Book Review: Mike Aquilina’s “Fathers of the Faith” Series
One of the most consistently delightful Catholic authors today is Mike Aquilina. I’ve been a fan of his historical writings for many years. (I did a review of his excellent book Africa and the Early Church earlier this year.) Today, I am happy to review a new series from Aqulina entitled “Fathers of the Faith,” published by Our Sunday Visitor. The Fathers of the Faith series is a collection of short biographies of the Church Fathers. Currently, there are four books in the series: Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, and Chrysostom.
Our Sunday Visitor describes these books as “bite-size” introductions to the Fathers, and this is a charmingly accurate way to describe the series. At 7 x 9 and around 150 pages each, these are rather small books that are subdivided into even smaller sections, making them easy to read without a big time commitment. In fact, they’d be edifying reading for a Holy Hour. This format alone is a tremendous benefit because books about the Fathers can be incredibly dense with technical details about Trinitarian or Christological disputes that frustrate novice readers of Church history.
I remember when I was first studying the Church Fathers twenty-five years ago, the only resource I had access to was the online 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent. I’d look up the different Fathers and print out the lengthy entries on Augustine, Cyprian, or whomever. Informative though they were, these articles can be dizzying for a newcomer with the vast amount of theological and historical detail they include.
I wish I had something like Aquilina’s books back in those days. The Fathers of the Faith series often presents complex material in a “digestible” manner. These books would be great resources for RCIA catechumens to read along with their studies, or really anyone who wants to dig into Patristics but considers themself a novice to Church history.
In a homeschool setting, these could be assigned during a unit on the early Church. Since they are short, you could pick up all four and assign one a month through the semester. For slower or casual readers, you could assign two books a semester and spread the material out over a school year. The publisher gives no age recommendation for these books, but they should be accessible for most students 13 years and up.
One of the things that stuck out to me immediately looking through these books is how Aquilina skillfully weaves history and theology together. This is essential for any author writing a popular trade book on this subject.
To study Patristics is to study soteriology, Trinitarian thought, Christology, sacramental theology, ecclesiology, heresies, and so on. This is partially because these matters were so central to the thought of the Fathers that to understand them is to understand the theological climate they lived in. However, it is because there are many Fathers we know little about except their writings. But Aquilina doesn’t give us condensed theological treatises. The theology is certainly covered but it is done concisely and in the context of a broader historical narrative. You learn about theology simultaneously while you learn about the people, events, and ideas that shaped the world of the Church Fathers. You learn about late Roman history, politics, and culture alongside learning about the Church Fathers. It really helps understand the Fathers in context and makes learning about their lives and theological ideas feel seamless.
In my review of Mike Aquilina’s Africa book, I noted that he has a nice writing style that somehow manages to pack every page with information while still moving things along swiftly. There is no superfluous sentence, making it information-packed but also easy to read. The same holds for the Fathers of the Faith series.
I also want to mention the voluminous amount of quotations in each of the books. I have always supported studying history from primary sources, and it’s nice that Aquilina included so many direct citations that you get to hear the Fathers in their own edifying words.
I hope Aquilina will put out a few more of these; I’m very happy to own the copies I have and it would be incredible if they turned this series into a larger collection of a dozen or so books. If you want a concise but informative introduction to the life and times of the Church Fathers, I highly recommend picking up a copy of these books. You can find them at Our Sunday Visitor or at Amazon.