Books, Theology and Life: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
I have a confession to make to readers here, I’ve not been making my best effort. For the past number of years, the majority of my Patristics and Church History library has been packed away in boxes. I had a couple shelves of what I considered “essentials” at hand, but a good deal of my writing was informed by my memory or binders of lecture notes. For those who take the time to read my articles, I really owe you much more. As you give me your time in reading, I owe you my very best effort in research and writing.
For the last two weeks I’ve been unpacking boxes. As a result, my four foot shelf of essentials has expanded into fifty-two running feet of shelves with a few feet more to add. Works by and about Athanasius take up almost fifteen feet on their own. From the first complete Greek text published in three volumes in 1698 (a gift from my friend, Charles Kannengiesser) to a recent doctoral thesis submitted in 2017, book after book, binder after binder, explores the remarkable mind and steadfastness of this great father of the Church. Augustine, most likely, feels slighted being constrained to a mere four feet of shelf space. Nevertheless, even in this limited space, I found friends. There are a series of offprints written for Augustinus-Lexicon by my friend, Gerald Bonner, including his meticulously referenced article on Augustine’s life. Near to this is Pamela Bright’s study of Tyconius and his Book of Rules that so influenced Augustine in his interpretation of Scripture and thereby influenced the Church for a millennia.
As I went on in shelving the books, there were a good number of recent acquisitions as well as volumes that have travelled with me for decades. It may seem odd to have an emotional attachment to certain volumes, but that was certainly my reaction as I unpacked the boxes. Holding Johannes Quasten’s magisterial set on Patrology in my hands immediately took me back to the time of my first ‘big purchase’ when I decided that this was going to be my field of study, even though at the time I was a Calvary Chapel pastor with no idea how that was going to happen. I acquired the five volume set of The Apostolic Fathers, translated and annotated by J. B. Lightfoot, around the same time and read them cover to cover. Lightfoot worked on this project for years, starting as a professor at Cambridge and completing the task as bishop of Durham. He directed that the royalties of the books, along with a good bit of his own money, go toward the building of a church dedicated to St. Ignatius the Martyr, in the industrial port city of Sunderland. Some years after first reading this set, I found myself in the pulpit of that church preaching at their patronal feast.
Now, not all the books had such vivid personal connections, but many did, to both my surprise and delight.
Yet, books are not a theological end, in and of themselves. Indeed, even Scripture is not a theological end, in and of itself. Both books and Scripture are means to an end. The end is humanity itself. This is owing not to some exalted view of humanity, but because of the fact that God has invested his purposes into recreating us into the image and likeness of himself as revealed in Christ, the Word made flesh. To “speak of God” is theology. Yet, because of the Incarnation, speaking of God has taken on flesh. Theology is not a theory. Owing to the Incarnation, we are all theologians. We are theologians in that each of us serve as singular focal points of the mystery of God’s grace in the world. As a theologian you speak with your life as much as with your words, and that life is capable of revealing the vast and unfathomable beauty of God’s grace, both in the extraordinary and the mundane. As Irenaeus wrote:
“For the glory of God is a living man (vivens homo); but the life of man comes from the vision of God. . . the revelation of the Father which comes through the Word gives life to those who see God.”
Like my books, theology works best when there is a personal connection. It works best when theology is life itself and takes you to places that you never imagined.
Now, on to unpacking my books on liturgy and worship. I wonder what I will find…