St. Lambert seminar spotlights church foundations

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, October 23, 2011

With a booming interest in early Christianity, arriving as much from theological scholars as pop culture, the mysteries surrounding Christianity’s roots have sparked rampant dialogue, introspection and research.

And yet, the secrets sit closer than many believe.

On Oct. 29 at St. Lambert Parish in Skokie, theologian, author and scholar Scott Hahn will team with author and patristics scholar Mike Aquilina for a daylong seminar examining the Bible from the viewpoint of the church fathers.

The third annual St. Lambert Patristics Seminar seeks to unearth the treasure-filled world found in the teachings and writings of these earliest Christian leaders. The Saturday event, titled “The Bible and the Church Fathers,” runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

St. Lambert Parish pastor Father Richard Simon, who co-hosts Relevant Radio’s “Go Ask Your Father” show, said the seminar offers background and information to enhance one’s faith and debunk common modern-day myths regarding Catholicism’s roots.

“To study history is to become Catholic,” Simon reminded.

Patristics, or the study of the early church fathers, examines how the first Christian leaders treated, received and heard the Scriptures. In an era without the printing press, let alone mass media, the Internet and smartphones, the fathers’ lessons on Scripture provided a foundation for their congregations and inspired today’s Catholic experience.

Church fathers such as St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Clement of Rome, a disciple of Peter and Paul and one of the church’s earliest popes, served as teachers to the earliest Christians and applied lessons to everyday living.

“Many of the fathers lived lives that overlapped with the apostles and, as a result, they are the first echo of the apostles,” said Aquilina, whose books include “The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers” and “The Mass of the Early Christians.”

“It’s exciting to study because these fathers are the witnesses of Catholic tradition and they know the faith we have shared throughout centuries.”

Alongside Hahn, professor of theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and founder and director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, Aquilina will explore how the fathers embraced the language of Scripture and made it immediate to their congregations during the first century.

“Because of the fathers’ profound understanding of faith and Scriptures, the earliest Christians were motivated to lead faithful lives,” Aquilina said. “The fathers’ work and lives remain relevant today because although our faith adapts to cultures, it never changes at its core.”

Seeking to fill the absence of patristics discussions in contemporary life, Simon hosted the first St. Lambert Patristics Seminar at the Skokie parish in 2009. Now an annual affair, the seminar spotlights an exploration of the fathers of the church, which Simon terms “an important part” of our Catholic faith.

“From the times of the first Christians there was a structured church and theological life,” Simon said. “It’s a myth that there have been changes to the essential elements of the church. The fathers’ work confirms this.”

Much like previous years, the St. Lambert Patristics Seminar will dig back 2,000 years to the church’s early formation and the fathers who laid its foundation.

Simon hopes participants leave with an interest in deepening their awareness of church history, especially in the first century.

“And the hope is that with that increased exploration comes a deeper connection with one’s faith spirituality,” Simon said.