The Catholic University of America


Philip Rousseau's Teaching

Spring 2018

ECST 650 (graduate seminar course with research paper): "History of Early Christian Thought."  Instructor: Philip Rousseau.  Time: TTh 11:10 - 12:25.  Place: McMahon Hall 211.  Note: place may be subject to change.

The course, compulsory for students enrolled in the “Early Christian Studies” Program, is designed to appeal to as wide a graduate body as possible, enrolled in any number of other Programs.  Those in Medieval and Byzantine Studies, Church History, Historical Theology, Greek and Latin, Semitics, History, and Philosophy should in particular find links with their own fields of inquiry, as well as those in "Early Christian Studies."

For, by the "history of early Christian thought," I mean the intellectual traditions - both the manner and content of religious reflection - that Christian thinkers inherited and adapted through Late Antiquity and beyond from those that came before them.  I have therefore divided the course into a number of different sections, maintaining its focus and coherence as a whole but allowing each individual student to pursue interests relevant to his or her particular course of study.  It is crucial that you recognize the broad opportunity being offered here.

The overriding theme of the course, therefore, is the interaction between the intellectual traditions that early Christianity inherited and then developed to suit its own purposes.  Although other traditions were involved (and they will also be open to study), two stand out, of course: the Jewish and the classical.  The interaction between them was an essential force in Christian development.  A short series of introductory lectures will therefore explore the emergence of this situation and the changes of emphasis that then ensued.

Each student will be required to write two papers - one (the shorter) devoted to analysis of a primary source or group of sources (and English translations will be available and accepted); the other (longer) a more reflective paper devoted to a theme or a modern debate.  The shorter paper will be circulated and discussed by the class as a whole.

I shall invite you all to study closely two books: Susanna Elm, Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), and Moulie Vidas, Tradition and the Formation of the Talmud (Princeton University Press, 2014).  Both are E-books available to CUA students.

I shall, at a later stage of the course, explore a more limited theme that nevertheless fits into the general area of debate.  The theme in 2018 will be “Jerome and ‘translation’.”  I am not thinking of Jerome’s translation work in a more familiar and literal sense, but of the way in which he adapted his classical and biblical heritage to the Christian society of his own day.  This will allow a degree of comparison with contemporaries who wrote on the same theme: Basil of Caesarea in his Address to Young Men, and Augustine of Hippo in his De doctrina Christiana.  But I shall start with analysis of Jerome’s Letter 57 to his friend Pammachius.

A syllabus should available by Christmas this year.

This will be my last course at CUA.  I shall retire from teaching at the end of this semester.