Have you ever thought you should know more about the Apostolic Fathers of the church, but have been daunted by shelves of intimidating dusty volumes with long homilies by someone who might be named St Pachyderm of Anastasia?
You like the story of St Nicholas slapping a heretic, but you’ve been daunted when faced with the Cappadocia Fathers or the intricacies of the Arian controversy?
Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s new book When the Church Was Young cuts through your fears and provides the best introduction to the theology, writings, life and times of the Fathers of the first five hundred years of the church. The great thing about Marcellino’s book is that he not only discusses the theological controversies and development, but he explains the cultural and historical context. Most brilliantly he outlines the biographies of the different fathers of the church–capturing the intelligent renegade Augustine, the brilliant aristocrat Ambrose, the curmudgeonly Jerome, the passionate Origen and a whole cast of others.
With these three elements woven together we see the intricate interaction between theology, culture, history, politics, personalities, popes, prelates, emperors and hermits.
I get lots of books sent to me and I have to admit that very few catch my eye. This one did and this one did not disappoint.
Here are three reasons you should buy and read this book: 1. Because to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant. No matter what your religious stance, Protestantism is the religion of the current day. It was forged in political and historical events. It continues to adapt to political and historical events. Knowing church history–especially the first five hundred years of the church grounds your understanding of the church, makes you realize that the same battles are with us still and helps you to be deeply rooted in your Catholic faith.
2. When we hear the voices of the early fathers we read what has stood the test of time. Here are the voices of intelligence, sanctity, wisdom and wit. Here are the great brains and great hearts that have forged our faith in the foundations. Here are the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
3. Reading the history of the church takes you mind off your current worries and fears and grounds your faith in something that transcends them all. Think about it. We follow a religion that was forged in the fires of the tumult of the great Roman Empire. We are rooted not just in the troubles of the sixteenth century, but in the classical roots of our civilization. These voices from the past take you back to our roots.
If I have one book this year to recommend widely to inform and entertain Catholics this is the one.