Mike Aquilina’s new book series on the Fathers of the Church
By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 31, 2022 | In Reviews
Our Sunday Visitor has begun publishing a series of very accessible books on the Fathers of the Church, and if you have sampled Mike Aquilina’s podcast for CatholicCulture.org, Way of the Fathers, you already know why OSV wants Mike to write every book in the series. In fact, he has already written the first two, Saint Augustine and Saint Irenaeus, both of which were published this year. He has also promised two more for next year.
Mike has done a great deal of reading, writing and speaking on the Fathers of the Church over the past twenty-five years. If you sample our Way of the Fathers podcast, you will understand why Mike’s thorough knowledge, spiritual insight, and ability to tell a good story make such a winning combination. But Mike can cover even more material in these books, which also make better long-term references for family and friends, without sacrificing his trademark entertaining style.
You can open up to any page at random in these small volumes and be instantly drawn in. To prove this, I will do it now. First, I will randomly open St. Irenaeus to page 79, and start reading the section just after Mike’s quotation of a famous passage this early Father wrote on the authority of the Church of Rome:
This is probably the most quoted and most argued about passage in Irenaeus’ writings. One of the editors of the Ancient Christian Writers series, Thomas Comerford Lawler, told a story about the translator they had engaged for their edition of Against Heresies. Dominic Unger was a Capuchin friar who worked carefully and slowly—frustratingly slowly, if you were his editor. When his manuscript finally came in, it included a footnote to this passage that went on for ninety-eight pages. “I had to tell him there’s no such thing as a ninety-eight page footnote,” Lawler recalled to me. The footnote was eventually published as a separate monograph.
Why ninety-eight pages about these few words? They seem clear enough. And that was Unger’s argument. It took him ninety-eight pages to argue that Irenaeus was actually saying what he seemed to be saying: that Rome had authority above all the other churches, and Christians look to Rome to establish the right doctrine. The reason he had to argue so thoroughly was because other writers have tried to make Irenaeus mean anything but that. Christians who deny Roman supremacy find it an uncomfortable passage, because it’s hard to hold on to the idea that Roman supremacy is a medieval development if you take what Irenaeus says at face value. If what Irenaeus says is true, then even in the generations right after the apostles, the bishop of Rome was the leader of the whole Church.
Now let’s try the same trick with St. Augustine, by opening at random to page 95:
Augustine had been unwillingly given a crash-course in detachment. He had lost his lover, and then his mother, then one of his best friends, and finally the son who had seemed destined for great accomplishments. He sold all that he had and distributed it to the poor, as Jesus instructed in Luke 18:22. All he kept was the house, where he invited a number of others to live a monastic life with him.
And then he had a piece of bad luck. His reputation as a Christian thinker was already well established, it seems, and he was invited to the city of Hippo Regius by a Christian who was having spiritual troubles and wanted advice. But it so happened that the bishop of Hippo had told his flock that they needed to find a priest to help with the church work. The mob found Augustine and dragged him, over his strenuous objections, to Bishop Valerius. The bishop ordained him (it seems Augustine didn’t dare object when things had gone this far), and he was a priest. This kind of ordination-by-mob is a feature of many famous saints’ lives in the 300s and 400s; Ambrose, we remember, had been made a bishop the same way.
Well, if he was going to be a priest, Augustine was going to do it right.
If there is a good story that accentuates the vocation and effectiveness of a Father of the Church, Mike Aquilina knows it. When we were exchanging emails about this new opportunity with Our Sunday Visitor, Mike wrote: “It’s what I enjoy doing. I marvel that there’s a market for popular books about the Fathers. I did not expect this when I wrote my first, back in the mid-1990s.”
You’ll marvel too, if you dive into this excellent and very readable series of books, for which the overall title is as apt as the author’s consistent points of emphasis: Fathers of the Faith.
Mike Aquilina, Fathers of the Faith: Saint Augustine: Our Sunday Visitor, 2022. 150pp. $14.95 paper.
Mike Aquilina, Fathers of the Faith: Saint Irenaeus: Our Sunday Visitor, 2022. 160pp. $14.95 paper.
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