A friend of the magazine once complained to me about a review we ran in the Book Notice section of a new translation of one of the Church Fathers. I think the Father was St. Cyril, but if not him, another of the early Church's stars. My friend wondered why we reviewed a book so old, when there were current bestsellers to be addressed.
A quote from the Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky, published on the biblicalia weblog, explains it:
When I read the ancient classics of Christian theology, the fathers of the church, I find them more relevant to the troubles and problems of my own time than the production of modern theologians. The fathers were wrestling with existential problems, with those revelations of the eternal issues which were described and recorded in Holy Scripture. . . . The reason is very simple: they were dealing with things and not with the maps, they were concerned not so much with what man can believe as with what God had done for man.
I haven't given the whole quote, but this gives the heart of it. For us, and this is true of our Protestant editors as well as our Catholic and Orthodox editors, the Fathers really are fathers, and indeed living fathers, fathers to whom one naturally goes for instruction and guidance. They're authorities. They're part of the conversation, if you will. They're, um, sorry to use this word, relevant.
And indeed more relevant than most bestsellers, including most religious bestsellers. They're more relevant for the reason Dr. Florovsky gives: they saw more clearly than the average bestseller's average author (including the average religious writer) the essential matters, which are just as essential today as then.
They're first among those who — if we think to invite them to join us in our conversation — will cut through the nonsense we believe, all the errors and mistakes, the genuinely stupid ideas, the self-justifying theories, the party positions, the blindspots we suffer just from growing up in this place and time, and the simple ignorance created by indolence, sloth, and the myriad lusts of the flesh, to help us see what we don't easily see, or indeed see at all without help. They're not just relevant, they're necessary.
That explains why to us a review of a new translation of a Church Father is something to be shared with our readers, even ahead of a review of a titanic bestseller. And practically speaking, lots of good Christian magazines and weblogs will be writing about the bestseller, but not that many will be telling people about the Church Fathers. When everyone's gathered at the table arguing about the latest thing, someone has to go open the door and let the wise old men in.
My thanks to Mike Aquilina's Fathers of the Church weblog for putting me on to this.