So, if you are trying to get more acquainted with the Christian faith, where to start? Obviously the Bible, but let us stop there for a moment.
An inevitable concomitant of blogging about religion is that you encounter educated people who think that unlike any other important book, the Bible is instantly understandable in full to anyone who reads it. I don’t know how many of these people studied a literature-based subject, but if they did, they have less of an excuse than scientists, who perhaps cannot be expected to understand the need to study a text before it will yield up its treasures.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures contains the advice not to let catechumens loose on the text of the Holy Scriptures until they have been properly taught; he understood what some modern, educated men don’t, which is that one cannot simply read and instantly understand. We might note, inter alia, that St. Cyril was assuming that men and women would come to the Scripture after they had first come to Christ, something which, in our text-saturated world, we might do well to bear in mind.
Although in modern times the notion that we are made gods, supported by John 1:12 is associated with the Mormons, their heresy partakes of a much older one, and it was that which St. Cyril was combating, explaining the proper and orthodox view of the passages from Psalms and St. Peter.
That is not, of course, to deny that if you want to, you can read 2 Peter 1:4 and Psalm 82:6 as meaning that we literally become gods; it to say that if you do that you deviate, indeed you depart, from orthodox Christianity. This is hard for some moderns, who believing all knowledge is relative, would argue that one interpretation is as good as another. Of course, they would not accept that in the sphere so many of them come from, science, and yet they feel it right to apply it to a sphere about which they often know very little, such as theology. No one can stop them, but if they realised how foolish it makes them look, they might stop themselves.
But were do they, or we, get orthodox catechesis? I wish I had it from a young age, but I didn’t. I was, however, fortunate to get it at University, and we used the Anchor Bible Commentaries, which were, and are still to me, a wonderful guide. The Collegeville commentaries I have also found most useful. A particular love of mine is the series Ancient Christian Commentary, which is full of the wisdom of the Fathers.
The Church of England has produced a marvellous ‘Pilgrim’ course for those interested in knowing more about Faith. The books are wonderfully accessible and come with helpful video resources. I wish we had had them when I was trying to learn more, as they are a great introduction. We have used the first six with our recent catechumens, and I am looking forward to the rest of them. If you haven’t come across them and want to know more, do visit the website – and I can say from experience that they are very useful stepping stones.