Old and New

C.S. Lewis once said that it was a good idea to read old books, for while they made their fair share of mistakes, they usually made different mistakes than we do in our own age. Any other view of history is plain chronological snobbery. So, in this spirit, I recommend the reading of these sermons on 1 John (freshly translated into today’s language) by someone who is surely to be heard. It would be the grossest chronological snobbery not to listen to the fathers of the church.



  1. Steven Carr said,

    September 4, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Call me a snob, but I can’t stand so-called “freshly translated” texts of the fathers. Give me the good ol’ translations anyday, replete with all the mistakes of the church fathers.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    September 4, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Well, Steve, those are available for free on the net nowadays (as are the original Greek and Latin in the Migne series here: http://www.luc.edu/faculty/mhooker/google_books-bible_judaism_christianity.html). But I think you are wrong only to read older translations. I think it’s great that new translations are coming out (with explanatory notes if they have changed anything!).

  3. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    September 4, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Of coursethe best is when they come out with “new translations” that do nto tell you that they changed some stuff up…

  4. Todd Gwennap said,

    September 4, 2008 at 6:36 pm


    I’ll agree that church history is a mixed bag, but what you say seems to be a drastic oversimplification. Augustine himself came after the first council of Nicaea. The Holy Spirit did not abandon the church in 325 AD.

  5. tim prussic said,

    September 4, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    I’ve appreciated New City Press’s new translations of Augustine’s works. I’ve read _The Trinity_ quite thoroughly and it was helpfully translated. The editorial notes were also quite helpful. Any obvious translational quirks were addressed clearly in notes or in the various introductions, which is fair. Translation always involves various decisions and often includes a pound or two of the translator. It’s helpful when translators understand that and are explicit as to the choices they’ve made.

    Anyway, I’m excited to see more and more of Augustine’s works in more accessible English.

  6. Steven Carr said,

    September 4, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Lane, what I like about the older translations is that they are generally (not always mind you) more in line with the original latin or greek (or french with Calvin–compare Beveridge with Battles, Beveridge is a superior translation). Fresh new translation is often (again, not always) a code word for slightly paraphrastic. But be that as it may, when I read a church father the older translations have an older feel which gives me a better impression that I am actually reading a church father. You can call me wrong on that, but I don’t think of it in right or wrong terms, just preference. And I do think that by not reading the fresher translations I am really missing out on anything. BTW, Lane they are much more accessible to me than on the net…they are right on my bookshelves. :)

  7. September 4, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    I think it’s funny when the older translators translate using Elizabethan pronouns (thee, etc.). I guess if it’s good enough for King James (17th century) it’s good enough for Augustine (4th and 5th centuries)!

    It’s hard to read many of the church fathers when they comment on the text. All that allegorization is enough to make you laugh. So, my first thought about Augustine on 1 John was, “Maybe he’ll say something that actually has something to do with the text.”

  8. ReformedSinner said,

    September 5, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Elizabethan pronouns are more precise in mood and tenses, something I think is lost in modern English.

    As for making fun of historical figures simply because of our advancements. You do have to remember you need to understand them in their context, and why they say things the way they said it. When reading history it’s always good to keep these rules in mind:

    1) I am not smarter then they are, 1,000+ years later no one is going to know me, there’s a reason 1,000+ years later we are still reading these folks.

    2) What they said have to be evaluated at their context. It’s easy to make fun of the people of the past when we have 1000+ years of advancements and discussions. But the geniuses of these giants are they were able to lay the grounds to make our discussions even possible.

    The more I study the “allegorization” of the past, the more I realize we over simplified their ways of exegesis. They are not abusing the text as much as we think they were.

  9. September 5, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    However, Elizabethan pronouns do not represent the way the church fathers spoke. Using modern pronouns represents the modern speech of their day. As for allegorization: sorry, but spinning highly imaginative – and highly dubious – “interpretations” of the text is to abuse the text, not to understand the text in its plain manner. The Reformers were right to reject such allegorical interpretation.

  10. ReformedSinner said,

    September 6, 2008 at 8:50 am


    No Elizabethan pronouns doesn’t represent the Church Fathers, but neither does modern English, the only way to truly get the Church Fathers is to learn their language. I was merely responding to your jesting at old English, and replied that old English, compared to modern English, lingustically are better in terms of translation.

    As for spinning allegory interpretation, I did no such thing. I merely pointed out that we stand on grounds lay by previous generations. Reformers didn’t drop down from heaven, they stand on the grounds lay by Medieval Church, who stands on the grounds lay by these crazy no-good Church Father’s commentaries. This is the fun part of history, we go back and see their foreigness, and sometimes dubiousness, but at the same time realize their work was ingenious for their time, and pave the ground for future generations of the Church. If you want to believe true Christianity only happened since the Reformation, and everything we do here will be admire forever 1,700 years later, go ahead.

  11. September 6, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    No, I don’t “believe true Christianity only happened since the Reformation.” (I’m also not of those who believe that all theological thinking stops with the Westminster Standards.) My only point was that the Reformers themselves, generally, pretty much rejected the allegorizing of the early church fathers. This is at least, I would say, part of Calvin’s motivation in his sermons and, especially, his commentaries – to show how true exegesis is done.

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