Having just read Jimmy Akin’s “The Fathers Know Best” and Michael O’Briens “Theophilos” I found Rod Bennett’s book “Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her own Words” to fit right in a reading theme of the early church and the Church Fathers. I had previously heard plenty of good things about this book and I found my high expectations to be exceeded.
This book runs along two basic themes. The first being related to conversion and apologetics as Rod Bennett tells the story in the introduction how as an Evangelical and the eternal quest for going back to the original church how the Early Church Fathers are a blindspot in the Protestant mind. Rod Bennett relates his running across a set of books on the Fathers of the Church in a Protestant bookstore and how he became hooked on these readings which were in stark contrast to his own beliefs and his view of Catholicism which was informed only by distractors of the Church. This introduction sets up the main part of the book. The final chapter returns to this theme and takes a more apologetics bent as he tells of his conversion story and the influence these four witnesses of the early Church changed his worldview and allowed him to investigate the Church with his prejudices diminished. He is not the first and won’t be the last to discover these writings and end up on a path crossing the Tiber. He dedicated the book toe now Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman whose experience with these writing led him to start the Oxford movement and also set him on his later journey to investigate the development of doctrine. “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant” is Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman famous phrase which continues to prove itself true and this history certainly includes discovery of the Ante-Nicene and later writings.
The second and main theme of the book is to investigate the lives of four witnesses of the early Church. — Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons. Each of these men get an in-depth chapter that gives their biography, the history of the times they lived in, their writings, and the writings of other where applicable. Now I have done a modest amount of reading in Patristics and other books about the men concentrated on here and so I was no stranger to these men. The writings of Ignatius of Antioch show up yearly in the Office of Readings for the Liturgy of Hours. Yet I have never come to know these great saints better than with Rod Bennett’s writing. He has a great talent in putting various pieces together and describing them in a way that makes it very real to you. The academic part of his research gets presented in description of scenes that reminds you of the fiction of a Louis De Wohl in that brings the writings of these men alive, but he sets them up in context of history and other writers from this time or later. It is hard to give justice to how well he pulls this off and brings you into the life of these four witnesses to the early Church. Though two of the men were probably not witnesses in the sense that the word martyr means witness, they were certainly witnesses to the theology and practice of the early Church.
One of the initiatives Ingatius Press started last year was to make their catalog available as ebooks and downloadable audiobooks. I received the audiobook version of this book. Rod Bennett reads the main parts of his book and Kevin O’Brien of Theater of the Word reads the writings of the various Church Fathers and others. Rod’s narration of this book is very enjoyable and Kevin O’Brien is more like a cast of players as he gives unique voices to each of the writers he narrates. This really added a nice dimension since often books that contains lots of extended quotations can be rather dry. They have produced a very high quality audiobook and I was pleasantly surprised at the rather low price Ignatius Press is selling the audiobook version for since audiobooks really tend to be pricey. I would highly recommend this book and especially the audio version.