Saturday 7 May 2022

How the Fathers Read the Bible - Mike Aquilina - Scripture, Liturgy, and the Early Church

How the Fathers Read the Bible: 
Scripture, Liturgy, and the Early Church
ISBN 9781645851707
eISBN 9781645851721

I have read and reviewed many books by Mike Aquilina, I have benefited from each. I believe this is the fourteenth volume I have read by him, and I have read a few others that he edited, or that he was the general editor for the series. I have many of his other volumes on my ‘to be read’ list. This book was another excellent read from his masterful pen. I have said it before about his works and say it again, this is one of those books that every Catholic, every Christian should read. The description of the book states:

““You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me.”—John 5:39

It takes some real imagination to go back fifteen or twenty centuries to an age when ordinary people didn’t have Bibles. But if we don’t put in that work, we’ll misunderstand the early Christians completely.

The early Christians didn’t live in our world, and their encounters with Scripture happened in one main context: the liturgy. That was where they heard Scripture. And just as important, that was where they heard Scripture interpreted.

In How the Fathers Read the Bible: Scripture, Liturgy, and the Early Church, Mike Aquilina takes readers back to the first centuries of Church life to show how the liturgy became the home of—and the interpretative lens for—Scripture. Aquilina shows how, both then and now, Scripture is only understood through the life of the Church—and in particular, through the liturgy.”

The Sections and chapters in this book are:

1. The Bible In The Liturgy And The Liturgy In The Bible
2. The Apostolic Fathers
     St. Clement Of Rome
     St. Barnabas
3. The Apologists And The Fighters
     St. Justin Martyr
4. The Explosion In Alexandria
     St. Clement Of Alexandria
     St. Athanasius
5. Eusebius And The Victory Of The Gospel
6. A Song From The East
     St. Ephrem The Syrian
7. St. John Chrysostom
8. St. Jerome
9. St. Ambrose
10. St. Augustine
11. Into The Dark Ages
     St. Gregory the Great
     St. John Damascene

I only highlighted one passage my first time through this book, I was using adaptive technology to listen to it. And would have marked more but I did not want to stop. I have plans to go back and reread it making detailed notes and highlights. But that one highlight was:

“We search the Scriptures all the time. Google or Duck-DuckGo is here to help. We can just send a search engine off to find whatever we want in the Bible. Every conceivable translation is in our pockets, along with millions and millions of words of commentaries to help us understand—or misunderstand—what we’re reading. Even before the age of the Internet, the Bible was everywhere. If you checked into a hotel, the Gideons had been there before you and made sure there was a Bible in the nightstand by the bed. Street preachers kept boxes of New Testaments to give away. You could get a cheap paperback Bible for a couple of dollars, or a lavishly illustrated coffee-table edition. It was slightly harder to find Catholic Bibles than Protestant Bibles, but only slightly—you didn’t have to work very hard.”

Mike is a master of many subjects and this draws two of them together. He is a modern day master of the Church Fathers, the early Church, Mary. With over 30 works to his name he is an expert. And many Catholics and other Christians recognize his expertise in these two fields. Some of Mike’s works are written for the general lay person, and some are very academic. This one is in the middle. I would not recommend this volume for someone in High school, but honestly any adult could read it and be blessed by the reading. The introduction ends with these words:

“Today we can read volume after volume of commentary on Scripture by the Fathers of the Church. But we forget that those commentaries had a context. Almost without exception, the Fathers were men who had congregations to look after. They wrote their commentaries and their interpretations because they had a flock who needed to know what Scripture meant in their own lives. 

Writing about Scripture was not an academic exercise for the Fathers. It was vital to get the interpretation right because souls depended on it—souls that had been committed to their care. Sometimes they were writing directly for their congregations, as St. Ephrem did when he made Scripture sing for them (see chapter 6). Other times they wrote to inform or correct fellow teachers, as St. Augustine and St. Jerome wrote to each other, sometimes vigorously disagreeing. But always they wrote to answer the one essential question: What shall the people be taught in church?

It was not always an easy question to answer. But it had to be answered. Christ gave his Church the mission of leading his people to salvation. That responsibility fell heavily on the shoulders of her teachers, who felt the full weight of it and put their whole hearts into the job. Piece by piece, century by century, they worked out the implications of Scripture for us. 

Today, with the Bible on every smartphone, we can easily forget that the Church is the home of Scripture. Turning back to the Fathers helps us remember that there is no Scripture without the Church. And to get into the proper frame of mind, it will help to imagine ourselves at Mass right now.”

What Mike does in this volume is bring home the centrality of the bible to scriptures, to the early church, to the mass, and ultimately to us and our participation in liturgy and the mass. Mike serves as our guide and director through the fathers. But he is not a stuffy academic talking about long dead people and beliefs. He writes from a place of personal experience and faith. And that faith shines through this work. And his faith will help shed light on the fathers, and on our own faith.

This is another work of great scholarship. It is an engaging read. And Aquilina is one of the greatest scholars of the early church and world of our times if not all time. As Saint Paul said in Corinthians about milk and solid food, this volume is solid food for our spiritual nourishment. It is an excellent book to read for your personal sanctity and growth. I recommend this volume. I am certain if you pick it up, you will not be disappointed!

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2021 Catholic Reading Plan!

For reviews of other books by Mike Aquilina click here.

Books by Mike Aquilina:
A Year with the Angels: Daily Meditations with the Messengers of God
A Year With The Church Fathers: Patristic Wisdom for Daily Living
Angels of God: The Bible, the Church and the Heavenly Hosts
Companion Guide to Pope Benedict's 'The Fathers' 
Faith of Our Fathers: Why the Early Christians Still Matter and Always Will
Fire of God's Love: 120 Reflections on the Eucharist
Good Pope, Bad Pope: Their Lives, Our Lessons 
Love in the Little Things: Tales of Family Life
Ministers & Martyrs: The Ultimate Catholic Guide to the Apostolic Age
Praying in the Presence of Our Lord: With St. Thomas Aquinas
Roots of the Faith: From the Church Fathers to You
Sharing Christ's Priesthood: A Bible Study for Catholics
Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols
Sweet Gridlock: Selected Love Poems 
Terms and Conditions: Assorted Poems
The Apostles and Their Times
The Church and the Roman Empire
The Fathers of the Church Bible
The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers
The Mass of the Early Christians
The Resilient Church: The Glory, the Shame, & the Hope for Tomorrow
The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church
The Way of the Fathers: Praying With the Early Christians
The Witness of Early Christian Women: Mothers of the Church
Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers
Why Me? When Bad Things Happen
Yours Is the Church: How Catholicism Shapes Our World

Books co-written by Mike Aquilina:
A Pocket Catechism for Kids - Fr. Kris Stubna
Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth - Dion DiMucci
Keeping Mary Close: Devotion to Our Lady through the Ages - Fr. Frederick Gruber
Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians - Scott Hahn
Praying the Psalms the Early Christians - Christopher Bailey
Saint Monica and the Power of Persistent Prayer - Mark W. Sullivan
Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again - James Papandrea
Something More Pastoral: The Mission of Bishop, Archbishop, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl - Ann Rodgers
Take Five: Meditations John Henry Newman - Fr. Juan Velez
Take Five: Meditations Pope Benedict XVI - Fr. Kris Stubna
Take Five: On the Job Meditations With St. Ignatius - Fr. Kris Stubna
Talking to Youth About Sexuality: A Parents' Guide - Fr. Kris Stubna
The Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life Today - John Michael Talbot
The Church: Unlocking the Secrets to the Places Catholics Call Home - Cardinal Donald Wuerl
The Doubter's Novena: Nine Steps to Trust the Apostle Thomas - Christopher Bailey
The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics - Cardinal Donald Wuerl
The Grail Code: Quest for the Real Presence - Christopher Bailey
The Great Life: Essays on Doctrine and Holiness in Honor of Father Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap. - Kenneth Ogorek
The Holy Land: A Guide for Pilgrims - Fr. Dave Halaiko
The How-To Book of Catholic Devotions - Regis J. Flaherty
The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition - Cardinal Donald Wuerl
The World's First Christmas: Jubilee 2000 - Regis J. Flaherty
Weapons of the Spirit: Selected Writings of Father John Hugo - David Scott
What Catholics Believe: A Pocket Catechism - Fr. Kris Stubna

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