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    Reading the Church Fathers in High School (Ninth Grade)

    July 5, 2017 by Brandy Vencel

    It was my older daughter who first drove me to the Church Fathers. At the ripe age of four, she began interrogating me about essentials of the faith. It felt a bit like torture. Charlotte Mason talks in Home Education about children absorbing essential truths in a somewhat unquestioning manner, but I have been plagued with children who question everything from the existence of God to the nature of the Trinity to the possibility of resurrection, and that when barely out of diapers.


    So I started reading, and as I read I realized that so many issues we think of as “modern” have already been dealt with by the Church, usually within the first few hundred years. (As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.)

    AmblesideOnline assigns worldview and Bible books in the upper years, and these books are wonderful. But I decided that for these children of mine, I needed to take a different approach. I wanted them to understand that not only is it normal human behavior to ask such questions, but that the Church sorted out the answers long ago and has held a consistent position since.

    And so I started designing a Church Fathers course for ninth grade. (I’m also working on one for tenth right now.) I mentioned it last year, but didn’t explain much because I hadn’t actually done it yet. Now that ninth grade is over, I can say that it went really well, the reading schedule I created was (mostly) reasonable, and I absolutely love that we did it. (Yes, I plan to do it again with future ninth graders.)

    There is one caveat, however. When we add something to AmblesideOnline (and probably any other curriculum), we need to make sure we take something away.

    It’s too easy to overload our students because, especially in high school when their reading capabilities tend to be amazing, there are so many good books to choose from. It’s sort of like eating. Steak is great, but eating five of them is going to make you sick. Same thing with the books. Overloading tends to backfire.

    In the case of this Church Fathers reading course, I removed the AO Year Nine devotional reading and substituted this plan in its place.

    What did we read?

    Two things:

    Eusebius: The Church History

    I thought it’d be wise to begin with history. Students raised up on AmblesideOnline have by this point already read not only Trial and Triumph, but are familiar with reading original church history sources via selections from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History in Year Seven. (AO’s page of Bede selections broken up by week is here.)

    Eusebius starts his history with the Bible itself. He begins quite literally at the beginning, tying Christ firmly to the Old Testament, and then his history proper begins where the book of Acts leaves off. He quotes extensively from primary sources, and Paul Maier’s notes are a helpful correction for the times Eusebius veers off into error a bit (like the time he confuses a couple of the Roman emperors). Perhaps the most fascinating part is when Eusebius reaches his own time and begins to relate current events from his first person perspective, then slips into what can almost be described as poetry — a form of writing that reminded me of the end of Perelandra (when C.S. Lewis, in my opinion, goes on and on and on ahem).

    Eusebius gave a sense of the types of questions the Church was asking, and how they dealt with conflict when different answers arose. It was important to learn what lines they did not cross and where they extended grace to one another. It was, in my opinion, a fantastic starting place for what I plan to be a four-year journey through a sampling of Church Fathers.

    On the Incarnation

    As if Athanasius were not enough, the remarkable introduction to this version written by C.S. Lewis is worth its weight in gold. This is where we find Lewis’ quotable passages about how we ought to read old books, chronological snobbery, and how it is often easier to read original sources themselves than it is to read some academic going on and on about the sources.

    And he’s quite right.

    While other authors I’ve read on the subject of incarnation have been rather convoluted, Athanasius is clear. He’s simple without being simplistic. He’s easier to read than many of today’s theologians, some of whom seem to have a side goal of impressing others with their intelligence, often making subjects seem more confusing than they really are.

    It’s not that I’m against reading new theology books, but I think the Church Fathers, because they are often clear spoken and simple, are easier for beginners than we initially assume.

    Our Reading Schedule

    We spent two terms on Eusebius and one on On the Incarnation. I created a set of three reading schedule bookmarks (one per term) so you can see what we did:

    Want to read some Church Fathers in high school? Here's how we did it in ninth grade! Includes book selections and reading schedule.

    Pro tip: print these on index paper and then glue (or tape) Terms 1 and 2 back to back since they are for the same book.

    A quick note about the Eusebius schedule: there are sections written by Maier that I skipped assigning. They are very interesting, but they aren’t part of the original text. I told my student that it’d be good for him to flip though them and read whatever interested him, but I didn’t assign it in the schedule.

    To receive these bookmarks as a printable PDF, just fill out the form below:

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  • Reply Samara August 9, 2023 at 4:48 pm

    So. Ahem. It’s 2023. Any chance we could nudge you into giving us your updated highschool Church Fathers List? Pretty please?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 23, 2023 at 9:42 pm

      I will likely do that sometime, but I lost a lot of data when my computer crashed, so I would have to reconstruct what I did and that isn’t time I have to spend right now.

  • Reply April February 15, 2023 at 2:14 pm

    Hi! Did you ever post about your tenth grade church fathers? I LOVE this plan!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 1, 2023 at 3:43 pm

      I don’t think I did. Someday I’ll have to post all we’ve used for Bible over the years. I’m on my third 10th grader now!

      • Reply Liz W March 29, 2023 at 6:51 pm

        I was coming to ask this question, as well! I know life is busy, but I would love to see those plans some time.

        Also, do you know why a random assortment of Bede readings for Y7 in AO versus reading the whole thing?

        • Reply Brandy Vencel April 1, 2023 at 10:46 am

          I think they were trying to give a good taste in a limited amount of time. They definitely covered the most well-known stories. I would like to go back and read the whole thing someday, but it has been 9 years since I first assigned it and I still haven’t. Ugh.

  • Reply The 2018 Afterthoughts Book Awards | Afterthoughts January 3, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    […] contenders in this category: Eusebius: The Church History translated by Paul Maier (downloadable recommended reading schedule is here) and The Didache by Thomas […]

    • Reply Esther May 16, 2023 at 11:22 am

      Yes! A post like this for the following years would be so helpful! Thanks for all your advice.

  • Reply Melissa Greene July 15, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Good stuff Brandy! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Once again, we’re on the same page as I was thinking to have our dd complete a church history study in high school as well. I’ve been looking at a variety of resources including Eusebius, which I purchased in April at the GHC. I like what you’ve shared and appreciate that you’ve ‘tested’ it 🙂


  • Reply Erika July 8, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    This is great! I won’t be starting anyone in high school for eight years, but this is just what I need to start, myself, once I get through a few more months of baby-dom sleep deprivation and fog… Thanks!

  • Reply Carol July 5, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    Great idea, Brandy. I used T & T with some of my older ones but I stopped using it with my youngest when she started to complain about everyone dying. She’d been ok with it for the first three years but I think having a couple of deaths in the family made it too close to home for her. I was thinking of using Hodges when she starts AO7 fairly soon but haven’t decided whether to or not. She enjoyed the Louise Vernon books which are fictionalised stories of people such as Erasmus, Luther, Wycliffe & George Fox, but quite well done. I really don’t know whether she’s mature enough to appreciate the devotional books scheduled in Year 7 – I find them challenging enough! Does anyone else feel like this?? I think she still needs the ‘padding’ CM talked about, more of a narrative approach rather than the style of the devotional books. Thinking out loud here…

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 5, 2017 at 5:55 pm

      I feel similarly about my incoming Y7 daughter — not as mature as my previous Y7, and she’s really the only one of my brood I think is on that trajectory. I haven’t thought through it completely, but I bought The Small Woman, which is a biography of Gladys Aylward, because I knew I’d need at least one substitute. I haven’t read it yet, but my hunch is that its effect will still be devotional in nature, but the narrative “padding” (don’t you just love that word?) will be beneficial.

      • Reply Carol July 6, 2017 at 9:57 pm

        I remember loving that book when I read it a long time ago! I’ll keep that in mind as I still have the book.

  • Reply Lisa A July 5, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    This is fantastic! Thank you. 🙂 Do you plan to read more ECFs in the coming years as well?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 5, 2017 at 4:47 pm

      I do! I’m working on my Y10 plan now. I *think* I’ve chosen Basil’s On the Holy Spirit and The Didache. We’re doing a third title, but it’s just a Christian classic from later on…

      • Reply Lisa A July 5, 2017 at 5:46 pm

        I hope you’ll share your schedules again as you add more each year. I’m planning to substitute pretty heavily in the HEO years when it comes to the devotionals and worldview books. Anything that’s already laid out for me will be such a help! 😀

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 5, 2017 at 5:51 pm

          I plan to, for sure! I could share in advance of the year, but it seems wisest to me to share after the year is over because that means the schedule is a lot more reasonable. 🙂

          • Lisa A July 5, 2017 at 7:54 pm

            I’m in no rush. I’m still a few years behind you with my oldest. I’m just glad you’re willing to share!!

          • Jennifer Henderson July 10, 2019 at 2:55 pm

            Bump! How did it go? I’m planning my son’s reading for his next year of high school, and surveying my options. We have not had him read any of the Early Church Fathers yet, so this whole thread is intriguing to me, even if it is now internet-ancient. 🙂

  • Reply Patty Benitez July 5, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Thanks for the Bookmarks:) I’m not sure when I’ll add this to our lessons, but I appreciate your insight.

  • Reply Rondalyn July 5, 2017 at 8:51 am

    We are a long way from Y9, but I really like what you’ve done and appreciate you sharing it. I am hesitant to use Trial & Triumph with my very sensitive daughter in Y1, but am planning to read from Amy Steedman’s In God’s Garden and Our Island Saints, as well as some of Basil Matthews’ The Book of Missionary Heroes. If we follow the AO readings as is in Form 2, do you think we’ll still be ready for the Church Fathers you’re scheduling in high school? Thanks for your input.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 5, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      I think so! I got bored doing T&T again and so I went to Simonetta Carr biographies for a while to give myself a break — that worked well, too. We covered fewer persons, but went a bit deeper. I still think my children who missed some of T&T will do fine with this plan in high school.

  • Reply Jami July 5, 2017 at 7:20 am

    We made the same choice, Brandy, to make room in the AO schedule for the church fathers. We’ve also used Wes Callihan’s Old Western Culture lectures (though much more slowly so we can fit them in with AO) and his Early Christianity lectures were excellent help with Eusebius. Next year we’ll work through the Nicene Fathers which means Athanasius and Augustine.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 5, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      I don’t have his Early Christianity lectures! Sounds like I need to buy them…

      • Reply Jami July 6, 2017 at 7:11 am

        He covers the Didiche, Clement’s letters, Polycarp, Ignatius, and Eusebius, I think. Not completely, selections of some of those. My husband actually leads the reading and discussions for philsophy/church history/logic books on Fridays and reading through the early fathers was a good decision for all of us.

        • Reply Kate Tanaka November 20, 2017 at 8:01 pm

          Specifically which course did you use from Old Western Culture, I have my eye on them for myself, but don’t know where to start and am on a budget!

  • Reply Jen Snow July 5, 2017 at 6:35 am

    I love that you are doing this….and sharing your schedule. I have been reading bits and pieces of the church fathers for myself, and for a variety of reasons have been thinking that I want to work this in for the kids eventually too.

    • Reply Catharina July 6, 2017 at 6:14 am

      I had already been thinking of assigning Eusebius to my 9th grader, so your post was beautifully timed! No I need to get a copy of Athanasius, too, to take a look at it 😉

      How much time did the readings (and discussion/narration) take?

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