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.