Ad Fontes

A few days ago my professor for my Renaissance Thought class enlightened us with some Latin words that helped describe a theme within the Renaissance movement. “Ad fontes” means “to the source” and was a general mission statement from Renaissance artists. They saw something beautiful with how things began and wanted to bring it back to their present day. I was sitting in church at Calvary this morning, pretending to listen introspectively to Danny when something he said actually caught my attention. He was talking about an upcoming series on the hard sayings of Jesus and started talking about a time when he had a conversation with a pastor of his when he was younger.

It was a conversation about some doctrine (which wasn’t really relevant for this morning’s message) that Danny was having a difficult time in understanding. There was an element to the doctrine that seemed to run counter to the words of Jesus and when Danny asked about it, the pastor tried explaining the thing away by saying Jesus had said those words before He died and resurrected from the dead. The implication Danny received was that Jesus’ words, in context of whatever particular doctrine they were discussing, were no longer sufficient and that the apostles who wrote after Jesus were much more accurate in explaining whatever the doctrine stated. The complication that Danny pointed out I think is very similar to the complication many Renaissance advocates saw with the literature and art of their time: modern-day works were treated with more value and more importance and more influence than the originals. I think this complication is still prevalent today.

Man-made doctrines and theologies have been treated with more weight and influence within the church than the red letters of the gospels. In fact, according to one doctrine interpreted by a particular pastor, the entire New Testament should be in red letters because it was all inspired by the Spirit. What Danny pointed out was that God-Incarnate, Jesus, taught a bunch of things, but whatever He taught is now being superseded by things we derive from the apostles’ words and the words of several saints thereafter.

The source of their moral education, Jesus, is being sidelined because some guys who came after Him thought they could explain His words much better than He did. It seems strange to me that we would treat the words of Paul, who has letters attributed to him that might not have actually been written by him, with equal weight as the words of Jesus. Granted, Jesus’ words are being transmitted through the memory of several authors, but Jesus never wrote anything out, so the authorship of His words isn’t questioned quite like the authorship of Paul’s words. With Paul we question whether he wrote the letters we have, but with Jesus we question if the authors recorded Him correctly. But assuming Paul wrote every letter attributed to him and Jesus said the words in red, we still treat the flawed man’s words with equal weight as the flawless man’s words.

I just don’t understand how we’re more ready to listen to fellow imperfect people preach about spiritual truths instead of the perfect person who created everything, even spirituality. I wonder if the church might not need a little renaissance of its own. I wonder if we could individually and collectively dive back to the source of Christianity: Christ. The doctrines we’ve acquired didn’t start the movement of Christianity, the saints of old didn’t start it, and the apostles certainly didn’t start it; Jesus did. Jesus, as the Bible says, was here before time began, so shouldn’t we pay more attention to Him than those who came around thousands and thousands of years after Him?

As Danny continued on with his message, I was thinking about what Christianity is really about. Is it about living a theologically “right” life with regular, punctual church attendance and a stable management between our salaries and our tithe money? Or is it about Jesus? Certainly studying theology and pursuing truth is important, but it should never supersede the importance of Jesus. What He taught and what the apostles expanded upon was a life that amplified who He was, what He did, and what He’s doing in our lives. Maybe it’s time to get back to that, to the source of it all.


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Cherokee / Whovian / Sherlockian / Aspiring Auror / Lover of Jesus, Scripture, and creativity / MATS Student at George Fox Seminary.

3 thoughts on “Ad Fontes”

  1. Some good thoughts, definitely. It reminds me of a quote that I recently read which was, “Sometimes you’ve got to return to your roots before you can move forward.”

  2. The difficulty is that no original texts remain – even the gospels are translations of translations, copies of copies that emerge long after the fact having come into latin from aramaic or hebrew. Even then, they were written (allegedly) by illiterate shepherds; hardly a solid basis for enduring texts. Bart Ehrman has an interesting bit about this in some of his books – he was at the Moody Bible Institute when it suddenly struck him as odd that there weren’t actually original transcriptions of the gospels, nor were they available in commonly understood languages. Why would someone trying to pass on a message make it ambiguous and subject to debate?

    Also, funnily enough, the sources that Renaissance humanism wanted to return to were the Greek classics and were written without ever even having heard of Judaism.

  3. Jake, I’m fully aware there aren’t any original texts of the Bible remaining today, which is why I don’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. And no, not all the gospel authors were written by “(allegedly)… illiterate shepherds.” Luke’s author is widely believed to be the Luke Paul mentions in his letters (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24), who was a “physician” and clearly wrote the account of Acts thereafter. No, it doesn’t make his text perfect, but it does add to the text’s trustworthiness.

    The only reason I can give as to why someone would pass on a message yet make it ambiguous is that they might not have considered the extended audience it would reach. I highly doubt any author of any book within the Bible knew his book would last for thousands of years.

    And I’m not entirely sure the Greek classics were written without ever having heard of Judaism. Matthew, though he does it incorrectly at times, quotes Old Testament Scripture extensively. And Paul, within his letters, was clearly aware and even a part of Judaism. So it’s hard for me to believe the sources to which the Renaissance humanists had no idea of Judaism when they were created.

    But I guess there is a little irony in my post about returning to the source of things when the sources for our Bible aren’t available. Although, my entire post wasn’t about returning to the original texts of the Bible, but rather the original tenets of Christianity: Christ Himself and not the pop-culture religion we’ve made it today.

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