Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Catholic Courses: The First 500 Years - The Fathers, Councils, and Doctrines of the Early Church

Well, I just had the privilege of reviewing another course from Catholic Courses called The First 500 Years - The Fathers, Councils, and Doctrines of the Early Church. I never pass up an opportunity to learn more about the Early Church, especially the Early Church Fathers, so this course had my name written all over it! Fr. David Meconi, S.J. is your presenter, and if you would like to see an introduction for the course, watch the two minute video below.

Like all of Catholic Courses' main courses, there are eight lectures, each approximately 30 minutes. Lecture One is an introduction on Patristics that breaks the Fathers down into three categories - Apostolic Fathers, Apologists, and Great Theologians. Fr. Meconi then expounds on some of their writings. Lecture Two deals with the Persecution of Christians pre-Constantine and the Edict of Milan. Lecture Three discusses Constantine, and Lecture Four was my favorite as it dealt with the Cappadocian Fathers - Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. We in the West tend to overlook these three great saints, but they are responsible for key theological contributions on our understanding of the Trinity and in fighting heresies such as Arianism and Apollinarianism.

Lecture Five discusses the early Church's view on Mary and her role as Theotokos or the Mother of God or the God-bearer. This is a term that is still prominently used in Eastern Christianity but has mostly fallen out of use in the West. This term may seem like it only deals with Mary, but it also deals with Jesus, His two natures, and the heresy of Nestorius, and its correction by St. Cyril of Alexandria at the Council of Ephesus. Lecture Six talks about St. Augustine. It would not be a study of early Catholicism without detailed mention of St. Augustine. While he is one of the great Fathers of the West, I wish that one of the great Fathers of the East, St. John Chrysostom, would have gotten equal airtime.

Lecture Seven deals with Pope Leo the Great and the Council of Chalcedon. Lecture Eight deals with two main topics - the monks or Desert Fathers, primarily St. Antony of Egypt and doctrines of the Church  that St. John of Damascus was responsible for teaching. I personally would have preferred that we omit the teachings of St. John of Damascus, and focus on other monks in the Desert. Don't get me wrong. I love St. John of Damascus, and he played a huge role in the Church, but he was not present for the first 500 years of the Church. I therefore feel that the title of the Course should be changed with his addition. That is just me splitting hairs though.

I thoroughly enjoyed this product from Catholic Courses. There are a few parts I would like to see added in this course, but I have to remember that time is limited and there is only so much Fr. Meconi can cover, and there was already a lot of knowledge crammed into these eight courses. The great thing about our Church though is that there is always plenty to learn, and if a specific saint or topic interests you, you can do more reading on the subject. I hope there is another course covering the next 500 years or so in the works. Check back next month for my review of Unveiling the Apocalypse - The End Times According to the Bible.