JESUS, THE APOSTLES AND THE EARLY CHURCH
(Ignatius Press, 2008, 154 pp, $29.90.
CHURCH FATHERS: From Clement of Rome to Augustine
(Ignatius Press, 2009, 196pp, $29.90.
Both by Pope Benedict XVI. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Since his election as Pope, Benedict XVI has continued the practice of including a short reflection in each of his weekly audiences. In 2006, the focus of these was the work and ministry of the Apostles and in 2007 on the lives, works and legacies of the Church Fathers. Originally published in Italian in 2007 and 2008 respectively, these two excellent anthologies have been translated into English and released by Ignatius Press.
The first volume focuses on the work and ministry of the Apostles. In the first reflection, Benedict examines the idea of the Church as a communion with a reminder that contrary to trends in some circles, Christianity is not an individualistic religion, but one that is lived in the faith community, namely the Church which Jesus founded.
Benedict underscores the idea that one cannot have Jesus without the Church, nor are the Church and Jesus in opposition, since He founded the Church to carry on His ministry.
The first reflections therefore focus on the Church as a communion, the reflection, for example of the role of tradition being aptly titled 'Communion in Time' since tradition is 'the practical continuity of the Church.' (p. 27)
The reflections then focus on each of the 12 Apostles. Three reflections are devoted to the most prominent of the Apostles, namely Peter. However, Benedict also includes reflections on the Apostles about whom we know very little, such as Sts Simon and Jude.
Many of the ideas discussed would be familiar to readers, for example the importance of Peter's confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah; and Thomas' doubt followed by his confession of faith as an inspiration to Christians throughout the ages when they are tempted to doubt. Other insights are the fruit of the Pope's outstanding knowledge of Scripture and contemporary scholarship.
This anthology ends with a consideration of the ministry and work of St Paul as well as other early Christian leaders, such as Timothy, Titus and Barnabas, but also the prominent early lay leaders Priscilla and Aquila.
The final reflection is on the role of women in the early Church, in which he reminds the readers that Christianity not only elevated the status of women but passing references in the New Testament reflect not only the early Church's respect for women but also the significant responsibilities they exercised.
The series of reflections is continued in the companion anthology Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine which traces the ways in which the Church founded by Christ - through the writings of the Fathers - developed its understanding of the Deposit of Faith.
Each of the Fathers examined is dealt with essentially chronologically. In reflections of approximately five pages, the Pope adroitly places them in their historical context and explores the significant teachings contained in their writings. The life and works of the more prominent Fathers, such as Sts Augustine and Basil, are explored in more than one reflection.
It is interesting to note that minor figures who are often overlooked, such as Aphraates and St Paulinus of Nola, are included.
The first Father, Clement, wrote a letter to the Church in Corinth before the end of the first century. Benedict reminds his readers that the circumstances of this letter are significant as it is the first documented evi- dence of Papal Primacy exercised by a successor of Peter, since Pope St Clement was responding to an appeal by the Church in Corinth to settle a dispute.
The next early Father, Ignatius, who was Bishop of Antioch from AD 70-107, revealed a strong desire to be united in Christ and therefore encouraged Christians not to save him from martyrdom. He also insisted on the importance of the authority of a bishop.
This anthology covers the significant influence various Fathers' writings had in the development and definition of doctrine, for example, St Athanasius of Alexandria, who devoted his life to defending the Trinity and combating Arianism, and St Cyril of Alexandria, whose role was crucial in combating Nestorianism.
The anthology concludes with a series of reflections on one of the most influential Christian writers, namely Augustine, whose works scholars such as Dr Tracey Rowland argue have had a seminal influence upon Benedict's own theological reflections and spirituality.
The addresses contained in these anthologies, since they were delivered at general audiences, have been pitched at the average person's level of understanding. Nevertheless, they contain profound insights into Christian life and thought.
Perhaps what is most striking about the people whose lives and ministries are reflected upon in these anthologies is their faith in Christ, often in the face of very adverse circumstances. For example, most of the Apostles were martyred as were many of the Fathers.
On the other hand, Athanasius had to endure exile from his diocese on more than one occasion due to his resolute defence of orthodox Christian teaching.
These anthologies would be ideal resources for prayer and reflection, group discussions as well as to develop one's understanding of seminal figures in the early Church.
Michael Daniel is a Melbourne secondary school teacher.