(Vatican Radio) Father Brian Edward Daley, S.J., of Notre Dame University is one of
this year’s recipients of the Ratzinger Prize in Theology, for his work in the field
of patristics, the study of the early Church Fathers, those Christian writers and
theologians of the first 8 centuries who provide a witness to the thought of the early
He was awarded the prize by Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday.
Afterwards, Father Daley spoke about the importance of reading the Church Fathers in tackling some of the issues facing the modern Church.
“We can put those issues which are so important today into a context that would help us speak about them,” he said. “Ecumenism, for instance - the sense that all Christians that believe in Christ have much more in common than what separates them - can be strengthened by an understanding of the importance of baptism in the early Church…To see the development of doctrine, even the doctrines that we don’t always agree on, can help us nuance our conversations about them.”
He said the Church Fathers were the first to engage in dialogue with non-Christians.
“I am always inspired when I read, say St. Justin from the 2nd century or other early fathers…when they speak of non-Christians, of pagans at that time, they say that anybody who sincerely seeks to live by what is right, and who understands the Logos, the rational structure, at the basis of the world and our experience, has contact with Christ,” he told Vatican Radio.
“Fundamentally, anyone seeking the truth in his or her life and actions, can be said to be seeking to be a disciple of Jesus,” said Father Daley.
Another issue the early Church had to deal with was threats to religious liberty.
“Freedom of religion was a huge issue for early Christians, as they lived in an empire that in some ways was quite pluralistic, but that was also repressive,” he explained. “To be a Christian until at least the early 4th century meant you had to run the danger of, occasionally at least, being at odds with the law, even being put to death.”
He said the study of Patristics is essential for all aspects of Church life.
“To see what the origin of what our particular position is, is something that sheds light on what is essential, and what isn’t.”
Listen to the full interview by Father Bernd Hagenkord, SJ, with Father Daley: