Blessed James Alberione

Opera Omnia


Advanced search

The word "Fathers" is not to be taken here in the meaning given to it in the early Church, when the title was applied to all Bishops; nor in the sense given to it later on when the title was extended to all those Christians who explained, defended, clarified and developed theological thought and were considered Fathers in the spiritual sense.
In agreement with present theological thinking the title "Fathers of the Church" is reserved to those Catholic writers who have the four following qualities: doctrinal orthodoxy, holiness of life, Church approval, and antiquity.
The Fathers are grouped as Eastern or Western, depending on the language they wrote in. With respect to the time of the development of Christian thought that they represent, they are divided into apostolic, controvertists and systematic.
Linked inevitably to these are the Doctors. They are those Fathers, theologians and spiritual teachers who were granted this honorific title by the Church because of their eminent importance and authority.
As regards these outstanding writers and thinkers and their works, the apostle is not to share the idea of those critics who say that the memory of the Fathers and their works is a thing of the past, nor to accept the notion of those who say that these are matters for scholars. On the contrary he must be convinced that the Holy Fathers, considered in the historical and literary period of Patrology, are of concern to all, because they are witnesses and cultivators of sacred Tradition.

Recommend them to everyone1
The desire to make the Holy Fathers accessible to everyone, that is, to get these real treasures of Christianity out of universities, schools and the circle of scholars is a recent one when compared to the books of Holy Scripture. It flowered only in the 19th century, but the movement was so strong that it was effected quite quickly by means of various enterprises.
It started with the publication of some original texts and little by little these grew into a precious series of works.
Among the collections of original texts aimed at a wider readership is Hurter's well known "Sanctorum Patrum opuscula selecta", devised as a teaching aid for theology students. There followed, along the same lines, the "Florilegium patristicum" of Bonn [= H. Rauschen, Bonn] and the unfinished "Bibliotheca Ss. Patrum theologiæ tironibus et universo clero accomodata", edited by G. Vizzini.
Other enterprises aspired to instill the reading of the Fathers not so much in the classroom as among those educated people who love good reading.
A series of the Fathers' works translated into different languages ensued. The first, that of the Oxford Tractarians, comprised the major part of the patristic writings then known. The translation of the ante-Nicean Fathers began in England and continued in New York with the Nicean and post-Nicean Fathers.
Something similar was undertaken in Germany with a work entitled "Library of the Church Fathers".
Other initiatives of this kind followed in France and Italy. "La voce dei Santi Padri" is one of the best known. It is a choice selection of the best writings of the Holy Fathers and is aimed at assisting preachers and lecturers. Then there were collections of translated texts of the Fathers that had a twofold purpose:
to make them known to the laity and to highlight their literary value in particular. Among the more successful were "I libri della fede" by the Editrice Fiorentina; "Le pagine cristiane antiche e moderne" published by the Soc. Ed. Internazionale and "I classici cristiani" by Cantagalli.
Quite recent is the "Corona Patrum Salesiana", a series of Greek and Latin patristic texts published unabridged with the Italian translation face to face; it includes explanatory notes, introductions and indices. This work is a halfway choice between the strictly scientific and general readership.
The initiatives and works cited have already contributed much to the spread of the life and works of the Holy Fathers. There remains still quite a lot to do to achieve the ideal.
Treasuring what has already been done, the apostle is to cooperate effectively for a greater popularization of the Holy Fathers, so that everyone may read about their life and works, study them, make them their own and benefit from the whole wealth of teaching and wisdom contained therein.
Let him try to recommend the Holy Fathers to everyone:
To scholars, so that the Fathers may be their guide in exegetical, theological, philosophical, scientific and historical research. To pastors
so that they may complete their dogmatic, apologetic, oratorical, moral, ascetical and liturgical formation. To the students of theology and Church history so that they will not be content with what is systematically set out in the treatises of individual subjects, but become accustomed to draw directly from the sources, so as to have more abundant and perhaps more genuine ideas. To lay people who enjoy religious reading so that in the Fathers they may round off their learning and thus have a genuine help in grasping and enjoying the Scriptures, a key to the knowledge of the history of Christianity, a guide to keep clear of life's spiritual dangers.
Let us make Catholics aware of these matchless Christian works which surpass by far those secular works of the Greeks, the Romans and every other people.
It is helpful to recommend the Fathers even to heretics and non-believers. They will get to know and love the true religion.

Witnesses of Sacred Tradition
The main reason to recommend the Fathers to everyone is the fact that they are witnesses of the divine-apostolic and ecclesiastical tradition inasmuch as they have collected, interpreted and commented on the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the Church.
They are the witnesses of what constitutes our religion; in other words, faith, morals and worship.
The Fathers systematized and developed the tenets of Christian doctrine through the contact that it had with the historical culture of every age. They did so, not by introducing new truths, but by their explanation, oral and written, of those truths which are unclear in Holy Scripture and thus more open to interpretations not in keeping with the Church's meaning, and by establishing those revealed truths not contained in the holy books, but which were handed down orally.
Moreover, they documented the legitimacy of Catholic teaching since what is constant in the Fathers is the reference not to their own personal opinion but to the authority of the teaching Church, depository of the word of Jesus Christ.
They did all this in an intelligent way, through tireless study, moved by the desire to fathom the substance and genuine meaning of divine revelation.
The Fathers facilitate the study of the holy books.
In fact, who will fail to find greater enjoyment in the Bible if they take as their guide the golden eloquence of Saint John Chrysostom, the sure and powerful erudition of Saint Jerome, the powerful dialectic of Saint Augustine, the lofty and serious teaching of Saint Basil, the moving poetry of Saint Gregory [Nazianzen]?
The study of the Fathers is true light that
enlightens believers in Christ, an inextinguishable torch in the darkness of error, a sacred fire to nourish in us love for the truth. It is a sure guide to the understanding of the history of the Christian religion, its development and its ascendancy over paganism.
The Fathers' written works, their polemics, and their apologias may be likened to a crystal clear mirror which reflects unaltered the doctrine of Christ. When they have to defend the Church from the attacks of heresy their doctrine is that of the Redeemer, it is that of the Apostles.
The Holy Fathers are, moreover, the witnesses of Christian moral principles.
As a character study, they present the ideal type of perfect Christian who knows how to harmonize the faithful practice of the Christian life with the greatest variety of gifts. Some are men of action, others men of study; there is the apologist and the philosopher; the theologian and the mystic. Most of them are orators, but there is no lack of those who, like Augustine, sum up all these aptitudes in a powerful and magnificent personality. All of them, furthermore, are holy.
The writings of the Fathers sparkle and irradiate the fullness of the Christian spirit. They produce a marvelous effect on the reader, precisely because their authors are nourished
on the pure substance of religion. Since they are, as it were, saturated with the primitive spirit which they have drawn from the very Source in a more direct and plentiful way, it happens, quite often, that what flows with natural freshness from their abundance is more nourishing than what was thought about and meditated on afterwards.
The reading of the life and the works of the Fathers are a clear commentary on all that is the object of Catholic moral principles and a guide to the practice of the same.
Lastly, the Holy Fathers are witnesses of Catholic worship. Through their example, their words and writings they instilled the practice of the true religion in its direct relationship with God through worship, external and internal, private and public.
Their aim was to introduce and establish everywhere the worship of the true God, overturning the gods of falsehood and lies, and inaugurating the reign of Jesus Christ.
The Fathers have an important and especial place in the development of Catholic Liturgy or, in other words, of public prayer and the practice of worship, which the Church renders to God through and in Jesus Christ. They practiced the true spirit of the liturgy and established its laws.
It is well known, in fact, that once the Redeemer laid the foundations of New Testament worship with
the institution of the Mass and the sacraments, he left further development to the Apostles and to their successors.
The Fathers collected, disseminated and enlarged the apostolic traditions. Setting them down in their writings they gave us the grounding of liturgical science, its sources, its literature and its history.
Patrology and Patristics, the knowledge of the Fathers and their works as a subject of study, present the press apostle with a vast treasure which, if dealt with in an appropriate way, can lead people to know God, to love him and to serve him.

Practical conclusions
The Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church are teachers of the faith, defenders and propagators of dogma, morals and worship, champion apologists, assured exegetes, masters of spirituality, interpreters and guardians of revelation, sources of the Church's history.
They are men who have written about God, about Christ and about the Church. Their works have passed the test of time because they deal with universal themes or, if they deal with particular issues, they give reasons and affirm principles that transcend their time.
The sincerity of their faith, their attachment to the
Church, their clarity of thought... are assets that insure their being loved, understood and followed.
To spread the writings and thoughts of the Fathers and Doctors is surely a wise thing, something noble in the eyes of God and the world.
In the Fathers and Doctors of the Church one learns about Jesus Christ, Way, Truth and Life.
To spread the writings and thoughts of the Holy Fathers is thus a very wise, worthy and useful work for the good of people.
The apostle is first of all to leaf through the immortal pages of these works and then reverently pass them on to others.
Reading these treasured writings, not simply as a spiritual pastime or as an intellectual pursuit, but weighing their content and worth wisely, the apostle will make his own the wealth of doctrine and wisdom such writings embody.
Having inhaled, as it were, their spirit - the spirit of the Gospel, the Apostles and the Church - he will be able to communicate it effectively to his readers.
The apostle can disseminate the texts of the Holy Fathers in the original language or in a translation. These can be supplemented with a commentary of a theological, philosophical, liturgical, polemical or historical nature, depending on the subject, the purpose and the occasion.
His concern, above all, should be to make
the Holy Fathers known and to spread their writings among the people; he can do this by means of translating complete works and anthologies into the vernacular.
Such translations can be made in various ways.2
There are the so-called scholastic translations. Their aim, quite simply, is to facilitate the reading of the original text. These are splendid when they clearly reflect the thought and grammatical structure of the original.
The so-called literary translations aim to make people enjoy the art and beauty of the translated work. These render not just a faithful translation of the words but when the character of the two languages allows it they reflect also the style of the original.
This is undoubtedly the most perfect way to translate but it is also the hardest, especially when you are dealing with writers who have their own personal style.
Another more common way is to render the thought completely, and to supplement it with notes and divisions, the concern being more for the latter than for the style. The apostle is not bound to any one style. He is to choose, case by case, the form most helpful to make the Holy Fathers known, loved and followed by all the faithful so that everyone may draw from this plentiful and pure source for their own spiritual benefit.

1 Cf. La Civiltà Cattolica, October 1938. * A. FERRUA S.J., I Ss. Padri per tutti - Rassegna in La Civiltà Cattolica 89 (1938), vol. IV, No. 2119, 46-57.

2 Cf. La Civiltà Cattolica, October 1938.