Six Lectures On The Ante-Nice Fathers, by Fenton John Anthony Hort
As someone whose writings has often touched upon the works of the ante-Nicene Fathers , despite my own ambivalent feelings about them and my general hostility to their Hellenistic form of Christianity that departed from the faith once delivered, I came across this book while doing some research on the Apostolic Fathers. Now, I came across this book while looking at Archive.org, as the book is now in the public domain, though it is likely an extremely obscure volume that has seldom been read by many contemporary readers. Yet the author is a very interesting fellow, given that he is one of the people involved in the blatant and unfortunate favoritism of the corrupt Alexandrian manuscripts that undergird a great deal of contemporary Bible versions. The author’s perspective about Christianity revealed here demonstrates that he had some very unfortunate qualities as a textual scholar and one is likely to think a lot worse of Hort’s manuscript work when one reads his own viewpoints of Christianity and his obvious favoritism of Alexandrian thinkers. This book is an obscure one, but it demonstrates some problematic aspects with one of the more influential textual scholars of the late 19th century, and that alone makes it worth reading.
This book of less than 200 pages consists of six essays on a set of ante-Nicene church fathers. The lectures are as follows: Clement of Rome and Hermas (1), Ignatius and Polycarp (2), Justin and Irenaeus (3), Hippolytus and Clement of Alexandria (4), Tertullian and Cyprian (5), and Origen (6). Properly speaking, only the first two of the lectures involve the Apostolic Fathers, a term that the author does not particularly like. Throughout the lectures as a whole the author shows a fondness for Gnosticism, both ‘Christian’ and otherwise, and views figures more favorably the more heavily they have been influenced by Greek philosophy and the further afield they have taken Christianity from its apostolic origins. Needless to say, this presents some major difficulties if you come to this book with a viewpoint that supports apostolic Christianity and takes a dim view of later innovations. The lectures at least contain a great many quotes from the writings of the ancient Church Fathers and some of the figures they were associated with, which means that much of the time one gets to read translations of ancient writings rather than the biased and misguided views of the author himself, so that counts in this book’s favor.
Ultimately, how one feels about this book will depend on a few factors. For one, are you fond of the writings of early “Christian” thinkers, many of whom were strongly influenced by Greek writers to move in a strongly anti-biblical perspective that emphasized philosophy and took a considerably dim view of God’s laws? The greater your interest in gnosticism and the more favorable you are to philosophical influences in Christian belief and doctrine, the more you will like this book? Do you approve of the Alexandrian texts that are at the base of many contemporary translations or do you prefer the textus receptus or Byzantine Majority-text of the New Testament? The more you like the Alexandrian text, the more you will like the thinking of the author concerning other Alexandrian writers, some of whom or their associates or students may have been responsible for the corruptions that we find in those manuscripts that are so beloved of contemporary antinomian thinkers. As for me, I found the book to be a revealing look at the author’s mindset but less interesting as an authoritative view of the ancient writers of whom both Hort and I have some scholarly interest in.
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