Spiritual Son of the Fathers

An interview with author Mike Aquilina, who says he knows of people who have “read their way into the Church” after coming across his blog about the Fathers of the Church.

Mike Aquilina is the man behind the blog FathersOfTheChurch.com.

Aquilina is well-qualified to talk about the Church Fathers. He has written a number of books about them, including The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, The Mass of the Early Christians, and The Way of the Fathers: Praying With the Early Christians. These are “popular” books in the sense they’re written for non-scholars.

Aquilina, who just published Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols, is vice president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, based in Steubenville, Ohio. He spoke with Register correspondent Mark Sullivan.

A blog about the Fathers of the Church is pretty unusual. What possessed you to start it?

I have a preoccupation, bordering on obsession, with early-Church history. I love reading the Fathers — so much that I’ve been driven to write several books about them. With the publication of those books, I managed to smoke out many others who share my fascination.

But it was my teen son who dragged me out of the fourth century and persuaded me that there was enough interest for a blog on the early Church. He was right.

What do you blog about on Fathers- OfTheChurch.com?

It’s a daily journal of news, observations, trivia and announcements. Everything on my blog is somehow related to the early Church. I focus on new translations and publications, archeological discoveries, and whatever I happen to be reading at the time. Sometimes, I’ll take a topic in apologetics and discuss it in light of evidence from the Fathers’ writings and archeological evidence. I also make some effort to follow the liturgical calendar.

If an early-Church story is dominating the news, I try to stay on top of it. This happens fairly frequently — the so-called “gospel of Judas,” the “Jesus family tomb,” and so on — which only goes to show that there’s widespread interest even in bogus history of the early Church!

Are there people who read your blog every day?

Yes, visitors come from all over the world. Many are not Catholic, but are quite curious about the ancient liturgies, the pedigree of the papacy, devotion to the saints, and other distinctively Catholic doctrines and practices. I’ve received beautiful notes from people who say they read their way into the Church via the Fathers, thanks to what they’ve seen at the site.

How do you manage to keep the content fresh — especially over a number of years?

Well, the Holy Father has been making it easy. He’s been delivering weekly addresses on the early Christians since about the time I started blogging. I also comb the archeological news services to get the latest digs on ancient churches, cemeteries and other finds.

It’s a real joy to read the work of others who blog on the Fathers. Maureen O’Brien at Aliens in This World has been translating ancient Christian poetry into beautiful modern English poetry. Father John Zuhlsdorf, at WDTPRS.com, keys the Fathers to the liturgical feasts and seasons. He coined the term “patristiblogger” to describe what I’m doing.

You must have met some interesting people. Could you share some stories?

I corresponded with an Australian teen while he was reading his way into the Church. A Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer [Dion DiMucci] credited my blog with driving up his iTunes sales when I plugged his song about St. Jerome [“The Thunderer”].

Though I’m no scholar myself, I’ve been gratified to meet people who have gone into academic study of the Fathers because of my books and blog.

Pope Benedict has indeed been talking about the Fathers of the Church recently. Do you see this as a trend back toward the Fathers?

Christians have been trending this way for a couple of centuries now. A hundred years ago, it was mostly an academic thing. The patristics movement worked to recover the study of the Fathers, and the liturgical movement turned attention to the ancient texts of the Mass and the other sacraments. Both movements were very influential at the Second Vatican Council.

But the Fathers aren’t just for scholars or elites in the Church. They’re for everybody, and that’s what my blog is all about. The Fathers were preachers and pastors above all. Very few of them had academic careers. They wanted to reach people like you and me and the folks next door. They were brilliant. They were tough. They knew how to argue. They knew how to deliver a joke. What’s very cool is that they still have the power to reach us across the millennia.

Pope Benedict realizes all this. He has made the study of the Fathers a family matter. He is reintroducing them as true Fathers in God’s family.

What is it that attracts people to the Fathers?

There’s a natural fascination with ancient things. Go to any museum and watch the crowds in the Egypt rooms. Well, that fascination has a supernatural dimension, as well. Christians want to see the tides of divine grace in history.

People are curious, too, about their own origins and genealogy. Christians want to know about their ancestors in the faith. They want to find the lineage that takes them back to the apostles, back to Jesus. It’s there in the Fathers. They give us an unbroken paper trail on all the doctrines and practices we hold today. The Catechism says they are “always timely witnesses” to the Church’s Tradition [No. 688].

Please explain where “Which Church Father Are You?” came from. And tell us what Church Father you are.

Ha! My son Michael is my webmaster, and he asked me if I could work up a quiz that matched people to the Church Father who shared their personality type. So I put together some questions and keyed the answers to certain Fathers who were famous for peculiar traits and quirks. The quiz is by far the most popular item on the site, followed closely by my recommended reading lists. According to the quiz, I’m St. Justin Martyr.

Mark Sullivan is

based in Pittsburgh.