Friday, March 14, 2014

Reading the Church Fathers: Invitation to a Multi-Year Adventure!

Several enterprising and very helpful Christians have built a wonderful website (and reading plan) called Read the Fathers ( dedicated to reading through the Church Fathers in seven years. As they note:
By reading seven pages a day for seven years, you can study a vast library of theology, history, liturgy, apologetics, biblical commentary, and devotion written in the first seven centuries of the Christian church. We provide a schedule of readings, the texts in English translation, and—most important—a community to discuss what you're learning. Laypeople, clergy, seminarians, students, and Christians of all denominations will benefit from joining our community to read the church fathers. 
They have made the reading plan very easy to follow. Currently they have the first two years (of a projected seven year plan) available for use. You can subscribe via RSS, Google Calendar, and iCal. They also have a Facebook page and Twitter feed and the readings go out via these means each day.

The reading plan is keyed to the Robertson and Donaldson (ANF) and Schaff and Wace (NF and PNF) editions of the Church Fathers. They explain their decision to do so this way:
We’ve based this plan on the series Ante-Nicene Fathers edited by Alexander Robertson and James Donaldson, which is nine volumes (plus a tenth volume that is an index) and the two-part series Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, which is twenty-eight volumes. Both series were published in English translations in the late nineteenth century by T. & T. Clark and affiliated publishers. 
We’ve picked this edition because it is by far the most accessible. The edition is in the public domain, which means that it is freely accessible online. The Christian Classics Ethereal Library hosted by Calvin College has high-quality digital editions in a variety of formats, as well as scans of the page images. Most academic libraries and some larger public libraries have various printings of this edition. And the edition is still in print by Hendrickson Publishers, which means it is available from a variety of booksellers. (See the Start Reading page for a list of booksellers and online editions.) 
To be sure, this edition has a number of flaws. There has been a great deal of work done in patristics since Philip Schaff laid down his pen, so this edition does not use the advanced critical texts. It does not include some patristic texts, such as Irenaeus’s Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, that were discovered after the edition was produced, nor does it include some standard texts, such as Benedict’s Rule. The language of the translation is often archaic (and not in a good way). The introductions and elucidations (which we’re skipping anyway) are often obnoxiously Protestant in nineteenth-century fashion.
But having one standard edition that is freely available trumps those concerns. Because we’re listing citations and not just page numbers (e.g., Augustine, Confessions, bk. 1 ch. 1) we hope that many readers will choose to read in superior editions. Before each major work, we plan to suggest other editions that can be consulted. At the end of the ANF and NPNF cycle, we may suggest additional readings to round out the seven years.
They then explain how they came up with the idea of a Church Fathers reading plan:
Three ideas or desires came together to make this site. First, we had a longstanding desire to read the fathers, which we had dipped into from time to time. Second, we became aware of a number of plans or lectionaries for reading the fathers, such as those for the daily offices of the Anglican or Roman Catholic churches. These plans were almost exclusively devotional, however, and offered only brief highlights of a comparatively narrow range of the fathers. Third, we learned of daf yomi, a plan by which many Jews read a folio page front and back (daf) per day (yomi) of the Talmud Bavli, and so are able to read the entire Talmud in a cycle of about seven years. A daf of the Vilna Talmud translated into English with explanations is about seven or eight pages in the Steinsaltz or Schottstein editions of the Talmud. Borrowing that idea, we wanted a comparable reading plan for Christians. Hence, seven pages per day in the Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers leads to a seven-year cycle for reading a very large selection of the Christian fathers. 
Affordable copies of the Fathers are available for purchase. The edition has been recently reprinted by Hendrickson Publishers. While you may be able to find older printing at better prices, you will likely have better luck finding the Hendrickson reprint edition. Here are the ISBNs for the three series and for the entire set, along with links to online booksellers. These booksellers sometimes offer these sets at a heavy discount.

Logos Bible Software sells the an electronic edition from these same texts in two versions, Protestant and CatholicThe text is identical in both editions, but the Protestant edition includes the prefaces while the Catholic version omits them.

Get started with their Start Reading page and then visit their calendar page and you'll notice that they are in the midst of year two readings. But no worries, you can jump in any time. What a wonderful resource and way to enter into the Church Fathers!