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Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words Paperback – 1 Mar 2002
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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. I suppose my attitude in my Evangelical days was similar to the classic Protestant view - the view is that there was the Incarnation of Jesus (as told in the Gospels) and then the early Church formed at Pentecost (as told in The Acts of the Apostles). This was the 'real and authentic' Christianity and similar/identical in theology to that of Protestant Evangelicalism. There is then a jump from the Acts of the Apostles to Luther and to the Reformation which is again seen as 'real and authentic' Christianity. The intervening years are somewhat ignored! Church history as a subject is largely ignored by Protestants (apart form the history of the Reformation and Protestant missions). The Catholic Church is seen as a corruption of the pure Gospel as taught by Jesus and the Apostles and recorded in Holy Scripture. When I was a junior doctor my fellow surgical houseman was a Catholic Christian. My consultant (another Evangelical Christian) took me to one side and told me that there was something really very evil about Catholicism. He was being very serious. The view is that the early Church was pure and somehow really Protestant - there is then a corruption with the addition of the alien Catholic doctrine to the pure faith of Jesus and so the Papacy and the Catholic Church is born. The Catholic Church is then presented as not being really very Christian with many additional and false doctrines added to the true faith of Jesus.
What Rod Bennett does in 'Four Witnesses' is to show that the above model is not sustainable or tenable. The early Church was not somehow a version of the Protestantism before Catholic Christianity developed as a later corruption. The Early Church was Catholic from the start and the Catholic doctrines were there from the start. It's probably quite difficult for a 'cradle Catholic' to understand the Protestant world-view. It has been very exciting for me to learn about the various Catholic saints quite ignored in the Protestant world. The Bible makes more sense through Catholic eyes. The conclusion is that the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus founded -
this may seem obvious but it was not obvious to me until recently. The Catholic views are not a corruption of the early Faith.
Read the book!
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