Book Review: Patristic Study

Patristic Study (1909), by Henry Barclay Swete

In my continuing study of the writings of the early Church Fathers [1], I have been able to find quite a few books on like this one which have gone out of print and are in the public domain.  It is unlikely that this book was read a great deal when it was published, and its message would be unwelcome to most ministers even today.  Despite the best interests of at least a few publishers and writers to better acquaint contemporary readers with the Apostolic Fathers and later writers, most of these people remain obscure to the vast majority of readers.  It should be noted that the author’s suggestions about developing a familiarity with the early church writers is sensible if one is a Hellenistic Christian.  If you believe in the Trinity and want to know why it is that your tradition has such a widespread ignorance of apostolic practice as well as the Old Testament or anything involving Hebrew, this book and its recommended course of study are very worthwhile.  If, however, you wish to recover apostolic practice, this book will provide comparatively little of value, because the author’s perspective and those he celebrates will have been rejected because they were so far out of the apostolic view.

This book is mercifully a short one of a bit more than 200 pages.  The author begins with introductory material that points out the widespread neglect among believers of the writings of the Church Fathers (1).  After this he discusses the early Church Fathers and early Apologists of the first two centuries AD giving a discussion of what he thinks the most important aspects of these thinkers is (2).  After this he moves on to the third centuries fathers like Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and  Turtillian of both Greek and early Latin traditions (3).  After this comes a detailed discussion of the post-Nicene Fathers of the Greek and Eastern traditions like Eusebius, the Cappadocian Brothers, Cyril of Alexandria, the Syrian writers, and the controversial fathers of Antioch (4).  Next the author looks at the post-Nicene Fathers of the Western tradition like Hilary, Ambrose, and Augustine (5), about whom the author has particular praise (similar to his praise of Origin and a few others).  After this the author finishes the book with chapters on a course of study that one can undertake of the Church Fathers (6) and some aids to this study that are sadly woefully obsolete at this point, one thinks (7).

The amount of reading this author thinks is appropriate for understanding the Church Fathers ranges on the low end from a few dozen books to, on the high end, hundreds of volumes of material.  The author assumes that the reader will have a grasp of Greek and Latin that is sufficient in tackling the Church Fathers in their original languages.  On top of all this, the author has a theology that greatly praises the studies of early Catholic and Orthodox writers without necessarily having a high view of contemporary claims for Roman authority.  Nonetheless, the High Anglican approach of the author is not one that is ultimately too far from an English Catholic perspective and will likely be unwelcome to those whose interest in ancient church history is not all that profound.  For those who have very different theological views from the author, the author’s praise for a given thinker for his striking originality or for his elevated Neoplatonism shines a light on less praiseworthy aspects of those thinkers, making this book more or less the opposite judgment on various ancient writers and their approach to Christianity than my own views.  What the author praises are those aspects of early Christian thought I find most blameworthy, which means this author and I are at cross-purposes, despite our mutual interest in early religious history.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, Church of God, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Book Review: Patristic Study

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Apostolic Fathers Series | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: An Introduction To The Apostolic Fathers:  Part Two (Writings) | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide To Catholicism | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: A Student’s Guide To Religious Studies | Edge Induced Cohesion

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