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May 24, 2009

Book Review: "Greek Orthodox Patrology" by Panagiotes K. Chrestou

For those who are not familiar with the late Dr. Panagiotes Chrestou, he is without a doubt the greatest patristics scholar of the twentieth century and has yet to be surpassed. A foretaste of his genius is presented in this volume which introduces the reader to the study of the Church Fathers. One should keep in mind that this volume, translated by another patristics scholar Fr. George Dragas, consists of only about half of the first volume introduction to Professor Chrestou's 5-volume magnum opus. The second half of the introduction is forthcoming.

According to Fr. Dragas: "His [Dr. Chrestou's] Greek Patrology in 5 volumes, written in Greek and comprising some 3,300 pages, is the most updated Patrology around the world, surpassing any other in thoroughness and extensiveness, and it would have been the indispensable textbook in this field worldwide had it been translated into a more commonly used language, like English..." When all 5 volumes are translated, no doubt it will achieve this status.

This first half of the first volume "gives a birds eye view of Greek Orthodox Patrology, and elucidates in a thorough and succinct way such basic topics as: who the Fathers are; the historical context of patristic literature; the nature and characteristics of Greek patristic literature; and the seven major periods of Greek patristic literature from AD 90 through 1453, the capture of Constantinople." Furthermore, it examines not only the writings of those we know today as Fathers, but examines all the ecclesiastical authors, whether Orthodox or heretical, who wrote in Greek from the beginning of the Christian era to the capture of Constantinople in 1453. It is the Fathers who constitute the nucleus of this examination as they gave the tone of life from post-apostolic times throughout the entirety of the history of the Roman Empire after Constantine the Great.

The effort of Professor Chrestou is meant to revitalize Greek patristic scholarship not only at the academic level, but also as the direct inheritance of Orthodox Christianity. As he says: "It is the Fathers who move the threads of Holy Tradition." The organic unity between the writings and lives of the Church Fathers with Orthodox theology is indispensable for a comprehensive understanding of patrology.

This is not another mere catalogue of names and writings of the Church Fathers. Professor Chrestou understood well that this does little to benefit students of the Fathers and he avoided it as much as possible. In this and other forthcoming volumes there will be presented a "new type of Patrology", as Dr. Chrestou called it. This is not merely a dry systematic exposition of texts and bibliographies and the problems they address, but this is primarily a Patrology with personality. According to the author, it "brings to the fore the personalities of particular authors by projecting those points in their activity and teaching which allow the reader to acquire a full image of them."

If your looking for a dry Patrology with no personality and you have no desire to understand the context of the Church Fathers, this volume is not for you. If you are looking to enhance and broaden your view of patristics and Greco/Roman literature, then you will welcome this volume as an indispensable part of your library.