Why the Church Fathers Endure

Book Pick: The Faith of the Early Church

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THE FAITH OF THE EARLY CHURCH

An Ancient Apologetic for the New Evangelization

By Nicholas L. Gregoris

New Hope Publications, 2016  

360 pages, $14.95

To order: newhope-ky.org or (800) 764-8444

 

 

When I studied theology at Fordham, we had a large contingent of students from nearby St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary who were steeped in Patristic theology. The Eastern Church was grounded in Patristics. Happily, Western Christians — both Catholics and Protestants — are growing in their appreciation of the Fathers of the Church.

And why not? “The Fathers have been officially recognized by the Church as men who passed on through their orthodox teaching, preaching, sacramental celebrations, holiness of life, and, in some instances, through their unbroken hierarchical communion as successors of the apostles, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith.”

Father Gregoris’ book offers an exhaustive compendium of the Patristic period. His goal, however, is more than another historical tome. It’s a treatment that demonstrates the rationale and continuity of Catholic teaching, so that the testimony of the Fathers helps us to defend the faith today, amid today’s increasingly pagan culture — a world not terribly different from the one in which the Fathers lived. 

“We endeavor to present their truths in such a way that the contemporary person appreciates them not as relics of the past, but as his or her own patrimony for the present and the future.

“… [I]t is our solemn duty to engage in the art of apologetics and in the new evangelization, so that our ancient faith will become the pride, the joy and the salvation of all peoples in this third Christian millennium.” 

One strength of this book is the author’s generous use of primary source quotes: Readers get a fair taste of the Fathers themselves, often using texts that foster further meditation. Father Gregoris often uses quotes that are also found in the Liturgy of the Hours, thus reinforcing their meditative value.

About the book’s weaknesses, I found plowing through this book something of a slog. It also seemed strange to launch into the Patristic era with a survey of heresies and schisms. The treatment of Augustine seemed too brief: Cyprian got double the space. Likewise, the summaries of doctrines seemed too ecclesiological: A synthesis of Patristic doctrine should have included explicit chapters on Trinitarianism and Christology (which are addressed albeit throughout the book). Maybe the problem is that the work started out as “a compilation of articles originally written for The Catholic Response …” and, in the end, it just doesn’t completely hang together as one book.

Still, if you want a thorough exposure to the Patristic Church that combines history with relevance to ongoing application today, this book may be for you. It will certainly give you a thorough look into the world of the Fathers. 

John M. Grondelski, Ph.D., writes from

Falls Church, Virginia.