Scholarship: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
I was contacted by a friend and former student with a simple request. He was looking for a commentary for ‘On the Incarnation’ by Athanasius of Alexandria. I turned to the bookshelves and various reference works to find titles that might be appropriate for my friend. While I found several books that had information on this pivotal work of theology, I only found one that had the sort of scholarship that was being requested, and the text of the book was in French.
The book was published by Editions du Cerf in their Sources Chretiennes series, the aim of which was to present newly edited critical texts of early Christian literature along with commentaries on the works themselves. I knew this particular volume well. The author and editor was my old friend and mentor, Charles Kannengiesser. Published in 1973, ‘Sur L’Incarnation du Verbe” reminded me not only of our unique friendship, but also of the nature of scholarship.
I sat for the afternoon with my friend’s book and marveled at its contents. Before presenting the critical text and French translation of Athanasius’ great work, there are 256 pages of background material. This material includes the textual tradition as each extant text had been carefully compared to earlier and later texts to arrive at a received text with a critical apparatus. The theological framework of the work is examined, as is the reception of the text among other ancient Christian writers. A bibliography is included specific to the text. At each step, the scholarship allowed me to understand why Charles arrived at his conclusions. It invited me to once again learn from my old teacher.
“Scholarship” is a word that is tossed around much too loosely these days, especially among certain elements of the Christian community. There sometimes seems to be an innate resistance to the idea that someone else might actually know more about a particular subject than ourselves. I find this odd. In my current period of confinement following surgery, I have found myself captivated by the erudition of others. I have watched documentaries featuring church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, followed up by others featuring Egyptologist John Romer. Allowed to walk for exercise, I’ve used Audible to listen to three books on medieval church history. At my desk, I have been making my way through the 574 page exhibition catalog on ‘The Glory of Byzantium’ with scholarly essays on everything from icons to Byzantine textiles.
Now, I cannot hope to know all that the various authors and presenters know, but I can benefit, at least in some small way, from the scholarly work that stands behind their books and documentaries. It is not even to say that I have to agree with all of their conclusions, but with genuine scholarship I can trace how they arrived at their particular point of view and engage in my own questions and research. While we may not feel compelled to agree, we should at least feel the need to listen and consider another point of view.
Perhaps the essence of scholarship is not teaching, but the willingness to listen, question and learn. That sort of scholarship is not accomplished by a Google search or by the confirmation bias inherent in a limited reading of those writing what we already believe. We live in a time in which we all deal with information overload. Unfortunately, a vast majority of the information we absorb is a mile wide and a millimeter in depth. Real scholarship invites you to go deeper and discover more.