcel of a whole series of measures adopted in the Catholic education system. There will always be potential Luthers, Loisys, Kungs and Rahners to upset the system. Our sense of The faith should enable us to place such teachings where they belong: where the early church patriarchs, Pope Leo XIII, Pope St Pius X & his immediate successors put them.

  8. Fr. Paul McDonald says:

    Dear Father:

    I have been wondering what your day job is !

    How wonderful: higher studies in Patristics.

    Can you tell us what your thesis is about ?

  9. jacobus says:

    Oh patristics. My dream after wasting away in a standard, modernist, anti-catholic, Classics graduate program…

  10. homar says:

    old solutions to new problems… would that work? well, sometimes going back to the basics is the best solution.

  11. T. Chan says:

    I too wish Migne were available at a cheaper price.

    Thank you for the book recommendation!

  12. Paul Hargadon says:

    I remember Father Dodaro as a novice when the Augustinian Novitiate for the Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel was located in Saint Louis. It is wonderful to read this news about him. Great guy!

  13. RBrown says:

    Modernism has several faces including its secular counterparts. Thus, its perspectives appear in various forms and guises. It is difficult to give minute details here in a blog but unless Catholics have some education as I propose in a general sense then it is not always evident where modernistic ideas occur.

    Let’s pretend I do have some education.

    These then can become part of our spirituality and our approach to our faith – relativised importance of doctrines & religious approaches; subjectivised view of being which transposes itself into primacy of individual consciousness and ultimately the individual conscience and so on, endlessly. It is an intellectual quagmire.
    Rahner like his other liberal and modernist contemporaries & predecessors demonstrates to us among other factors, the dangers involved when we want to impose our own personal learning and experiences of Faith on the universally validated norm. Briefly, he was part of a minority view held in check by legitimate ecclesiastical authority until such an index was removed giving free reign to such perspectives and those of his friends and colleagues which were mobilised into the church mainstream at Vatican II.

    Such an example cannot be used against the fundamental value of patristics, scholastic approaches and a sound theological formation which is more likely to act as a guarantee than not. As I have stated in my own personal formation, perhaps less intense than the likes of Rahner but similar in some respects, my masters have served me well and helped protect my Roman Catholic Faith. They provide an objective reference point essential in the milieu in which I work.

    Finally, I am not proposing scholasticism as the sole solution: rather it should be seen as part and parcel of a whole series of measures adopted in the Catholic education system. There will always be potential Luthers, Loisys, Kungs and Rahners to upset the system. Our sense of The faith should enable us to place such teachings where they belong: where the early church patriarchs, Pope Leo XIII, Pope St Pius X & his immediate successors put them.
    Comment by LeonG

    Modernism in the theological sense is a heresy because it is a denial of Revelation, reducing it to an expression of human religious instincts. It is also a denial that there is anything Divine in Sacred Tradition. (Having said that, knowing what in is Divine and what is not in Sacred Tradition is a difficult problem.)

    In the cultural sense is refers to an exaggerated tendency for innovation according to the modes of a particular era. Cultural modernism is a more general term, and is not heresy unless it includes theological Modernism.

    I think today there is too often a tendency to throw the word “Modernism” around without distinguishing between the two meanings. I often see this from those connected with the SSPX, whose theological approach is almost always univocal.

    I have great sympathy with the SSPX–especially in liturgical matters. But the SSPX tendency toward univocal* theology has much in common with the Manualist theology of a couple of hundred years ago. Such a tendency could lead them to be called, in the cultural sense,
    Paleo-Modernists.

    *The thought of St Thomas is analogical rather than univocal.