Each time I read the writings of any of the Church Fathers, the one impression with which I continually walk away is the central position which the Scriptures held in their lives. For all of them without exception, the Scriptures were living documents of the utmost importance. In a world filled with distractions, this is a point about which the modern person must constantly be reminded.
Most of us today live according to a busy schedule that might include obligations to work, family, and children. I am certainly no exception. I am a fulltime teacher, a fulltime student, and a father of two young children whom my wife and I homeschool together. The obligations are nearly endless. From the time my alarm clock rings early in the morning until I finally lay down in bed late at night, my day is filled with teaching, reading, writing, taking children to doctor’s appointments, grading students’ tests, attending meetings, and, when it can be sneaked into my schedule, actually being able to enjoy the life I have worked so hard to build and spending some quality time with my family. In the midst of all of this, it is too tempting and too easy to see things like prayer, quiet meditation, and the devotional reading of and reflection upon the Scriptures as superfluous things, as if they could be pushed to a later time or even ignored altogether.
This, of course, stands in stark contrast to what we find in the writings of the Church Fathers. They lived and believed in a world saturated, informed, and pervaded by the Scriptures. The readiness with which they could reference any verse or story of the Bible and apply it to their own lives and to the events of the world around them is impressive. For them, the Bible was perpetually relevant; it was, in fact, the most relevant book ever written and remained so in all ages. It was not a stale record of the past and reading it was no superfluity. Illiterate monks memorized the entire Book of Psalms and prayed it daily. Great Christian leaders like St. John Chrysostom, a fourth century archbishop of Constantinople, memorized the entirety of the New Testament. And I, it seems, can barely find the time or motivation to read just a chapter or two of the Scriptures each day.
St. Augustine’s words in his On Christian Teaching sound as if they were addressed directly to me: “men,” he says, “… in their eagerness to enjoy the creature instead of the Creator … [grow] into the likeness of this world.” This is a basic principle perhaps captured in the modern idiom “you are what you eat.” Yet, in spite of its obviousness, it is easy to forget the truth of this. Whatever we spend our time taking into ourselves, whether into our minds or our bodies, we will become.
More than any specific point on the interpretation of Scripture, I believe this is the point which myself and perhaps most other modern men of faith should remember from the Fathers and put into practice. Reading from and reflection upon the Scriptures should again become central to our lives. For those like me, this will take a serious readjustment of priorities and, no doubt, more than a little rescheduling of other important things, but, in the end, as the Fathers tell us so plainly by both their words and deeds, this is ultimately to put all things in their proper place.
1 Saint Augustine, On Christian Teaching, Book I, Chapter 12.