Title page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-vi

Abbreviations

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pp. vii-vii

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Preface

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pp. ix-x

Several years ago I read Daniel Conneely’s Letters of Saint Patrick, in which the missionary’s work is viewed in the context of the patristic era. The experience led me to revisit a group of spiritual guides whose names and inspiring exploits were common currency until the sixties of the last century but who have fallen from public view in recent times...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-4

Acts of the Apostles opens with the birth of the Church at Pentecost, when the disciples, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” answered Christ’s call to “proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”1 Referring to the numerous people of differing origins and degrees who heard the apostolic message of salvation at that time...

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Chapter One: The Fathers and the Apostles

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pp. 5-11

The fidelity to Scripture and apostolic tradition that marked the patristic era was exemplified by the apostolic fathers of the first and second centuries, whose proximity to the age of the apostles has always fascinated Christians. Many were martyred, and their writings accorded an esteem approaching that of Scripture...

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Chapter Two: The Two Cities. Called To Serve

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pp. 12-23

Some of the most celebrated fathers of the Church ministered in the turbulent times which prevailed from the mid-fourth century to the end of the fifth. In the east, the long-lived Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who died in 373, was a redoubtable opponent of the Arian heresy and an early advocate of asceticism...

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Chapter Three: The Spririt of Asceticism

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pp. 24-34

Christ’s call to carry the cross is heard by all believers, for the spirit of self-sacrifice which characterized the lives of Jesus and his disciples lies at the heart of the Church’s devotional and ethical life. The disciples responded to the even more urgent call contained in the counsel of perfection...

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Chapter Four: Martyrs, Ascetics, and Fathers

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pp. 35-43

In their endeavors to fortify the faith of fellow Christians subject to the influence of a world which tolerated Christianity but was largely indifferent to its message, the fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries invoked the example of the martyrs. Jerome captured the prevailing situation in a wry observation on the paradox of a Church...

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Chapter Five: Humility and Truth. Testaments of Faith.

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pp. 44-55

Inspired by the ascetic ideal and committed to exclusive service of God and neighbor, the fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries renounced all worldly aspirations, whether social, political, or academic. However, some still felt burdened by the legacy of their liberal education...

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Chapter Six: Brotherhood and Betrayal

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pp. 56-67

The knowledge that, through faith, they share the same Father and enjoy the brotherhood of Christ is a profound source of comfort for Christians. The vision of God’s kingdom as a community of faith moved the earliest believers so profoundly that they chose to live together, owning “all things in common...

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Chapter Seven: The Sacramental Life

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pp. 68-75

At one in celebrating the divine goodness and mercy, fathers and ascetics preached a faith nourished by the spiritual benefits of the sacraments, whose power to bind believers to God and fellow Christians enables them to persevere on their journey. In the fourth and fifth centuries the term sacrament was applied to actions as diverse as the symbolum...

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Chapter Eight: The Power of Prayer

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pp. 76-83

Since apostolic times Christians have communicated their gratitude and needs to a caring and generous Creator who chose to share their nature and their plight. In the earliest surviving patristic letter Clement of Rome intoned a hymn of praise, asking God to teach all Christians “the full knowledge of the glory of his name...

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Chapter Nine: Defenders of the Faith

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pp. 84-95

In endeavoring to spread the Gospel and support the faith of fellow Christians, the fathers of the Church resisted any attempt to dilute or distort the apostolic message. They were conscious that, even from earliest times, there had been false teachers who, in Peter’s words, would “secretly bring in destructive opinions”...

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Chapter Ten: Leo the Great. Faith and Vision

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pp. 96-105

In 430, the year of Augustine’s death, the deacon Leo was one of Pope Celestine’s most trusted advisers. Long residence in Rome and his acknowledged ability had brought him to the heart of papal decision making. In his youth Leo had witnessed the sack of the city by Alaric. He may have met Augustine...

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Chapter Eleven: The Church and the Pagans

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pp. 106-115

Throughout the patristic period, the good news of salvation was preached with vigor and assurance, but the Church of the time tended to confine its ministry to the inhabitants of an empire under constant pressure from without. This did not signify rejection of Christ’s call to convert all peoples...

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Chapter Twelve: Renewal and Asceticism. Gregory the Great

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pp. 116-128

Leo the Great was pope for twenty-one years. He had exercised his ministry against a backdrop of constant social strife. In the decades following his death in 461, barbarian invaders consolidated their hold on the west, forging new kingdoms from the ruins of the empire. In 475 the last western emperor was replaced by Odoacer...

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Chapter Thirteen: The Pope, the Abbot, and the Gauls

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pp. 129-138

Eight years before Columba’s death, his namesake Columban left Ireland as a “pilgrim for Christ.” It was a journey of faith which led to the ascetic’s substantial contribution to the growth of European monasticism. Columban was over forty years old when Abbot Comgall reluctantly approved his decision to “obey the command that God gave Abraham”...

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Chapter Fourteen: Schism in Italy

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pp. 139-144

Columban and his brethren arrived in Bregenz in 610, six years after the death of Gregory the Great. During fourteen years of pastoral activity the pope had enhanced Rome’s relations with eastern sees, enlivened the faith in Africa and Europe, advanced church renewal in Gaul and Italy, and initiated the evangelization of England...

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Chapter Fifteen: The Wisdom of the Ascetics. Benedict, Columban, Cassian

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pp. 145-154

Augustine asserted that reason enables the individual believer to attain temporal truth and to advance in the knowledge of God, but that contemplation of the divine results from the deeper wisdom, born of faith, through which “I shall know even as I am now known.”1 An episode from John Cassian’s Conferences illuminates the bishop’s insight...

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Chapter Sixteen: Suffering, Sin, and Forgiveness

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pp. 155-162

For five centuries the fathers supported fellow Christians by word and example. They reassured those faltering on their pilgrimage, reminding them of the compassionate God who assumed human nature, suffered, and died for them. In a time of constant war and deprivation, with many tempted to abandon hope, Gregory the Great pondered the mystery of human suffering...

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Chapter Seventeen: Dispelling the Darkness

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pp. 163-171

In preaching the good news of salvation, the fathers spoke of the innate goodness of creation which, tainted by sin, was redeemed through the incarnation. Surveying a somber landscape blighted by war and famine, Gregory the Great found hope in the power of faith, prizing its ability to restore suffering humanity and illuminate the darkness...

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Chapter Eighteen: Aidan, Bede, and Boniface

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pp. 172-181

Gregory the Great died on 12 March 604, but followers of the fathers continued to promote the Gospel message of salvation and renewal. One devotee was Isidore, who was elected bishop of Seville in succession to his brother Leander, friend of Gregory. He saw the need to preserve the written treasury of the Church’s teaching...

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Chapter Nineteen: The Carolingians and the Two Cities

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pp. 182-194

The rigorous life and eventual fate of Boniface suggest the magnitude of the task facing those who worked to further faith and renewal in the eighth century. Just twenty years after the Englishman’s death, his attempted reform of the Frankish church was succeeded by Charlemagne’s ambitious efforts to restore religion, learning, and social structures...

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Chapter Twenty: The Gregorian Reform

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pp. 195-202

In 909, at a time of ever-encroaching darkness for Christians, the foundation of the monastery of Cluny, north of Lyons, proved to be the harbinger of a renewal which would envelop the Church within a century. The monastery was endowed by William, duke of Burgundy, and led by Berno, former abbot of Baume in Burgundy...

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Chapter Twenty-one: Anselm. In the Steps of the Fathers

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pp. 203-212

The eleventh-century Gregorian renewal saw the emergence of a monk whose contribution to the devotional, theological, and pastoral life of the Church is still celebrated. Firmly committed to Church reform and opposed to intrusion by secular leaders, Anselm was recognized by his contemporaries for his goodness, wisdom, and humanity...

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Chapter Twenty-two: The Last of the Fathers

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pp. 213-221

Anselm was the foremost spiritual teacher of the eleventh century. His counterpart in the twelfth, Bernard of Clairvaux, has often been referred to as the last of the fathers. Both men merit a place in that company. So pronounced was the Burgundian abbot’s spiritual and moral influence in his time...

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Chapter Twenty-three: Finding Jerusalem. Sparks from the Fire

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pp. 222-232

Bernard was convinced that the ascetic way, with its absolute acceptance of the divine will, represented the ultimate expression of love for God, the high road to heaven. He never spared himself in his efforts to win individuals to that road. Geoffrey, his biographer and former secretary...

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Chapter Twenty-four: Faith and Reason

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pp. 233-241

Shortly after meeting Malachy for the first time, Bernard was embroiled in the historic encounter with Peter Abelard. It was a dispute which had its origin in a letter from Bernard’s friend William of Saint Thierry, who feared that Abelard was imperiling the faith of Christians “in the Holy Trinity, the person of our mediator, Jesus Christ...

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Chapter Twenty-five: A Light Not Quenched. Bernard and the Bishops

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pp. 242-255

Bernard shared the fathers’ view that the Christian body’s spiritual health rests on the quality of its leaders. A devotee of Gregory the Great, he reminded bishops that, as successors of the apostles and primary teachers of the faith, they must be servants of God and not slaves of worldly values...

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Epilogue: The Legacy of the Fathers

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pp. 256-259

Two millennia after the birth of Christ, in an age which celebrates its material knowledge and success, many still pursue the quest for truth, while individual Christians continue to seek a more secure foundation for their faith. During the patristic age, dedicated men and women ensured that the way of faith became a living reality for believers...

Bibliography

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pp. 260-271

Index

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pp. 272-278