Thursday, April 18, 2013

Catholic Thursday: Clement of Rome and the Didache

As human beings, we like to think back to the good ole days. We think that life used to be simpler and more beautiful, and that everything modern is now bad or evil. Catholics have a tendency to fall into this trap as well, especially as it relates to our Church. We are always looking for that Golden Age of Christianity, before heresy crept in and everything was under attack by worldly and demonic forces. Well, the Church has never been perfect and never will be. Just read the New Testament, and you will see it in Paul's writings. However, if you would like to read writings after the New Testament, then I recommend starting with the Early Christian Fathers Series available at The Coming Home Network.

Today, I am reviewing Book 2 in the Early Christian Fathers Series, Clement of Rome and the Didache. Clement was considered the fourth pope, and the primary work attributed to him is his "Letter to the Corinthians." When reading through this letter, one can see that he had to write to this church community in Corinth for the same reasons that St. Paul did - sedition and rebellion. The "Didache" or "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" is considered a bridge between the writings of the New Testament and the Early Church Fathers like Clement or Polycarp. It contains early teachings used to guide the Church in her infancy.

In this book one finds both a new translation of the two works mentioned above, the "Didache" and Clement's "Letter to the Corinthians," and chapters explaining their context and content. I've tried reading these works before, particularly the translation of Philip Schaff, which were available for free online. While those texts were readable, they were a bit stilted. I guess that is to be expected since they were translated back in the 1800s. Kenneth Howell does a masterful job translating these two texts and provides plenty of footnotes at the bottom of every page to help the reader understand the texts better.

The most helpful part of the book is the chapters at the beginning, which set the stage for the subsequent texts. Like the Bible, one can pick up these works and read them and interpret them how they wish. To understand these texts, or the Bible for that matter, you need to understand the audience to whom they were written and their historical context. And while these works are not considered Scripture, they were widely read in the Early Church and thus hold an important message for us today. Therefore, I appreciated Dr. Howell spelling these things out in order to help us understand the meaning of these texts.

This book gets a 5 star rating from me as it helps make the Early Church Fathers accessible and readble to today's world. The only thing I would consider changing with regards to the book is the layout. Instead of putting all the chapters of introduction and explanation first and the texts second, I would break the book into two parts. The first part would have the explanatory chapters on Clement of Rome with the text to follow, and the second part would have the explanatory chapters on the "Didache" with the text to follow. I look forward to seeing how many books this series will ultimately comprise, and realize I now need to get Book 1, Ignatius Of Antioch & Polycarp Of Smyrna, in the series to read that as well.

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