Review: St Isaac of Nineveh on Ascetical Life

St Isaac of Nineveh on Ascetical Life
St Isaac of Nineveh on Ascetical Life by Bishop of Nineveh Isaac

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This relatively short set of discourses on asceticism by St. Isaac of Syria is a wonderful read for anyone interested in living an authentic spiritual life. I did not, however, recommend this book as an introduction to the Christian life nor as a first delving into the Church Fathers, into mysticism, or into asceticism. A good understanding of and appreciation for this book requires that one have a working familiarity with the greater Patristic context, with the spirituality of the Desert Fathers, and with currents in 6th and 7th century Christianity in general, such as the writings of Ss. Maximos the Confessor and John Climacus. If you possess the requisite background information, however, this book is ripe with fruit.

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Review: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series Volume V Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series Volume V Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series Volume V Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises by Philip Schaff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Of course, the writings of St. Gregory are wonderful and treatise “On the Soul and the Resurrection” as well as his homily on the Theophany are wonderful must-reads. That almost goes without saying and in itself warrants the four-star rating I’ve given the book, so I won’t dwell on it. That aside, however, I have two complaints about this particular volume: 1. Overall, it wasn’t a very good selection. Over half of the book is St. Gregory’s work against the Eunomians; space could have spared and reserved for some of his other, more influential works. 2. The footnotes are, as in most of the Schaff volumes, hardly worth the ink it took to print them.

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Review: Ante-Nicene Fathers 5: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus; Cyprian; Caius; Novatian; Appendix

Ante-Nicene Fathers 5: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus; Cyprian; Caius; Novatian; Appendix
Ante-Nicene Fathers 5: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus; Cyprian; Caius; Novatian; Appendix by Alexander Roberts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The writings of the great Church Fathers St. Hippolytus of Rome and St. Cyprian of Carthage was well as of Caius and the heretic Novatian were fascinating throughout, of course. Particularly interesting to me was reading the correspondence of St. Cyprian throughout the years of the persecutions in North Africa. The editors might have served both themselves and their readers better had they cut down a bit on the anti-papal footnotes.

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Review: The Shaping of Christianity: The History and Literature of Its Formative Centuries

The Shaping of Christianity: The History and Literature of Its Formative Centuries
The Shaping of Christianity: The History and Literature of Its Formative Centuries by Gerard Vallee

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book epitomizes the phrase “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The author himself is clearly out of his depth and lacks the requisite knowledge and experience to adequately discuss the topic which he has taken up and provides the reader with just enough to confuse and mislead him (or her).

Vallee seems to rely excessively upon secondary sources, and not very good ones at that. His use of primary sources is sparse at best and most of those few citations he does provide for us seem to have been lifted directly from the secondary sources he uses rather than taken up by himself from a personal, firsthand reading of the actual primary sources. As a result, Vallee’s treatment is generally shallow and distorted and overly reliant on a single position on certain contentious issues.

Happily, his treatments of most subjects and individuals he covers are so brief that he can’t do much damage to the mind of the uninformed reader. Most of the book reads like a badly-written, ill-informed encyclopedia entry; the rest reads like a badly-written, ill-informed undergraduate term paper. The entire book is badly-written and ill-informed.

In short, if you are looking for an introduction to the formative/Patristic period of Christianity, this is not the book you’re looking for.

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