Saturday 28 December 2019

The Early Church 33–313 - James L. Papandrea - Reclaiming Catholic History Series Book 1

The Early Church (33–313): 
St. Peter, the Apostles, and Martyrs
Reclaiming Catholic History Series Book 1
James L. Papandrea
Mike Aquilina (Editor)
Ave Maria Press
ISBN 9781594717710
eISBN 9781594717727

I thoroughly enjoyed book 2 in this series: The Church and the Roman Empire by Mike Aquilina, and Mike is also the general editor of the whole series. I had high expectations for this volume and it did not disappoint. Over the years I have done several courses in church history and theology. I have a Religious Studies Degree with a specialization in Roman Catholic Thought. I would have loved to have had this book, and both I have read from the series so far while I was a student. Many years ago when I did an Introduction to Church History course on Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo, our professor, Arnold Snider, often said throughout the year, “I do not care as much about dates and names and places, as the story of Christianity. On your final exam the main question will be ‘Your uncle Billy at Christmas dinner says: ‘I hear you did the history of Christianity, tell us the story in your own words?’” And that was one of the essay questions on the exam. This book and the two I have read in the series would have been great resources for that course. And If I had had them they would have been pulled out often for essays, papers and research. This is a great read in an excellent series.

This is the second book published in a this series, Reclaiming Catholic History, though it is the first book in the series. The series is being edited by Mike Aquilina and the first published volume is by him as well. About this series we are told:

“The history of the Catholic Church is often clouded by myth, misinformation, and missing pieces. Today there is a renewed interest in recovering the true history of the Church, correcting the record in the wake of centuries of half-truths and noble lies. Books in the Reclaiming Catholic History series, edited by Mike Aquilina and written by leading authors and historians, bring Church history to life, debunking the myths one era at a time.”

And if the others are as good as the two that are published we are in for some excellent reads. The chapters in this volume are:

Reclaiming Catholic History: Series Introduction 
Chronology of The Early Church (33–313) 
Introduction: The Scholar’s New Clothes Chapter 
1 The Era of the Apostles
2 The Era of the Apostolic Fathers
3 The Era of the Apologists
4 The Era of the Theologians
5 The Era of the Sacraments
6 The Era of Tribulation
Just the Beginning 
For Further Reading

We are reminded again in the series introduction that:

“Not until the Bible do we encounter histories written by historical losers. God’s people were regularly defeated, enslaved, oppressed, occupied, and exiled. Yet they told their story honestly, because they held themselves—and their historians—to a higher judgment, higher even than the king or the forces of the market. They looked at history in terms of God’s judgment, blessings, curses, and mercy.”

We are also told that:

“Christian history tells the story not of an empire, nor of a culture, but of a family. And it is a story, not a scientific treatise. In many languages, the connection is clear.

The authors in this series strive to communicate history in a way that’s accessible and even entertaining. They see history as true stories well told. They don’t fear humor or pathos as threats to their trustworthiness.”

And from the two volumes available they have done an excellent job of doing just that. Papandrea in the introduction states:

“If I believe (as I do) that Jesus Christ really is the Son of God, really did create the Church, and really did send the Holy Spirit to guide her, then I’m more likely to accept that traditions are based on truth, and that miracles can happen. But if a historian is not a believer, and especially if that historian has an anti-Church bias (or an anti-Catholic bias, as many Protestant scholars of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did), then that historian will fill in the gaps with some very different conclusions about what “must have” happened.”

He also says:

“What I’m giving you in this book is what I believe happened, based on a career of studying the evidence, with a firm belief in divine providence.”

And when writing about the birth of the church he says: 

“I would argue that the birth of the Church was that Thursday night when Jesus took some bread and said, “This is my body,” and held up a cup of wine and said, “This is my blood.” The Church was born when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist.” 

We are informed that one of the main causes of conflict between Rome and the early church was mistrust. 

“Eventually, the Romans started to understand that Christians were something separate from the Jews. This meant Christianity was something new. New was bad. New was suspicious. The Jews got a pass and got to practice their religion because it was ancient and because the Romans were trying to avoid rebellion. But this Christianity thing—this was an unknown quantity.”

And because:

“One of the most remarkable facets of the early Church is that Christians considered their morality as part of their very identity. This is very different from the way that pagan Romans thought of themselves.”

The section by Papandrea on the four reasons the church needs clergy and a clerical hierarchy is amazing. Papandrea also does an amazing job through out the book debunking myths about the Catholic church and church history. The ‘Up Close and Personal’ sections takes us deeper into specific historical figures. And the ‘You be the Judge’ sections lay out the historical facts and helps us to draw our own conclusions. The two quotes of the many I highlighted in the text that struck me the hardest were:

“One lesson to be learned from all this is that we can’t really understand the New Testament without understanding the early Church and the Church Fathers. They are the ones who decided what books would be in the canon, so they are the ones who really gave us our New Testament. But we can trust them, and we can trust the text of the New Testament because it was written and compiled within the lifetimes of people who knew Jesus and the apostles personally.”


“You’re not going to be excommunicated as a heretic just because you don’t have all the answers. A heretic is someone who teaches incorrect doctrine, leads the faithful astray, and then, when confronted by the bishop, refuses to submit to the authority of the Church.”

This book is an excellent resource. It can be read by late high school students or undergrads and used as a resource. It can be read by anyone interested in church history. It is engaging and entertaining. An excellent resource!

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2019 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books in the Reclaiming Catholic History Series:
The Early Church - James L. Papandrea
The Church and the Roman Empire - Mike Aquilina
The Church and the Dark Ages
The Church and the Middle Ages
The Church and the Reformations
The Church and the Age of Enlightenment
The Church Facing the Modern Age

Books by James L. Papandrea:
A Week in the Life of Rome
Reading the Early Church Fathers: From the Didache to Nicaea
From Star Wars to Superman: Christ and Salvation in Science Fiction and Superhero Films
The Earliest Christologies: Five Images of Christ in the Postapostolic Age
Handed Down: The Catholic Faith of the Early Christians
Trinity 101: Father, Son, Holy Spirit
Rome: A Pilgrim's Guide to the Eternal City
The Early Church (33–313): St. Peter, the Apostles, and Martyrs
The Wedding of the Lamb: A Historical Approach to the Book of Revelation
Spiritual Blueprint: How We Live, Work, Love, Play, and Pray
How to Be a Saint
The Trinitarian Theology of Novatian of Rome: A Study in Third-Century Orthodoxy
What Really Happens after We Die: How We Know There Will Be Hugs in Heaven!
Novatian of Rome and the Culmination of Pre-Nicene Orthodoxy

Books with Mike Aquilina:
Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again 
How Christianity Saved Civilization: And Must Do So Again

Contributed to:
At Home with the Word 2011

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