While New Testament scholars have been gathering in Bangor, a very successful Third British Patristics Conference has been taking place in Durham. Edinburgh and Cambridge held the first and second, in 2005 and 2009 respectively. The next two are planned for the University of Exeter in 2012, and King’s College, London in 2013 or 14, depending on the demand. In the interim (August 8-12 2011), the XVIth International Patristics conference will meet at Oxford.
The ‘Patristic Olympics’, as it is popularly known, meets every four years, always in Oxford, and attracts scholars from all over the world. The numbers are capped at about 800, and fill up well in advance. It is exhilerating to see so many Patristic scholars in one place (many in beards, dog collars or religious habits), and to hear Evagrius Ponticus or Gregory Nazianzen discussed in every pub and tea-shop in the city, but it’s far too big a conference to keep abreast of all the topics in which one is interested- all you can do is pick a series of papers that look attractive from the twelve parallel sessions of 18-minute papers each morning, and hope you get a low percentage of duds. (In that regard, it’s not unlike seeing shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.)
The British Patristics Conference, meanwhile, gets about 60-80 attending. You lose the adrenalin rush of seeing hundreds of patrists of every nation scampering off to the different offerings every twenty minutes, but the compensation is the sense of community which is now clearly emerging at the Britain-wide conference.
The main emphasis of the papers, as at Oxford, is on fourth and fifth-century topics, but the second and third centuries continue to have their afficionados. A couple of papers by former and current Edinburgh students I might mention here as of particular interest to New Testament scholars. Sebastian Moll, of the University of Mainz, presented his work dismantling Harnack’s portrait of Marcion. (We’ll ask Sebastian to write something on this here in due course.) Scott Manor, a third-year PhD student here, meanwhile presented a paper arguing that Epiphanius’ Alogi (a group beloved of scholars who want to argue that John’s gospel was a disputed text right up to the end of the second century and beyond) never existed.