Biblical And Patristic Roots
In Matthew 5:17 Jesus declares, "Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfill (plērōsai)" (Douay-Rheims version). Christianity thus stands in a complex relationship of continuity and discontinuity with regard to its Jewish sources. The Christian faith views itself as preserving the Jewish heritage in its integrity, yet at a higher level. The precise definition of this "fulfillment"—that is to say, of the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments—was one of the central tasks of the first Christian thinkers, the church fathers. In addition, tensions that occur within the narratives and teachings of each of the two Testaments (in the four Gospels, for example) had to be explained and smoothed over as well. Some of the strategies that the church fathers used in order to harmonize the texts of Scripture were themselves scriptural, such as allegorization, which patristic thinkers widely employed to read the Old Testament in light of the New. Other techniques, however, were derived from nonscriptural sources; most importantly, the church fathers borrowed philosophical terminology of Greco-Roman provenance in order to articulate certain elements of the scriptural narrative in a systematic fashion, that is to say, as "doctrine." Thus, for example, occasional references to God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit came to be transformed into the doctrine of the Trinity, which was defined, in the Latin West, by means of the Greco-Roman philosophical terms of substance and person.
Unlike their Greek counterparts, the Latin church fathers did not produce a comprehensive account of the Christian faith in a complete theological system. Rather, they limited themselves to discussions of specific areas of theology, such as the Trinity or the relationship between grace and free will. And although they availed themselves of methods of textual synthesis and system-building, they rarely reflected upon these techniques in a detailed fashion. For many centuries, St. Augustine of Hippo's (354–430) treatise On Christian Teaching remained the standard text on Christian methodology.
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