The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Church History: Book Recommendations

Among my many interests is Church History. It is just an interest; I am by no means an expert. And while I have read rather extensively on the subject, I approach this reading not as a student but just as a reader. As a result, I seem to recall little of what I have read. Indeed, I can safely join with Flannery O'Connor and claim, "Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me."

And yet, despite my lack of expertise and my sketchy knowledge, I have enjoyed many of the books that make up my growing Church History library; and so I have decided to share several of my favorites. I trust you will enjoy them as much as I have. All relate to the early Church, those first few centuries of Christianity as it expanded and defined itself while it confronted threats both internal and external.

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of GodThe Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God, by Robert Louis Wilken, is a marvelous book, a well-written and comprehensive overview of how the early Christians thought about their faith, about God and the world. Written for all of us, not just for scholars, it provides a window into the development of Christian thought by those remarkable teachers in the early Church. Wilken connects the dots between such brilliant early theologians as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria, Athanasius and others. The author is Professor of Early Christian History at the University of Virgina and the author of many other excellent books on the subject. He is also a frequent contributor to First Things, one of my favorite magazines. Other books by Dr. Wilken in my library include: The Christians as the Romans Saw Them and The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History and Thought. Both are worth reading.

We Look for a Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early ChristiansWe Look for a Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early Christians, by Carl J. Sommer, takes the reader back to the first and second centuries of Christianity and reconstructs the lives of the early Christians. The author has made use of the most recent archaeological and documentary discoveries to bring this era to life and to trace the development of the key concepts that are the basis of our faith. His main focus, though, is on the spiritual lives of these early Christians, our mothers and fathers in faith, and the lessons we can learn as we face the challenges of our modern world. More than a book on early Church history, it is also a book on spirituality and should be approached with this in mind. The author is a student of Historical Theology, and Ignatius Press publishes the book.

Church and State in Early ChristianityChurch and State in Early Christianity, by Fr. Hugo Rahner, S.J., the renowned church historian address the relationship between Church and state during Christianity's first eight centuries -- from the Apostolic Age to the time of Charlemagne. In addition to the author's expert commentary, the book also includes a selection of many early documents thus providing the reader with first-hand evidence of the nature of this evolving relationship. Indeed, the inclusion of these source documents are what make this book so valuable. And given the current controversy in our own country, and really throughout the entire world, on the nature of the relationship between religions and the state, this book offers some serious insights that should not be ignored. In the words of Church historian and Christendom College president, Dr. Warren Carroll, "This is Catholic history as it ought to be written by Catholics."

The Fathers of the Church, Expanded EditionThe Fathers of the Church, Expanded Edition, by Mike Aquilina, offers the reader a brief introduction to the Fathers of the early Church, the leaders and teachers of the Christian community during its formative centuries. It is well-written and easy to read, and contains just enough brief selections from the Church Fathers to whet your appetite for more. When you have finished this book you  will want to learn more about what the Fathers thought and taught and wrote. The author has writtten or edited a number of other books for Our Sunday Visitor books.

That's enough...for now. God's peace...

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