I was cleaning out some boxes in the basement when I happened upon several books my grandmother had owned. They were dirty, with bindings breaking down and covers coming off. The pages had yellowed and become wrinkled and stiff with time and atmospheric moisture. Some of the texts were covered by a thin layer dust. Clearly these books had not been read for a long time. Little wonder that it should be so, because the publication dates on some were nearly 100 years old, and when I looked further inside one of them I struggled with some of the words, expressions and illustrations. Closing the book that I had opened, I placed it softly back in the box, and closed it. Someday I may open the box again and spend the time needed to study these texts and gather the needles in the haystack. Until then, whatever insight I expect to gain from these books will be lost to me because I have other “more important” things to do.
Studying the Church fathers can be very similar to opening a box full of old books. Augustine, Polycarp and Justin Martyr seem far away, out of date and unreachable to the modern Christian. Their experience with animals and gladiators in the arena seems more geared for Hollywood than it does Mainstream America. Nonetheless, the church fathers were real people in real situations and their lives, writing and experience are as relevant today as they were nearly two millennia ago.