During the second week of May, the 49th Meeting of Scholars of Christian Antiquity was convened at the Pontifical Augustinian Patristic Institute. Under the theme "The Faces of God in Christian Antiquity (I-IX centuries)", the Patristicum once again brought together a large group of renowned academics
"The face is a unique part of the human body. Our facial expressions are a vital constituent of our whole identity. And that is how our features become identifiable as us. They are the incomparable source of the human capacity for interpersonal relationships," said Father Juan Antonio Cabrera, vice-president of the Patristicum, "The face of God, however, in the interaction between the Christian reflection of antiquity and the very fact of biblical revelation, assumes different and, in some cases, apparently contradictory aspects. Even when passive, God is indignant in the face of evil and threatens punishment, even at times very severe punishment. And yet at the same time he is always benevolent and merciful. He is supreme rationality, but acts according to categories that go beyond the limitations of human reason and surpass it. He is outside of time, but deeply integrated in our history. His is the face of both Father and Mother.”
Where does God’s face find its fullest expression? For Fr Cabrera it is not in front of Moses at the burning bush, but in one man: Jesus. "His face - disfigured in the passion yet transfigured in the resurrection - is the authentic theophany which enables us to recognise the face of God in every human face."
Other topics addressed and the theme of the next meeting
The speakers approached the subject of the face of God in the same way as the authors of Christian antiquity. They referred to different areas of research, such as exegesis (with particular attention to the patristic interpretation of scriptural affirmations on epiphanies and theophanies), the influence of different philosophical approaches on patristic reflection, the different images proposed by current heterodoxies, the representations from art, the history of law, liturgy, popular religiosity, and so on.
Over the week, the organisers were delighted by levels of attendance, as delegates had the choice of multiple simultaneous presentations with a raft of different speakers. Overall, just over fifty lectures were given by specialists who came to the Augustinianum from more than a dozen nationalities.
One of the singularities of these types of specialist annual congress held at the Patristicum is that while many learned and internationally recognised delegates attend, so too do a number of younger scholars who are just starting their academic careers. "The interaction between the two groups is mutually enriching," explains Fr Cabrera, since "the younger delegates listen and are inspired and encouraged by leaders in their chosen field; while at the same time, the established teachers and authors meet first hand new generation thinking, bringing their own academic research bang up-to-date.”
The results of this dialogue are currently being prepared for publication in one of the Institute's own collections: Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum.
Fr Juan Antonio was keen to point out that preparations for the 2024 Meeting are already underway: "Next year we will talk about theological language in Christian antiquity and the challenge of speaking in human terms of that Divine Reality which transcends not only the boundaries of space and time, but also human rationality itself."