The Greek Fathers in Early Modernity and the Historicization of Theology.
22 March 2023: Prof. Johannes Zachhuber, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford.
Theologians over the centuries have drawn on authoritative historical texts in their reflection on the Christian faith. This has led to a remarkable continuity in the history of doctrine. Yet it has also created considerable difficulties. The larger the corpus of such texts, the greater the challenge of integrating them into a single, coherent theological vision.
In my talk I will argue that historicisation has been one key method of responding to this challenge. Its principle is an understanding of the testimonies from the Christian past as historical documents. Relevant sources are ordered by being arranged on a timeline. Often, the historicisation of theology has been seen as a unique project begun in the late eighteenth century as a response to specifically modern challenges. My own definition will permit me to take a broader view and identify earlier tendencies to historicisation.
Specifically, I will discuss historicization in early modern theology. During this period, the number of authoritative sources available to Western theologians increased dramatically. The largest single corpus was that of Greek Patristic writers which by the early 17th century had become almost fully accessible to European scholars. While this wealth of new theological resources was at first enthusiastically embraced across the confessional divides of the time, its diversity and heterogeneity soon caused serious difficulties. My paper will discuss some of those problems and strategies to counter them. I will in particular focus on the French Jesuit, Denys Pétau, who with his On Theological Doctrines (published 1644-50) created the first thoroughly historicised account of Christian doctrine, as well as some controversies this work elicited.
Please contact Richard Bell for more information: Atzrhb@exmail.nottingham.ac.uk