Ancient Christian Devotional, A Year of Weekly Reading, General Editor: Thomas C. Oden, Editor: Cindy Crosby (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 294 pp., paper
The Ancient Christian Devotional (ACD) is a companion to the massive Ancient Christian Commentary series, both of which are edited by Thomas Oden. The Devotional apparently draws most, if not all, of its material from the commentary, both of which are designed to provide insights into the riches of church history and “help us to read holy writings with ancient eyes” (p. 7). The Devotional offers fifty-two weeks of readings, which follow the liturgical year. The reading for each week is structured around the following elements: theme, opening prayer, reading, Psalm of response, reflection from the church fathers and a closing prayer. The book is well documented and includes an appendix of brief biographical sketches of those quoted in the volume. Most often quoted are Augustine, Chrysostom, Ambrosiaster, Ambrose, Cyril of Alexandria, Bede, Jerome, and Origen.
There are plenty of correct and helpful thoughts in ACD but few that are profound or worth wading through this volume. Unfortunately the reader will also be introduced to the seeds of false teaching that ultimately ripen into full-blown doctrinal error. I will mention only two. First is baptismal regeneration (e.g. 76, 77, 79, 87, 110, 141, 150, 152, 178, 183, 253). Ambrosiaster writes, “Therefore, baptism is the death of sin so that a new birth might follow” (p. 152).
Perhaps more importantly is the constant use of the allegorizing method of interpretation that ultimately turned Scripture on its head and twisted its meaning beyond recognition (e.g. 40, 67, 77, 121, 146, 161, 165-166, 167, 170-177, 181, 183, 243, 256). I will provide a couple of examples concerning Jacob’s ladder. Chromatius offers this interpretation (pp. 170-171):
Through the resurrection of Christ the way was opened. Therefore with good reason the patriarch Jacob relates that he had seen in that place a ladder whose end reached heaven and that the Lord leaned on it. The ladder fixed to the ground and reaching heaven is the cross of Christ, through which the access to heaven is granted to us, because it actually leads us to heaven. On this ladder different steps of virtue are set through which we rise toward heaven: faith, justice, chastity, holiness, patience, piety and all the other virtues are the steps of this ladder. If we faithfully climb them, we will undoubtedly reach heaven. And therefore we know well that the ladder is the symbol of the cross of Christ. As, in fact, the steps are set between two uprights, so the cross of Christ is placed between the two Testaments and keeps in itself the steps of the heavenly precepts, through which we climb to heaven.
and Caesarius adds this (p. 171):
Blessed Isaac, as we said, sending his son away was a type of God the Father; Jacob who was sent signified Christ our Lord. The stone that he had at his head and anointed with oil also represented the Lord our Savior. The ladder touching heaven prefigured the cross; the Lord leaning on the ladder is shown to be Christ fastened to the cross. The angels ascending and descending on it are understood to be the apostles, apostolic men and all doctors of the church. They ascend by preaching perfect truths to the just; they descend by telling the young and ignorant what they can understand…
Here is another example regarding the empty tomb by Bede: “Mystically the rolling away of the stone implies the disclosure of the sacraments, which were formerly hidden and closed up by the letter of the law” (p. 67).
Through this method of interpretation the early church was eventually led astray and sadly it is the intent of the editors and publishers of both the ACD and the Ancient Christian Commentary to reintroduce this perverted form of hermeneutics to the modern church.