By Josef Pieper
Pieper has crafted a unique breviary of Thomistic thought composed solely of short, referenced excerpts from Thomas’s works and arranged to convey the scope of his philosophical wisdom. Highlighted in this breviary are Aquinas’s words on human nature and understanding, ethics, and man’s final end. Unlike other abridgements of Thomas’s work, Pieper offers no commentary whatsoever — which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it allows the reader to discover St. Thomas’s thought unspoiled by an “expert’s take.” On the other hand, anyone unfamiliar with Thomas’s thought and the Aristotelian tradition from which it sprung may find the work difficult to follow. In the end, however, I believe the trade-off is worth it. Grappling with Aquinas on his own terms and discovering the unity and mystery of his work by contemplating these kernels put before us by Pieper is a pleasure, albeit an incomplete one, driving one to further study of Aquinas. Was this Pieper’s intention all along?
By Rod Bennett
Written by a man whose study of the early Church Fathers led him to abandon evangelical Protestantism and embrace the Catholic Church, Four Witnesses is an insightful work presenting the seminal texts of the early Church. Rather than being a strict presentation and commentary, Bennett has written a work for those of us who are not full-time scholars. With vivid historical backdrops and dramatic presentations of the struggles that faced the early Church, Bennett immerses the reader in the world of the ancient authors and lays out the dilemmas or heresies their works were written to confront. This perspective, however, rather than merely placing the writings in their proper historical context, actually helps to reveal the transcendent nature of the truths conveyed by the early Church. Indeed, that the writings of the early Church have brought an evangelical into today’s Catholic Church attests to the continuity of the Catholic Faith.
Four Witnesses presents us with selections from the writings of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons, the first of which was almost included as a book of Holy Scripture. Though each author was faced with and confronted different problems, there is a common theme slowly developing through all of them, which Bennett draws out beautifully. Through Clement’s rebuttal to Gnosticism, Ignatius’s consideration of the universality of the Church, Justin’s apologetics, and finally Irenaeus’s treatment of Apostolic Succession, we see the seed developing that later blossomed into the one doctrine that elevates the Catholic Faith above all others — Papal Infallibility.
Bennett’s work is a long overdue offering to us non-scholars and deserves a wide audience.
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