Saturday, January 2, 2016

Book Review: "Handed Down" by James L. Papandrea

The first thing that drew me to Handed Down: The Catholic Faith of the Early Christians was the simple elegance of its cover; and guess what? Sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover! I found Papandrea to be a gifted writer with a masterful grasp upon the writings of the Fathers. Those two traits have resulted in a book that, in my opinion, has something of value for everyone.

The first centuries of the Church were incredibly turbulent, but the Holy Spirit raised up truly inspirational pastors, preachers, and teachers to maintain the Faith in the purity in which it had been passed on by the Apostles. The Church Fathers is the name given to those early men of the Church who left writings to us – Clement of Rome (c. 90), Ignatitus of Antioch (c.107), Justin Martyr (c.150),  Irenaeus of Lyons (c.180), etc. Papandrea, an associate professor of Church history at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary at Northwestern University and a convert to Catholicism, explores six issues that are important in the Protestant-Catholic dialogue: Scripture and Tradition, faith and works, the seven sacraments, the Eucharist, the communion of saints, and the papacy. As a man with one foot on each side of the ecumenical divide and an encyclopedic knowledge of the source material, Papandrea is uniquely positioned to serve as a guide; and he does so superbly.

This book is of value for those new to the study of the early Church as well as those who have meandered through its writings for decades. Newcomers will find a source book of quotations from the early post-apostolic period, illuminating how the early Church understood (now-disputed) verses of Scripture and how their practices (ministerial priesthood, veneration of relics, petitioning of the martyrs, penances, etc.), are continued by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox today. Papandrea concludes each chapter with a biographical sketch of one of the Fathers discussed therein. This gives additional context for their writings as well as challenging us to imitate their passion for the purity of the Gospel. Readers already familiar with the writings and lives of the Fathers will find expert analysis and new insights. Papandrea's chapter on the Eucharist - with his commentary on the terminology used by Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine - was incredibly illuminating. His discussion of the Novationists as the first accepted "non-Catholic denomination," or "proto-Protestants," was completely new to me; and I remain intrigued.

Papandrea has some truly memorable turns of phrase in this book, too. Here are a few to whet your appetite:
“So baptism is a clean slate, but not a free ride” (p.63). 
“Jesus said, ‘Remain in me, as I remain in you’ (John 15:4). This means that we have to do something to remain in him – to remain is not a static state of being, but an active participation in Christ” (p.69).  
“...whether one enjoys a painting of Jesus or sets up a nativity scene at Christmas time; or even whether one wears a t-shirt with a Christian slogan or puts a fish on the bumper of a car; we all have icons as part of the practice of our faith" (p.198). 
“It’s not that [the pope] speaks for the Church because he is infallible, but that he is infallible because he speaks for the Church” (p.222). 
I admire a writer who captures deep truths so pithily. (Isn't that what we love about Chesterton and Lewis?)

Handed Down is the first title I have read from Papandrea, but he has several; and at a near date I hope to wade into his Novation of Rome and the Culmination of Pre-Nicene Orthodoxy and The Wedding of the Lamb: A Historical Approach to the Book of Revelation. I urge you to visit his author page at Amazon.

No comments:

Post a Comment