The Faculty of Theology: a major teaching hub in Patristics
The brand-new Master’s Degree in Theology and Patristic Sciences is already an officially recognized and highly-rated course. Its teaching, centered on the Holy Scriptures and the foundation of Christian faith, is part of the long-standing tradition of the Lyon Patristic School.
Introduced this year by the Lyon Faculty of Theology, in partnership with the Institut des Sources Chrétiennes, the Master’s Degree in Theology and Patristic Sciences met great success among its first students. Our course has been recognized by the Congregation for Catholic Education as a Canonical Bachelor’s Degree specialized in Theology and Patristic Sciences, just like the one offered by the Augustinianum in Rome.
A highly-rated course
Along with the Centre Sèvres in Paris, a new Academic Department for Patristic Studies in France has thus been set up by the Lyon Faculty of Theology. It awards a degree specialized in a field which did not exist in francophone culture until today. The participation of researchers from the Institut des Sources Chrétiennes and patrologists from the Lyon Faculty of Theology will enable students to benefit from a high-standard scientific and theological course in Patristics.
Such a specialized study department in Lyon is a result of the University’s fidelity to the History of Christianity in France, at the heart of which stands Saint Irenaeus, second Bishop of Lyon and major Father of both Eastern and Western Church. It will also allow the Faculty of Theology to enhance the heritage of its Patristic School, which during the last century welcomed famous figures such as Father J. Tixeront or Father H. de Lubac.
The Church Fathers and the foundation of the Christian faith
To enhance the importance of learning about the Church Fathers, one should first recall their significant contribution to the foundation of Christian faith, hence the title of “Fathers” given to them. They lived at a time of great dogmas and symbols of faith, and witnessed the Church’s very first structure, made up of great ministries (bishops, priests and deacons).
The Holy Scriptures, the soul of theology
Studying how these founding elements came into being, their whys and wherefores, enables us to acquire the necessary distance to understand the statements of faith and give them an updated interpretation. The Church has always been aware that the Church Fathers represented a specific phase in the development of theology which every era could and should question again, regardless of cultural and contextual variables.
In addition, theology was born out of the Fathers’ exegetic activity. At their contact, it is easier to understand how the study of the Holy Scriptures is considered as “the soul of theology” and its “permanent foundation” (Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, N° 24). This is the reason why their theology is centered on Christ, found behind the letter of the Biblical text, and thus follows the fundamental movement of the Revelation and the economy of Salvation which goes from God — through Christ — to the Church, sacrament of the union with God and dispenser of the Divine Grace enabling Man to return to God.
“Studying the Church fathers enables us to acquire the necessary distance to understand the statements of faith and give them an updated interpretation”
Jerome thus writes: “I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: «Search the Scriptures» (Jn 5, 39) and «Seek and you shall find» (Mt 7, 7). Christ will not say to me what he said to the Jews: «You erred, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God» (Mt 22, 29). For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”1
Finally, one should add that the Fathers’ works, as testimonies of a time when the Church was undivided, appear as fundamental references for current ecumenical studies at a doctrinal, liturgical and pastoral level.
In this sense, Father André Benoît asserted that: “the return to ancient tradition, and particularly that of a one church, is one of the paths that lead to unity.”2
In a recent work entitled “Les Pères de l’Église et la théologie chrétienne”3, Michel Fédou demonstrated the intelligence of faith inevitably required, not more today than yesterday, living a live reference to the Fathers’ works. Analyzing one after the other, current issues on ecclesiology as well as anthropology, ethics as well as Christology, ecumenism as well as theology of religions, he demonstrates the productive impact of Patristic thinking on all these different branches of theology.
Inspiring and enriching our thought today
This work also shows us that the role of theology is not to reiterate what the Fathers have said, but to remember its roots through their theological spirit, i.e. the way in which they receive and convey the revealed data through the Scriptures and Tradition. “The more theologians will be familiar with them,” M. Fédou writes, “the more they will feel the internal need to speak for themselves and in their own language”4. There lies their true authority, in the etymological sense of “increasing” (augere), their “ability (…) to inspire, enrich and improve our own thought today.”5 This is indeed the real purpose of studying them!
Consequently, there is no doubt that this Master’s Degree specialized in Theology and Patristic Sciences will contribute for its part to renew and to increase the students’ knowledge of this common heritage of mankind which represents more than a thousand years in the life of Eastern and Western Churches. It will also encourage current theological research so that
it can always better answer to the challenge posed by post-modernity to faith and reason.