“The Actual Views of the Fathers”

HT to William Tighe for sending me this link to this new book: “Inventing Authority: The Use of the Church Fathers in Reformation”, by Esther Chung-Kim. It is published by Baylor University Press. On their website, the book has this description:

Adding great historical insight to the events of the sixteenth century, Inventing Authority uncovers how and why the Protestant reformers came, in their dissent from the Catholic church, to turn to the Church Fathers and align their movements with the early church. Discovering that the reformers most frequently appealed to patristic sources in polemical contexts, Esther Chung-Kim adeptly traces the variety and creativity of their appeals to their forebears in order to support their arguments—citing them to be authoritative for being “exemplary scriptural exegetes” to “instruments of choice”.

Examining three generations of sixteenth-century reformers—from such heavy-weights as Calvin and Luther to lesser-known figures like Oecolampadius and Hesshusen—Chung-Kim offers an analysis of striking breadth, one that finds its center by focusing in on the perennially contentious topic of the Eucharist. Filling a significant lacuna in the early history of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, Inventing Authority is an important and eye-opening contribution to Reformation studies.

That doesn’t really tell us much about Dr Chung-Kim’s assessment of the Reformers’ use of the Fathers. However, like William, I have not heard of Chung-Kim before, so of course, I googled her. She is a lecturer at the Claremont School of Theology. Their website has this information:

Dr. Chung-Kim teaches and researches the Reformation and the Early Modern Period. Her current projects are on the reception of the early church fathers in the early modern period, the history of biblical interpretation and the use of wealth, property and possessions.

She offers courses on the History of World Christianity, The Protestant Reformation and its Medieval Heritage, Women in the Early Modern Era, History of Biblical Interpretation, The Life, Thought and Influence of Martin Luther and John Calvin, and The Radical Reformation and Nonviolent Traditions.

B.A., Drew University
M.Div., Th.M., Princeton Theological Seminary
Ph.D., Duke University

Excerpt from her book (forthcoming 2010):

“Calvin and Westphal deployed an increasing number of the ancient writers as the disagreement intensified. But the nature of the appeal to the fathers shifted in such a way that the actual views of the fathers mattered less, even though the number of references to the ancient church fathers increased.”

Now that last comment is indeed very interesting, and makes me want to buy the book to see how she demonstrates this position. However, it does accord with my experience of Lutheran use of the Fathers, and (in particular) Pastor Mark’s use of the Fathers on his blog “Lutheran Catholicity”. I have said to him before that I think he quotes the Fathers in isolation, not taking into account the overall Catholic faith which they held and passed on to the Church.

It will be interesting to see what Dr Chung-Kim has to say about the 16th Century use of the Fathers.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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6 Responses to “The Actual Views of the Fathers”

  1. Looks interesting, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to buy it. Perhaps Loehe Library will get a copy in. Thanks for the ‘heads up’ though.

    I think you’re begging the question on just what the ‘catholic faith’ of the Fathers was, David. It may not have been what we recognise as Lutheranism (indeed, that would be anachronistic), but just as surely it wasn’t post-Trentine Roman Catholicism either.

    (Btw, I noticed you dropped ‘Lutheran Catholicity’ from your links :0(

    A blessed Lent!

    Sub cruce.

    • Schütz says:

      We say “Post-Tridentine” in the game, Pastor! :-)

      I “dropped” the link because people can find it from your blog, just as they can find my other blogs from this one (do you have a link on yours to “Year of Grace”?).

      I actually tried posting a few replies to some of your posts on “Lutheran Catholicity” today – but I was doing it from my sick-bed (dreadful cold) with my iPhone, and I don’t know if it worked. Your posts on the Immaculate Conception are really excellent examples of “the actual views of the fathers” mattering less than the spin with which you interpret what they wrote.

      I probably will ask Daniel Mannix Library to get a copy – or buy it for the Commission. I don’t think there is an eBook version.

      On the other hand, I might just write to Dr Chung-Kim and ingratiate myself to her in some manner…

      • William Weedon says:

        I have been subjected to the same criticism as Pr. Mark on this, but I would simply like to point out that if you READ the fathers as a whole, you will find that they as a whole do not agree with anything wholly today – neither Rome, nor the East, nor the Lutherans, nor the Calvinists, etc. Nor ought we expect them to. The Lutheran use is to attempt to hear them out on the salient questions that were posed in the 16th century where those questions come close to areas that they dealt with in their own day: the role of grace in salvation, for example, and what exactly is meant by the word grace or the word faith, and what is the role of Scripture in determining the dogma of the holy church. My point is simply that it would be a mistake to assume that “they can’t mean that” when “that” would challenge the position of one’s church. Rather, look them square in the face, let them say what they say, hear them out, attempt to understand them, and allow them challenge our thinking – they may be right on a given point, they may be wrong, but we need to hear them out without bending them to dogmatic presuppositions that undo the actual words they say and the clear meanings they convey.

  2. Well said, William. It was more than a bit ironic, I thoguht, an accusation of spinning the Fathers coming from a Roman Catholic. I wonder what the Orthodox would say about that?

    “We say “Post-Tridentine” in the game, Pastor! :-)”
    I guess I’m not in the “game” then, David. But I just read a book review on-line in the ‘Journal of Interdisciplinary History’ by a Harvard professor which referred to the “post-Trentine” church, so I’ll stick with it. I was always taught that the simpler is the better as far as English is concerned. These terms change over time, and Tridentine is such a mouthful, don’t you think?

    • …oops! I mean “Catholic”.
      That one was an honest mistake, David.
      Actually, I thought of a way around this: we don’t cede to you the exclusive right to the term “Catholic”, but you object to the addition of the descriptor “Roman”. How about “confessional Catholics” or even “Trentine Catholics”? This allows your claim to be Catholic to stand, but also identifies your church body as that which derives its dogmatic foundation from the Council of Trent. I believe Hubert Jedin made use of the term “confessional Catholic”.

  3. …and lastly: No, your comments didn’t come through, David.
    Do try again when you’re feeling better; I’d like to read them.

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