Four Witnesses, by Rod Bennett

Here’s another book I read while looking into the history of the Early
Church. I finished it over a year ago, and was moved to begin a long and
detailed description of its contents. I was never moved to complete that review,
alas, and now the details are too foggy, so a briefer summary will have
to do. This is from memory, mind you, so I might not have all of the
details perfectly correct.

Subtitled “The Early Church In Her Own Words”, Bennett’s book consists of
excerpts from the writings of four of the early Church Fathers: Clement
of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons.
Bennett surrounds each with material on the background and context of
each excerpt, turning the whole into a complete, if narrowly focussed,
look at the first two centuries of the Early Church, written from a
standpoint of faith rather than skepticism.

The book is also about Bennett himself. Raised a Baptist, he’d been
taught that there is a wide gap between the time of the Apostles and the
later church, a gap about which we know very little and during which the
church had gone wrong, necessitating the Reformation and its drive to
return to the ways of the Early Church. Hence, the Reformation’s
rallying cry of Sola Scriptura! And yet, although Protestantism
harkened back to the Early Church, none of his teachers seemed to know
much about it.

Bennett determined to correct this, and went looking for what he could
find. And what he found were these four authors whose lives form an
unbroken chain from the time of the Apostles (Clement came to Rome in the
days of St. Peter) through the end of the second century–four authors
who neatly fill that pesky gap he’d always been told of. That was the
first surprise.

The second surprise came when he read what these men had to say, and
looked at the Early Church through their eyes. It did not, in fact, look
anything like the Baptist church he’d grown up in; it did, in fact, look
a great deal like Roman Catholicism. (Having grown up Catholic myself, I
can vouch for this; Justin Martyr’s description of Christian Sunday
observance is recognizably the Mass I grew up with–even given that I
grew up with the Post-Vatican II Mass and not the Latin Mass.) This was
a turning point in Bennett’s life, and he subsequently joined the Roman
Catholic Church.

This is a popular work; if you’re looking for a scholarly commentary,
look elsewhere. At the same time, I found this to be quite a good
introduction to Clement, Ignatius, Justin, and Irenaeus; and leafing
through it again, it’s clear that although he focusses on these four,
it’s evident that in preparation he covered the entire waterfront. I
liked it; and it’s a good complement to Chadwick’s
History of the Early Church.

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