Although the fourth in a series of ‘Daily readings’ by Christian Focus, this one may be unique. I’ve never come across readings taken from the writings of the Early Church Fathers. There are many Christians (including ministers) for whom these Church Fathers are unexplored territory. This is a huge omission, especially for those who revere the sixteenth-century Reformers.
As editor Nick Needham (lecturer in church history at Highlands Theological College) points out that the Reformers held the early church councils in the highest regard. Calvin said their work was ‘the pure and authentic exposition of Scripture, which the holy Fathers applied with spiritual wisdom’.
This book includes twelve different Fathers, one for each month of the year. They range from the second to the fifth centuries AD, with most from the fourth. Irenaeus, Augustine, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Basil, Athanasius and others are represented. There is a glossary and Scripture index, and source index to show where the readings can be found.
For those who have neglected the Early Church Fathers, this is an excellent introduction. There is about them something of the zeal we find in new believers. Yet, we find them much more focused in defining doctrinal truth and vigorously combating error than is usual among modern evangelicals.
These are some of the men who ironed out and defined orthodoxy concerning the Trinity and Christology, for which we are deeply in debt. Athanasius, for instance, was exiled five times by hostile emperors in his 45-year battle for the truth of the deity of Christ.
The readings are sometimes lofty, sometimes earthy, sometimes argument, sometimes worship. One piece of sound advice from Ambrose reads, ‘Praise God, don’t interrogate him’. Cyril of Alexandria is excellent on the two-natures-yet-one-person character of Christ.
Basil of Caesarea calls one Gnostic, ‘weak-brained’! Later he mourns over the condition of the church with words that would befit modern times. Gregory of Nyssa speaks movingly on the death of Christ, ‘By his wounds he cured our wound’.
These readings reveal their authors to be more doctrinally focussed than we are today. My favourites were Chrysostom and Augustine. Highly recommended!