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The summer months are coming! They revive fun memories of tip-toeing into the water until the depth forces a decision as to whether to plunge in or not.

We reached that point of decision in our last posting, deeming the waters of the Greek Fathers too unchartered to venture out further in our search for adoption. We prefer a better knowledge of the waters before proceeding. The study of them is ongoing.

Since we don’t want to return to shore, we look for some way to our left or right in which we can edge forward without having to take the plunge just yet. Roughly translated in the current context, we’re going to leave off the Greek Fathers to see what can be said of the place of adoption in the Latin Fathers.

This transition is not without its difficulties. The waters of the second and third centuries are somewhat unclear. Philip Schaff seeks to clarify matters by depicting the apostolic church as predominantly Jewish, the ante-Nicene church as Greek, and the post-Nicene church as Roman ~ ”Nicene” referring to the watershed of the Council of Nicea, 325 A.D. ( History of the Christian Church, vol. 2). Schaff helps us here in a general way, but there are several ironies which qualify the neatness of his layout of the early church.

First, note the irony of language. Whereas we would assume the Roman church to have been Latin-speaking, in ante-Nicene times it was predominantly Greek-speaking. Then we have to bear in mind that the Latin-speaking theology of the later post-Nicene era actually began prior to the Council of Nicea in the era which Schaff describes as Greek-speaking.

Scholars trace the Latin theological literature as far back as to Municius Felix and to Tertullian at the end of the second century and the beginning of the third. Although some place Municius chronologically prior to Tertullian and others after him (as do the later Latin Fathers Lactantius and Jerome, respectively), it is Tertullian who is widely referred to as the Father of Latin theology. We know very little of Municius, but are certain that Tertullian was, to quote Schaff, the “one of the greatest men of Christian antiquity.” He began writing in Greek, but is credited with the creation of the church’s Latin discourse.

Secondly, note a certain irony of origin. For all that Municius and Tertullian wrote in Latin, it’s likely that both were Africans rather than Romans. True, Tertullian knew Rome and Roman law, but he’s mostly linked with Carthage in North Africa. It was not until a century following the origination of Greek theological literature that Municius and Tertullian began the trend of writing theology in Latin. Doubtless, these Latin Fathers and those following them were taught by the Greek Fathers, for there was, says von Campenhausen, ”a constant flow of intellectual stimulus from East to West(The Fathers of the Church, vol. 2).

Thirdly, note the irony of this flow of ideas. As a Greek-speaking Bishop, Irenaeus hailed from the East (modern day Turkey) but is known as the Bishop of Lyons which was situated in the West of the Roman Empire. As Latin-speaking Fathers, Municius and Tertullian are said to be from the West, although the description of North Africa as the Imperial West may sound curious to us. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that the Empire was not firmly split into East and West until 395 A.D.

Now some of these points may seem remote, but if you’ve tried to wade into the cloudy waters of the early church fathers and not known where you’re going, you may find them helpful. Regardless, they serve to facilitate the transition from the Greek to the Latin Fathers. In the terms of the opening analogy, we have stepped backward and to the side in the waters in hope we may move forward in our tracing of the history of adoption in postings to come.


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