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Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words [Paperback]

Rod Bennett
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press (1 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0898708478
  • ISBN-13: 978-0898708479
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 371,993 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Early Church 12 April 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have been reading the above book, it having been recommended by John Rayner.
The early Church is interesting and is very relevant to us today. The questions asked then are the same as those asked now. Does truth change? Who is Jesus? What is the Church? What is the nature of the sacraments? What is the nature of revelation? What is the basis of church authority? What is the
nature of the Priesthood? Who/what is God?
Does the message of the early Church hold any value for us today? The study of the early Church and Fathers can sound very dry and academic as 'Patristic Studies' but the ideas and thoughts are as relevant today as in the early years of the Church and should be interesting. I am a great fan of John Henry Newman and his conversion to the Catholic Faith was in part due to his studies of the early Church and the Fathers. Our understanding of theology does develop and I am aware of the views in Newman's 'Essay on Development'. There is a perception that these early years are obscure and not very relevant - there was a comment to me that it was inappropriate to quote the words St Athanasius for support. When I first became a Christian I was very influenced by reading 'St Athanasius on the Incarnation' (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei) - translated by a Religious of the CSMV and with the wonderful introduction by CS Lewis. The book is brilliant and probably the best defense of the incarnation ever written. I became a 'Bible Christian' aka Evangelical although I developed an interest in Christian mysticism. I saw Catholic mystics as Christians who just happened to be Catholic. I ignored all the 'Catholic bits' in their writings!
'Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words' is a study of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  53 reviews
93 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to the early church fathers 11 July 2005
By Paul H - Published on
I have been meaning for several years now to delve into the writings of the early church fathers -- those Christian pastors from the first few centuries after Christ, some of whom learned the Christian faith directly from one or more of Jesus's apostles. However, I have been somewhat daunted by most of the existing collections of the early church fathers, in that the their writings can often make for slow reading, and that many of the existing collections are quite large. But I found "Four Witnesses" by Rod Bennett to be a terrific introduction to these writings.

As its name implies, "Four Witnesses" focuses mainly on the lives and writings of four particular church fathers, all of whom lived prior to 200 A.D.: Clement, the fourth bishop of Rome; Ignatius, bishop of Antioch who was martyred in Rome in the early second century; Justin Martyr, a Christian philosopher who was one of the first apologists for the Christian faith; and Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (modern France) who wrote extensively in refutation of Gnosticism. Bennett blends his own narrative text with numerous excerpts from the writings of these four men (plus excerpts from some other patristic writings) to tell a story of the Christian church throughout much of its first two centuries of existence. Central to this story are the persecutions which were ordered by various Roman emperors, and the constant struggle against other competing quasi-Christian belief systems. By quoting these "four witnesses" extensively, Bennett allows us to see first-hand what these early Christians believed, the challenges they faced, and how they responded to those challenges. The result is something that is difficult to achieve: a historical account that is compelling and interesting to read, while still containing numerous lengthy quotes from primary sources.

There are some places in the narrative text where Bennett takes artistic license, such as when he gives a detailed account of Irenaeus receiving the news of Polycarp's martyrdom, even though such details have been lost to history. However, such instances involve only minor details. Bennett has done extensive research with the goal of portraying all of the major events in his narrative as accurately as possible. In fact, I heard a radio interview with the author in which he said that he spent an entire year doing little else besides reading the writings of the early church fathers, and that "Four Witnesses" tells the story that gradually coalesced in his mind as he read more and more of these eyewitness accounts of the early church.

"Four Witnesses" also contains an afterword which consists of an abbreviated account of the author's conversion from Protestant Christianity to Catholic Christianity, which came as a result of his research into the early church fathers. The book also has an appendix which gives additional quotes from the church fathers in support of various Catholic beliefs, in order to demonstrate that these beliefs date back to the earliest centuries of Christianity. Though I agree with the points that Bennett makes in these additional sections, I almost wish that he had left them out, because I am afraid that they could turn off some non-Catholic Christians who otherwise might find this book both enjoyable and informative. However, these sections do contain some valuable information, and the reader is free to skip them, so it is a tough call.

In conclusion, I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an entertaining and readable introduction to the writings of the early church fathers.
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow 9 Sep 2004
By RR - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The best intro to the early church available. This former Protestant author takes the writings of four of the early church fathers and builds an engaging narrative out of them. Even for those of familiar with some early church writings, this book fills in the contemporary context which is very useful. For those unfamiliar with the early church fathers, this book would be truly eye-opening.
The author also includes a chapter on his own journey from Protestantism to Catholicism. In fact the book almost seems to be written with Protestants in mind.
I would suggest this book to everyone from those who never heard of the early church fathers to those who recognize all the writings cited in the book.
58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling read 9 May 2002
By patriks - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is an awesome story! I finished this book in a short time, finding the story very compelling. It felt more like I was reading a novel than some dry history book. Rod Bennett does a wonderful job setting the historical stage for each character, revealing the conflicts and emotions that they must have faced. Bennett reveals what early Christians believed and how they endured despite persecution, leading to the growth of the Church. "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians" wrote Tertullian. Every Christian will find the story of these witnesses inspiring, and I highly recommend this book to anyone.
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! Church history that reads like Gladiator, not Quo Vadis 22 April 2002
By Kathleen Lundquist - Published on
This is undoubtedly one of the coolest books on Church history available anywhere - it's so far away from the deadly dry, impenetrable historical prose of modern university scholars. It's obvious this guy has done his homework (copious footnotes everywhere and careful, aesthetically-pleasing structure of the narrative), but what sets it apart is the fact that you can actually enjoy reading it - enjoy the stories of these interesting historical figures as they unfold. Hear them speak in their own voices; see them travel through the countries they lived in; feel their pain and joy as they delight in the struggle to help the baby Church thrive. Highly recommended - especially to anyone curious about what the early Church taught and believed, but didn't think it was possible to really know for sure...
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book on early Churh History 22 Feb 2005
By Frank C. Gahl - Published on
I've only recently rediscoverd the Catholic part of me that was lost 25 years ago. One can buy the individual books of the early Church Fathers and go through them and learn much. Or, if one does not have the time or the hundreds of dollars one might spend, they can purchase this excellent book. It is different in that Mr. Bennett weaves in much of the high points of what these four fathers wrote in a way that provides background and tells a story. Will I keep buying the books of the individual church fathers, yes. But, I whole heartedly recommend this book. There is also an excellent little section in the back that quotes the early fathers on various topics that are talked about and still debated by the protestants in this day.
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