The Work of Christ Community, East Lansing, Michigan
A member of The Sword of the Spirit:

Dead Theologians society

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead" (Jaroslav Pelikan).

The Dead Theologians Society is a special-interest group within the Work of Christ Community. It began meeting in 1985 to read and discuss the writings of the early Church (i.e. from the first millennium of Christianity, though we have read a few classics from later periods). The society is an ecumenical group, with members coming from several Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches, and it is for this reason that the focus is on the first millennium. The Christian Church was one unified body (more or less) up to the year 1054. Thus, writings before this date represent our common heritage and are ostensibly of interest to Christians of all traditions.

The DTS meets on odd Thursdays (this is easy to remember because we are an "odd" group.) from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. (yes, that is pretty early.) Location varies, so please call or e-mail in advance. We begin with a simple breakfast (bagels and coffee are the usual fare) and then discuss the reading assignment - usually about 20 pages every two weeks. Discussion is lively and jovial and often strays from the topic, but that’s half the fun. It’s not a scholarly group (but scholars are welcome to attend), rather we are a bunch of Christians who have discovered that many long-dead theologians have timely, inspiring, and helpful wisdom for us today. Precisely because these writers come from a different time and a different culture, they can address and challenge us in ways our contemporaries cannot.

Books read by the group include The Apostolic Fathers, On The Incarnation by St. Athanasius, The Confessions of St. Augustine, and The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition by Jaroslav Pelikan. (OK, Jaroslav Pelikan is a modern author, but his book is about the period, and we took our motto from it: "Tradition is the living faith of the dead.") The books we read are selected by consensus (more or less) after an often lively discussion. See bottom of page for a more complete list.

Leadership of the Society is pretty low key. One person manages the breakfast schedule, another sets upcoming reading assignments,  and a third assumed the job of asking people to stop talking about politics and get back on topic. Rather than have an "expert" give a lesson, we have chosen a format where every member offers his/her insights. It makes the group a lot less like school.

For the first several years, the Dead Theologians Society didn’t really have a name. Then the movie Dead Poets Society was released, and the temptation was just too great. Once we had a name, it only seemed logical to print up T-shirts. The DTS logo features Polycarp, a feisty martyr, bishop, and defender of the faith who was put to death in 167 AD at the age of 86.

For more information about the Dead Theologians Society or to visit a meeting (we want to make sure we have a bagel for you) please call Jerry Munk at (517) 336-8533 or e-mail Fred Christopherson at

Dead Theologians Society Reading List:

The Fathers Themselves
The Apostolic Fathers
                Concerning the Mysteries 
            On the Incarnation
            The Life of Anthony
            Resurrection Letters
            Letter 130 (To Proba on prayer)        
On Grace and Free Will
            On Christian Doctrine
            Contra Faustus
Basil the Great:
            On the Holy Spirit
                Shorter Rules
                On the Right Use of Greek Literature
The Consolation of Philosophy
Clement of Alexandria:
            The One Who Knows God
            Accounts of the 7 Ecumenical Councils
            12 Treatises
Cryil of Jerusalem:
            Lectures on the Christian Sacraments
History of the Church
Gregory of Nyssa (and Macrina):
            On the Soul and the Resurrection
                Life of Moses
            Against Heresies
John Cassian:
John Climacus:
            The Ladder of Divine Ascent
John Chrysostom:      
Commentary on Hannah       
Commentary on the Psalms
             On Marriage and Family Life
                On Wealth and Poverty

John of Damascus:
            Exposition of the Orthodox Faith
Justin Martyr:
            First Apology
            Minucius Felix, Octavius

Macarius (pseudo):
            Fifty Spiritual Homilies
            The Great Letter

Patristic Anthologies:
            The Early Christian Fathers  
The Later Christian Fathers

A Glimpse at Early Church Life         
Vincent of Lerins:

Later Christian Classics
                Suma of the Suma (Peter Kreeft edition)               
Thomas a Kempis:
            The Imitation of Christ
Blaise Pascal:
Keating, Dan (OK, not yet a classic, but it will be.)
                Deification and Grace 

About the Fathers
Mike Aquilina:
            The Fathers of the Church
Stanley Burgess:
            The Holy Spirit: Ancient Christian Traditions
Harold O.J. Brown:
Jaroslav Pelikan:
                The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (Volume 1 of The Christian Tradition)
Peter Toon:
            Yesterday, Today, and Forever 

For Future Consideration
Augustine: The City of God, Commentary of the Psalms, On the Trinity
Chrysostom:  Daily Readings, Old Testament Homilies
John of Damascus:  On the Divine Images
John Henry Newman:  On the Development of Doctrine
Maximus the Confessor:
Selected Readings




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