“It’s ALL Constantine’s fault!” The primitive Church of the first Christians was lost with the Donation of Constantine in 313 AD. -- So say many critics offering mutually exclusive and often improbable views of the early Church. But just what do we know about the early Church?
Book Review: Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words
Ignatius Press, 2002
“The early Church is no mystery.” Thus Rod Bennett begins his narrative through the first two hundred years of Church History.
The early Church is one of the most assessable parts of ancient history and Roman society. Recorded in the Anti and Post Nicene Fathers and a number of other works which are on line and even before the internet, the essential writings were available in reasonably priced books.
Bennet follows the story with the lives and writings of Four Witnesses, Clement of Rome, Ignatius 0f Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaus of of Lyon. woven into a easy to follow narrative. He tells the story of the Church discovering, once the Apostles had died; the heritage they left, how the Church was to exist as hostile society, worship, and deal with challenges inside and out. All four were in churches that faced major persecutions. Two of his witnesses were martyred and the other two may have been. The threat of a persecution was always with them. But it is also of people who grew in the love and service of the Lord. The issues they faced were remarkably similar to today’s issues as are proposed solutions.
When I first read the Fathers of the Church I found them reinforcing what I had learned about the Catholic faith from more modern sources. Bennet had a rather different experience. As an Evangelical he had been raised with a different understanding of Church History but also with the Evangical idea that the early Church should be the model for the modern Church. When he discovered the Church fathers he dug in to them so he could learn about the early Church and Jesus from those who were much closer to him in time. As he read he discovered that the Early Church was not modern Evangelicalism it was Catholic. Since his Witnesses were writing a hundred to two hundred years before Constantine the “blame it on Constantine” line did not work. His story of working through this is a compelling story in itself.
This book is intended for those just learning about the early Church, but can hold the interest of those well read on the subject. He provides a good introduction of the Early Church, it’s faith, and also a glimpse of the Roman Empire not normally seen in the usual Roman histories. And no Constantine.
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Perpetua and Felicity - Martyrs
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