Tag Archives: Holy Fathers

C.S. Lewis on Reading the Church Fathers (Excerpt from the Preface to On the Incarnation)

CS LewisIt is an anomaly for Orthodox Church Quotes to post material that is not from an elder, saint, or church father, but C.S. Lewis writes so succinctly about the need to read the original sources in the Preface to On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius the Great. Therefore, it seems fitting to include an excerpt from that writing here as one of the purposes of this site is to create an interest in reading the original writings of the Church Fathers. 

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There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light.

— C.S. Lewis, Excerpt from the Preface to On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius the Great (Popular Patristics Series Edition)

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St. John Cassian: The thief who received the kingdom of heaven, though not as the reward of virtue, is a true witness to the fact that salvation . . .

Icon of St. John CassianThe thief who received the kingdom of heaven, though not as the reward of virtue, is a true witness to the fact that salvation is ours through the grace and mercy of God.

All of our holy fathers knew this and all with one accord teach that perfection in holiness can be achieved only through humility.

Humility, in its turn, can be achieved only through faith, fear of God, gentleness and the shedding of all possessions.

It is by means of these that we attain perfect love, through the grace and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory through all the ages. Amen.

+ St. John Cassian,  The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 1), “On the Eight Vices: On Pride”

St. Mark of Ephesus: . . . for this would be to mix what cannot be mixed. But it befits them to be absolutely separated from us until such time as God shall grant correction and peace to His Church.

Icon of St. Mark of Ephesus“Concerning the Patriarch I shall say this, lest it should perhaps occur to him to show me a certain respect at the burial of this my humble body, or to send to my grave any of his hierarchs or clergy or in general any of those in communion with him in order to take part in prayer or to join the priests invited to it from amongst us, thinking that at some time, or perhaps secretly, I had allowed communion with him. And lest my silence give occasion to those who do not know my views well and fully to suspect some kind of conciliation, I hereby state and testify before the many worthy men here present that I do not desire, in any manner and absolutely, and do not accept communion with him or with those who are with him, not in this life nor after my death, just as (I accept) neither the Union nor Latin dogmas, which he and his adherents have accepted, and for the enforcement of which he has occupied this presiding place, with the aim of overturning the true dogmas of the Church.

I am absolutely convinced that the farther I stand from him and those like him, the nearer I am to God and all the saints, and to the degree that I separate myself from them am in union with the Truth and with the Holy Fathers, the Theologians of the Church; and I am likewise convinced that those who count themselves with them stand far away from the Truth and from the blessed Teachers of the Church.

And for this reason I say: just as in the course of my whole life I was separated from them, so at the time of my departure, yea and after my death, I turn away from intercourse and communion with them and vow and command that none (of them) shall approach either my burial or my grave, and likewise anyone else from our side, with the aim of attempting to join and concelebrate in our Divine services; for this would be to mix what cannot be mixed. But it befits them to be absolutely separated from us until such time as God shall grant correction and peace to His Church.”

+ St. Mark of Ephesus, as quoted in The Orthodox Word, June-July, 1967, pp. 103ff,

Elder Thaddeus: All of us sin constantly. We slip and fall. In reality, we fall into a trap . . .

Photo of Elder Thaddeus“All of us sin constantly. We slip and fall. In reality, we fall into a trap set by the demons.

The Holy Fathers and the Saints always tell us, ‘It is important to get up immediately after a fall and to keep on walking toward God’. Even if we fall a hundred times a day, it does not matter; we must get up and go on walking toward God without looking back.

What has happened has happened – it is in the past. Just keep on going, all the while asking for help from God.”

+ Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine our Lives

St. John of Kronstadt: . . . These living examples, which are so numerous, are capable to strengthen the wavering faith of every Christian in the Lord and in the future life. . . .

Icon of All SaintsWhen your faith in the Lord, either during your life and prosperity, or in the time of sickness and at the moment of quitting this life, grows weak, grows dim from worldly vanity or through illness, and from the terrors and darkness of death, then look with the mental eyes of your heart upon the companies of our forefathers, the patriarchs, prophets, and righteous ones:

St. Simeon, who took the Lord up in his arms, Job, Anna the Prophetess, and others; the Apostles, prelates, venerable Fathers, martyrs, the disinterested, the righteous, and all the saints.

See how, both during their earthly life and at the time of their departure from this life, they unceasingly looked to God and died in the hope of the resurrection and of the life eternal, and strive to imitate them.

These living examples, which are so numerous, are capable to strengthen the wavering faith of every Christian in the Lord and in the future life.

Those Christian communions who do not venerate the saints and do not call upon them in prayer lose much in piety and in Christian hope. They deprive themselves of the great strengthening of their faith by the examples of men like unto themselves.Book St John Kronstadt My Life in Christ

+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ [paperback]  or  [hardback]

St. Irenaeus of Lyons: One should not seek among others the truth that can be easily gotten from the Church. . . .

Icon of St. Irenaeus of Lyon“One should not seek among others the truth that can be easily gotten from the Church. For in her, as in a rich treasury, the apostles have placed all that pertains to truth, so that everyone can drink this beverage of life. She is the door of life.”

+ St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, III.4

St. Mark of Ephesus: ‘But if,’ they say, ‘we had devised some middle ground between the dogmas . . .

Icon of St. Mark of Ephesus“‘But if,’ they say, ‘we had devised some middle ground between the dogmas (of the Papists and the Orthodox), then thanks to this we would have united with them and accomplished our business superbly, without at all having been forced to say anything except what corresponds to custom and has been handed down (by the Fathers).’ This is precisely the means by which many, from of old, have been deceived and persuaded to follow those who have led them off the steep precipice of impiety; believing that there is some middle ground between the two teachings that can reconcile obvious contradictions, they have been exposed to peril.”

+ St. Mark of Ephesus, “Encyclical Letter, July 1440
From Orthodox Word , March-April-May, 1967

Letter available here (slightly different translation)