During this cycle in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Office of Readings they have some of the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. I always do enjoy re-reading them as they come up again since they give such a glimpse into the early Church and the words of St. Ignatius as he prepares himself for Christ as he heads towards martyrdom are awe-inspiring.
So it is with great pleasure when I received Ignatius of Antioch & Polycarp of Smyrna (Early Christian Fathers)
by Kenneth J. Howell for review. This book published by CH Resources (Coming Home Network) is an excellent guide to the lives of these two saints and the writings of their’s history has preserved.
After the New Testament and the Didache these letters give us the earliest view of the Church. St. Polycarp who was a disciple of St. John the Apostle gives us an even closer link.
Reading the Church Fathers is always instructive especially in the case of the Apostolic Fathers. Though it is sometimes difficult to get the full context and depending on the translations the points they were getting across. This is what I really loved about this book is that it is a scholarly look at these two saints while at the same time being fully accessible to those who aren’t Patristic experts. The texts of all the letters were translated by the author and heavily footnoted to let you know where his translation might have differed from others and how those other translations might have rendered the texts.
The first sections of the book provide an introduction into each of the saints and their history along with a history of the times and the disputes that were occurring in the various churches. So before you get to the letters in the latter half of the book you already have a solid background unto which to draw out more from the texts than in a cold reading. It is easy enough to download the texts of these letters from these two saints off the internet, but this book make the reading of them so much more worthwhile.
Venerable John Henry Newman said “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” and you can really understand this statement reading these two saints as you see the structure of the Church with bishops, priests, deacons, and laity; along with the sacraments such as the Eucharist. The authority of the bishop is quite evident, but even more their concerns as shepherds. Both Ignatius and Polycarp had so absorbed scripture it became for them a natural language in which they were able to repeat and to preach further with their own understandings.
I hope this book is the beginning of a series on the Church Fathers since I gained so much from reading it.