Monday, March 30, 2015

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia is one of the first series I remember reading as a child. I know I read other secular series, like Boxcar Children, Goosebumps, etc. However, none of them stuck with me the way this series has. Perhaps, it was because I played Edmund in a school production of it. Yes, I'm always typecast as the jerk. :) Perhaps, it was because the allegory of Aslan being Jesus hit me over the head and was something I at my young age could grasp. I'm not really sure the reason. I just know I still love this series. I love it so much that my paperbacks have cracked spines. If you know me, cracked spines are not something I love (unlike my lovely wife). Therefore, I have been investigating different editions (both text and audio) of this wonderful series.

The first one I tried was the audio version edition produced by Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre. When I received this product, I didn't realize that it was the dramatized version. That means that the text is more or less the same. There is a narrator, but more often than not, the character will exclaim something rather than have the narrator tell what the character is feeling or doing. For example, when Lucy was walking through the wardrobe and was crunching on snow, instead of having the narrator describe to us what she was thinking, Lucy directly tells us what she is thinking. If you want just the books, you will probably hate that it is dramatized, if it is not a deal breaker then it is the best dramatization I have heard, even better than the BBC one. What makes the dramatization so good? I attribute it to the cast of characters. When you have that many voices in a story, it helps to have a whole cast of people instead of one person trying to do every voice. There are also music and background noises that add to the story. I  must admit that these can be a bit overpowering at times. If you listen to the first five to ten minutes of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe it drowns out the four children's conversation a bit.

What really impressed me about this CD set is the packaging. For starters, it is in a nice study tin with Aslan front and center on it. Next, there are seven separate sleeves for each of the books. Each sleeve gives the date of publication and the order in the series, which the book is to be read following the chronological approach. With each book being on separate sleeves, you can choose to listen to the books in the original publication order, and expose your children to Narnia the way you were originally exposed to it. Also on the sleeves are a shield representing some facet of the particular book, like a lamppost for The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. The CDs themselves also look like works of art, and each one is unique looking. Lastly, there is a folded up map of Narnia included in this package. So if you are looking for an audiobook version of The Chronicles of Narnia and don't mind that it is dramatized, this is a beautiful edition to own. If you are looking for an unabridged audiobook version, then you'll have to buy Harper Collins' edition.

After looking at audio editions. I turned my attention to the text versions. There are several different versions available depending on if you want individual volumes or a treasury of them all in one book. Part of me was tempted to go for the treasury, because it was a hardcover, and I am a sucker for hardcovers! However, I didn't like the fact that since it was one volume, it was prearranged into the chronological order and not the published order. It's a minor pet peeve, but it almost forces you to read them in a specific order, and you shouldn't be shoved into an order, you don't prefer.

The edition that I ultimately settled on were the full-color collector's editions from Harper Collins. They come in paperback in the United States, but if you want them in hardcover, you can buy them from an Amazon seller or Amazon UK. These are the best editions, I have discovered. The illustrations are original Pauline Baynes illustrations. She also illustrated for Tolkien, so she is definitely my favorite illustrator. I remember being enchanted with her black and white illustrations when I first read this book, but adding color to these pages make them all the more vibrant. The pages are a thick, glossy paper that feel like they are built to last. The books themselves also have a nice weight to them, and the covers are just as beautiful as the illustrations on the inside. And even though these books are numbered chronologically on the spine, I can give them to my son in the order I choose to (which is publication order), and let him read them the original way the first time. After that, if he wants to read them in the chronological order he can. But he will at least have had the chance to experience the Narnia magic the correct way first. Well, these are my recommendations for Narnia books, both audio and text. What are your favorite editions and why?

These products were provided to me for free by Tyndale House Publishers (CDs) and Harper Collins UK (Books).

Friday, March 27, 2015

Meditations for Pasca (Ancient Faith Publishing)

Meditations for Pascha is the fourth book in a series by Fr. Vassilios Papavassiliou. The previous three were Meditations for Advent, Meditations for Great Lent, and Meditations for Holy Week. The book begins by discussing the meaning of the week which follows Pascha, also known as Bright Week or Renewal Week. There are three themes for this week - water, light, and renewal. It is in this week that we celebrate all things being made new by Christ's Resurrection. We also begin to get hints of Pentecost, despite it still being more than a month away. The rest of the book dedicates individual chapters to the weeks that follow Pascha, like Thomas Week; Week of the Myrrh-Bearing Women, Week of the Blind Man, etc.

Thomas Sunday was an interesting read. For starters, it is also known as Antipascha, not because it is in opposition to Pascha, but "instead of Pascha." On the Sunday of Pascha, in the evening, there is a Vespers service called the "Agape Vespers." In this service, the Church hears about the first post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus. If people are unable to make it to this service, then the following Sunday, known as "Thomas Sunday," they can hear about Thomas seeing the Risen Lord. Therefore, some of the Church is like Thomas in that he wasn't present when all the others first saw Jesus after his Resurrection. Little things like this are what makes the Orthodox calendar so awesome.

Another section, I particularly liked is the Week of the Paralytic. We all know this Gospel story from John. There was a man who lay at the pool of Bethesda who was paralyzed for 38 years. An angel would go down and stir the waters, and the first person who went in the water was cured. However, for 38 years, someone always went into the water before him, so he never was healed until Jesus came and healed the man Himself. Instead of focusing on the paralytic, Fr. Papavassiliou focuses on those around the man and compares them to us. We are all suffering from some sort of spiritual illness or paralysis. We may try and do good for our neighbors and help them when it's convenient for us. But what about when it comes down to us or them? Will we choose them over us? We like to think so, but unfortunately we are usually selfish and think only of ourselves.

This was another superb book of meditations by Fr. Papavassiliou. I believe there is one more book coming out in this series on the Twelve Great Feasts. After that, I believe the series will be done. I'm not sure the ins and outs of publishing and what kind of response is needed to merit a new printing of a book, but if possible, I think combining all of these Meditations books in a nice leatherette edition would be a nice idea, especially if it is the same quality as The Ancient Faith Prayer Book.

This book was provided to me for free by Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book of Hours (Holy Transfiguration Monastery)

The Book of Hours is a pocket-sized (4" x 6.5") edition of the Midnight Services and the Hours as printed in The Great Horologion. The Midnight Services include all forms for Weekdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The Hours included are the First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours along with all of their Mid-Hours and variants for Great Lent. There is also the full text of the Typica, which is a service used for whenever Divine Liturgy is not celebrated, like weekdays during Great Lent or when a priest is not present. The text itself is black for parts that are to be read and red for all instructions and rubrics.

Truth be told, I received this book in error. I actually requested Saint Symeon of Emesa, but received this one in error. I admit to being a bit ignorant when it comes to the Orthodox hours. This book encouraged me to read more about them and learn more about them. There is a similar structure between Catholic and Orthodox daily hours. For example. the Catholic office has Vespers (Evening Prayer), Compline (Night Prayer), Office of Readings, Lauds (Morning Prayer), Daytime Prayer (which can be one or all three), . The Orthodox cycle has Vespers (Evening Prayer), Compline (Night Prayer), Midnight Office, Matins (Morning Prayer), First Hour, Third Hour, Sixth Hour, and Ninth Hour, and Typica.

If you are Orthodox and interested in following the Daily Cycle, this is a great and affordable investment. Of course, you will want to pair it with the pocket Prayer Book and pocket Psalter. Overall, I would highly rate this book both for its affordability and it's high quality craftsmanship. The Holy Transfiguration Monastery doesn't print many books, but the ones they do are made to last a lifetime. The same can be said for their icons. In fact, they are my go to source for icons, as I have purchased at least a dozen from them! Be sure to check them out for your Orthodox needs.

This book was provided to me for free by The Holy Transfiguration Monastery in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Morning Offering (Ancient Faith Publishing)

Abbot Tryphon is both a blogger and podcaster at Ancient Faith Radio. He has recently published a book called The Morning Offering. It shares its name with both his blog and podcast. The book is laid out in the format of a daily devotional with a page devoted to each day of the year. The flaw with this book, as with most daily devotionals, is that they forget February 29th. Sure, this is only an issue once every four years, but it can be very annoying when you want a reading and don't have one.

Here is a sample of one of the reflections. January 1 begins by talking about typical resolutions, like losing weight or saving money. Instead of these cliched resolutions, Abbot Tryphon offers us these words of wisdom. "A better plan would be to pledge ourselves to exercise virtue during the coming year. Doing this means disposing ourselves to do good habitually and firmly. We pledge ourselves not only to perform good acts, but also to give the best of ourselves to others. Virtuous people tend toward the good with all their sensory and spiritual powers and also pursue the good, choosing to do it through concrete actions."

This and the many other great reflections in this book are the perfect way to start your day. Each reading takes only five to ten minutes to read, so you can read it over breakfast or a cup of coffee. At times, you cannot tell this book is Eastern Orthodox, but then he makes references to hesychia, Elder Paisos of Mount Athos, and St. John the Wonderworker.This is neither a criticism nor a compliment, merely an observation. Therefore, you could buy this book for your Catholic or Protestant family and friends, and they would find it approachable and understandable as well. Even though the year is almost one-fourth over, it's not too late to draw closer to God. This book is a simple starting point for doing just that.

This book was provided to me for free by Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Seven Words of Jesus and Mary (Angelico Press)

Seven Words of Jesus and Mary is another recent Fulton Sheen re-release from Angelico Press that made it here in time for Lent 2015. In this 70 page book, Sheen begins with a summary of Homer's epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Many of us know these works. In the first, Achilles defeats (kills) Hector, and in the other Odysseus is lost at sea while his wife Penelope waits for his return. He astutely points out though that it is Hector who is the hero, not Achilles, and that Penelope is the hero, not Odysseus. He then uses these examples of the defeated man and the sorrowful woman to compare them to Jesus and Mary during Christ's Passion.

Sheen then points out a fact I never realized before. Mary is only recorded as having said seven phrases in the New Testament. This leads to the heart of the book - a juxtaposition of Jesus' seven last phrases with Mary's seven total phrases. One such example of their words next to each other is Jesus saying, "Behold your Mother," and Mary saying, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord." In these words, Sheen shows us that religion is not something one experiences individually. It is a communal thing that requires fellowship with others. That is why Mary willingly gave herself to be the mother of Jesus and bring salvation into the world. It is also why Jesus gave John (and by extension us) His mother while He was hanging on the cross.

This book reminded me of another book that Fulton Sheen penned called, The Cross and the Beatitudes. In that book, Sheen too focused on Jesus' seven last words and compared them to the Beatitudes. I already knew that Sheen was a highly intelligent man, but reading both of these books, it is clear that Sheen valued these seven phrases perhaps more than any other seven phrases in human history. If you need a perfect book for Holy Week, particularly Good Friday, I highly recommend Seven Words of Jesus and Mary and The Cross and the Beatitudes. Neither one will disappoint you, and you will walk away with a better understanding of the seven last words and a deeper love of Jesus.

This book was provided to me for free by Angelico Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Remade for Happiness (Ignatius Press)

Today in Fulton Sheen week, I will be reviewing Remade for Happiness. This book was originally published in 1946, but Ignatius Press has recently re-released it for our spiritual edification! There are fourteen chapters in this book. The first seven are questions Sheen asks and answers for us.

1. Are you happy?
2. What is God like?
3. What are you like?
4. How did you get that way?
5. Who can remake you?
6. Is religion purely individual?
7. How can you be remade (if you so choose to be remade)?

As you can see, there is a natural progression with the questions. The first question leads us to the realization that though we experience moments of happiness, we are not truly happy. If we were, then we wouldn't need to continue to look for happiness. The second question introduces to God, the One who can make us happy. We are then juxtaposed with God and it is explained why we are the way we are. Chapter Five brings God back into the picture and explains that we cannot remake ourselves. If we could, we would not need God. Six also strips away the pride of the individual letting us know that we cannot experience salvation alone. We need others to get to Heaven. That is why we have Mother Church. Then, in one of the longer chapters, Chapter Seven walks us through the process of being remade.

The next four chapters in this book walk us through the Four Last Things - Judgment, Purgatory, Hell, and Heaven. He explains that in our judgment, everything will be stripped away and we will be left to be judged by our choices. However, God will not be the one judging us. We will be judging ourselves by the life we lived. There will be no pleading or bargaining, merely the cold reality of truth. After this judgment, he explains so succinctly that there are three possible destinations. "Hell: Pain without Love; Purgatory: Pain with Love; and Heaven: Love without Pain." The final three chapters fittingly deal with faith, hope, and charity (or love).

I was born 3 years after Fulton Sheen's death, so I never had the opportunity to see or listen to him live. That doesn't mean I haven't watched or listened to almost all of his old programs, though. This book is classic Sheen and reads like he is there speaking the words to you. It is practical, straightforward theology without unnecessary words. Part of me is telling me to pass on my copy of this book to someone else, so they may gain from its riches. The other part of me is telling me to keep this book and reread it at least once more. You too might experience this conflict after you read it, so you better buy two!

This book was provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this book helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Characters of the Passion (Angelico Press)

This week at Stuart's Study, I'll be highlighting one of the most well known and beloved American Catholics in recent history, Fulton Sheen. That means that I will be reviewing three of his recently re-released works. During this week, I encourage you to discover other works of his, re-listen to his old programs, and pray that his cause for canonization will be re-opened. Now, let us begin with the first review - Characters of the Passion.

Characters of the Passion is a brief (72 page) book perfect for reading and reflecting through Lent or Holy Week. It is divided into seven chapters and focuses on the following people - Peter; Judas; Pilate; Herod; Claudia and Herodias; and Barabbas and the Thieves. It concludes with a brief reflection on the Scars of our Lord and how Christ can bring us hope if we but believe He is God and follow Him.

The most interesting chapter to me dealt with Herod, not the Herod who killed all the males of Israel when Jesus was a baby, but Herod's son - the one who had John the Baptist beheaded. We don't think of Herod too much when it comes to the Passion, but he was there. After Jesus is held before Pilate, he is then sent to Herod. Sheen points out that Herod was descended from Esau, makes an interesting comparison between the two, and explains why Herod acts the way he does. He then takes the time to answer one of the great questions of the Passion. Why did Jesus stand silent before Herod? I'd tell you, but you'll have to buy the book and find out.

It's amazing to read a book that is almost sixty years old and have the message still be pertinent to today. Fulton Sheen always seems to accomplish that though. His words prove timeless, because they contain truth, and truth is never timeless. There are a lot more characters that could have been discussed including Mary, Simon of Cyrene, and Joseph of Arimathea, just to name a few. Why they weren't, I do not know. But the fact that they weren't doesn't lessen the book at all. Highly recommended!

This book was provided to me for free by Angelico Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here! Also, be sure to check out their other Sheen titles - A Brief Life of ChristThe Cross and the Beatitudes, and Seven Words of Jesus and Mary.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Twenty Shakespeare Children's Stories (Sweet Cherry Publishing)

The first time I was exposed to Shakespeare was freshman year of high school. Sure, I had heard the name before, but I had never read any of his words. We were forced to read Romeo and Juliet, and yes I mean it when I say forced. His words were an English that I did not understand, and the references he made went over my head nine times out of ten. We slogged through this play, without me getting much out of it. Sure, there were copious amounts of footnotes, but when the footnotes nearly equal the length of the play, it's hard to hold my interest. This happened for the next three years with Julius Caesar, Othello, and finally Hamlet. My understanding did increase marginally from year to year, but I always regretted not appreciating the Bard as much as I could and should have. I don't want my children to have these same regrets, so I am going to expose them to Shakespeare earlier than I did. One way I am going to do that is with Twenty Shakespeare Children's Stories. Included in this collection are the following plays:

1. A Winter's Tale
2. All's Well That Ends Well
3. Antony and Cleopatra
4. As You Like It
5. The Comedy of Errors
6. Cymbeline, King of Britain
7. Julius Caesar
8. King Lear
9. A Midsummer Night's Dream
10. Much Ado about Nothing
11. Othello
12. Romeo and Juliet
13. The Merchant of Venice
14. Macbeth
15. The Two Gentlemen of Verona
16. Timon of Athens
17. Twelfth Night
18. Hamlet
19. The Tempest
20. The Taming of the Shrew

Each story is 64 pages long with illustrations on almost every page. The beginning of each book starts with a one page introduction on who Shakespeare was. It then gives a cast of characters for each play. Unfortunately, in these character descriptions there is a bit of plot given away that while it wouldn't surprise an adult, could potentially spoil the play for your child. For example from Julius Caesar, "Brutus is one of the conspirators. He is a high-ranking nobleman and easily influenced. He conspired to kill Julius because Julius was getting too powerful and posed a threat to the republic." And from Othello we read about him that, "He wins the heart of Desdemona because of his virtues. But later in the play, he kills her because of his insecurities based on racial and cultural differences." Knowing people are going to die in the play takes a bite out of the play.

Each book took me approximately ten minutes to read, and that was reading it a slow deliberate pace. Your child could read it in about that same time, maybe twenty minutes at most. The books read a bit like Cliff Notes, and I don't mean that in a bad way. There is no rhyme, no iambic pentameter, and no five acts. It is written in easily understood prose with a large font that will make your child proud when they have finished a book! If you are a teacher, a librarian, or a homeschooling parent, this collection belongs on your shelf. I know we will be reading and re-reading this series for many years to come!

This collection was provided to me for free by Sweet Cherry Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The World of Saint Patrick (Oxford University Press)

March 17th is quickly approaching. Even the secular world knows this to be St. Patrick's Day. However, their associations with the day are grossly misinformed. They think of leprechauns, pots of gold, shamrock shakes, and green beer with an excuse to get drunk for no good reason. What they don't realize is that March 17th is actually the day he died. He used the shamrock to help simplify the mystery of the Trinity. He also banished all the "snakes" from Ireland. These probably weren't real snakes, but the serpent symbolism of the Druids. If you would like to learn more about St. Patrick, I recommend you read writings about him, by him, and about other saints from Ireland. Oxford University Press has compiled a nice collection in their recent book The World of Saint Patrick. Within this book, the following texts are included:
  • Saint Patrick's Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus
  • Saint Patrick's Confession
  • The First Synod of Saint Patrick
  • The Hymn of Saint Secundinus
  • Saint Patrick's Breastplate
  • Muirchu's Life of Saint Patrick
  • The Life of Saint Brigid
  • The Voyage of Saint Brendan
Each of these three other saints - Secundinus, Brigid, and Brendan were people who lived in the century following St. Patrick's death. I am familiar with Saint Patrick's Confession and Saint Patrick's Breastplate, but the other texts were new to me. In both his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, we see St. Patrick's humility, as he starts both works with an introduction of who he is. His first description for himself in both works is a sinner. The Life of Saint Patrick and The Life of Saint Brigid were both insightful and gave us key info on their lives, as well as some of the legends associated with them. In both tales, we also get brief descriptions of some of the miracles that both St. Patrick and St. Brigid performed.

The Voyage of Saint Brendan was the most enjoyable selection for me. For starters, I had never heard of Saint Brendan before, and it's always fascinating to learn about new saints. Like many tales of early saints, people can try to read too much into them and take tradition to be history as we know it, meaning actual facts and dates. Those who try to draw the conclusion that Saint Brendan and his companions made it to the Americas would be reaching for something that might not have happened. Instead, one should read this tale as a spiritual journey. Saint Brendan and his fellow monks were searching for their "desert" like the monks and spiritual fathers in Egypt had. The account of them encountering Judas while sailing was a mixture of interesting and puzzling. I read it several times, and I have to wonder both the significance and spiritual lesson one takes from it.

So if you are an Irish-American Catholic, a Catholic with a love for Irish saints, or just someone who enjoys reading older texts about saints, I highly recommend this book for you.

This book was provided to me for free by Oxford University Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Manual for Spiritual Warfare (TAN Books)

The Manual for Spiritual Warfare has been one of the most popular Catholic books in recent memory. It seems like as soon as TAN Books ships them out to various retailers, they fly off the shelf before the dust ever settles. Now, I for one, don't normally fall prey to popular books. I like to think I look for the less known and less popular books, but when I was offered a chance to review this book, I figured I'd see what all the hype was about. Boy, was I glad that I did!

The Manual for Spiritual Warfare begins with a guide on how to use this manual. It tells us that we are in an ongoing battle against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. This book focuses on our war against the Devil! Part One "lays out the biblical and theological foundations for our warfare with the Devil," and Part Two gives us help for the battle, i.e., hymns, Scripture, and prayers. Part One was easily my favorite part. It was divided into six chapters that are as follows:

1. Know Your Enemy
2. Know Your Battle
3. Know Your Commander and Comrades
4. Know Your Weapons
5. Know Your Armor
6. Keep the Enemy out of the Camp

Keeping the enemy out seems like the most obvious of advice, but as easy as it sounds, he still finds a way in our camp. One way Satan ends up in our camp is through "Trojan horses," like Ouija boards or fortunetelling. "Poisonous reptiles" are another way Satan sneaks into our camp. St. Teresa of Avila referred to "little" sins that we don't think are important or significant are poisonous reptiles.  The last bit of advice is to "fight the good fight," which leads into Part Two that provides us with methods of fighting.

I also enjoyed reading about spiritual warfare in the lives of the saints. Here we see examples from St. Anthony the Great, St Benedict, and lots from the Desert Fathers, I love the Desert Fathers, so any book that promotes reading them gets a good mark in my book! Obviously, I am going to recommend you buy this book, but buying it is not enough. Carry it with you everywhere you go. Read it. Study it. Memorize the Scriptures. Engrave the prayers on your heart. This is one of the best books on spiritual warfare since Lorenzo Scupoli's The Spiritual Combat! Bound in premium ultra-soft leather, this makes a beautiful gift for Confirmations, graduations, birthdays. or even weddings. Don't buy just one of these. Buy two, because you won't want to give up your copy when a friend asks to borrow yours!

This book was provided to me for free by TAN Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Hobbit: Illustrated Edition (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

As my son grows older, I find myself gravitating to older children's books that are illustrated. We have the complete collection of the Wizard of Oz illustrated and have recently acquired the complete Chronicles of Narnia, which i will be reviewing next week. Recently. I have been looking into illustrated Tolkien titles. There are two primary illustrators for his work - Pauline Baynes (who also illustrated Narnia) and Alan Lee. In late 2013, however, Jemima Catlin joined the list of illustrators with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's publication of The Hobbit: Illustrated Edition.

The Hobbit: Illustrated Edition does not require a review of the story, as it is a familiar tale, which we have all read, seen the movie, or both. (If you've only seen the movies, I do implore you to read the book.) Instead, I will give you a brief description of this edition of the book. To begin with, it is what one would call a gift edition. It is a thick hardcover with approximately 400 pages and measuring 7 inches by 9.2 inches. The pages are thick and glossy pages, which I greatly appreciate, because there is nothing worse than being able to see the words/pictures of a previous page through your current page. The font is nice and readable, about 12 point font. The illustrations are mostly 1/5 to 1/4 of the page size, with about a handful of full page ones, and the frequency of the illustrations are about every other page to every third page.

The illustration style can be described as colored pencil sketch-like quality. I would describe Ms. Catlin's interpretations of the words into pictures as very literal. For example, on page 102, it reads, "He turned now and saw Gollum's eyes like small green lamps coming up the slope." That's exactly what you see are Gollum with green lights coming out of his eyes like flashlights. You should check out Ms. Catlin's personal website to see some of her illustrations to get an idea if you like her style. Overall, I was pleased with the book and know the pictures will help the story come alive for my child. If you are looking for a birthday gift for the Tolkien lover in your family, this would make a great choice.

This book was provided to me for free by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians (InterVarsity Press)

Any serious student of the Bible and Patristics is well aware of and perhaps very familiar with InterVarsity PressAncient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS). I eyeballed this series for years, read samples, and talked to people about it. One thing always kept me from biting the bullet and purchasing this series. It always just a felt a little incomplete to me. In the ACCS, each passage/verse of Scripture is accompanied by commentary text from various Church Fathers (including Augustine, Chrysostom, and Origen to name just a few). On the one hand, this is great because you get a wide variety of viewpoints on a specific passage. On the other hand, to someone like me who would like to read that Father's viewpoint on the whole book and not just passages, it felt incomplete to me. Luckily for me, and people like me, there is a somewhat new series out called Ancient Christian Texts (ACT). From the general introduction, "This series extends but does not reduplicate texts of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS). It presents full-length translations of texts that appear only as brief extracts in the ACCS. I will be reviewing this series on my blog over the coming months/year, starting today with Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians by Ambrosiaster.

For those in the dark, like me before reading this book, Ambrosiaster ("Star of Ambrose") was an anonymous author of the earliest complete Latin commentary on St. Paul's thirteen epistles. The commentary was written during the reign of Pope Damasus, which occurred from 366-384. Originally, these commentaries were attributed to St. Ambrose. However, it was Erasmus who shed doubt on the author being St. Ambrose, and he was later proven right. The Latin text differs from the Vulgate and is probably taken from the Bible version known as the Itala. In fact, it seems he was opposed to St. Jerome's efforts to revise the old Latin version. Ambrosiaster's commentaries do not search for hidden or allegorical meanings, but instead focus on the plain and simple. He is more interested in logical or literal meaning of the text. Knowing this, it clearly distinguishes him from St. Ambrose who was very interested in a higher, mystical meaning of Scripture. To illustrate his writing style, I am going to quote his commentary on a few well-known Scripture passages.

Romans 8:28 - We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

Paul says this because the prayers of those who love God, even if they are inept will not fail them. God knows the intention of their heart and their ignorance, and will not give them things they ask for if they are harmful. Rather, he teaches them what out ought to be given to people who love God. This is what the Lord said in the Gospel: For your Father knows what you need, even before you ask him. Those who are called according to the promise are those whom God knew would be true believers in the future, so that even before they believed they were known.

1 Corinthians 13:13 - So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Love is the greatest because while faith is preached and hope pertains to the future life, love reigns. As 1 John says: By this we know his love, that he laid down his life for us. Love is therefore the greatest of the three, because by it the human race has been renewed.

It is clear just from these two passages how simple and straightforward Ambrosiaster's commentaries actually are. We can also see he has a good knowledge not only of Pauline epistles, but of the Gospels and catholic epistles as well. The beautiful thing about his commentaries are that they are verse by verse. Some ancient Christian writings were "merely" homilies, which covered whole chapters. Therefore, if there was a particularly troubling verse, it might not be covered in the homily. This isn't true with Ambrosiaster. Every chapter and every verse is covered beautifully. I am very pleased with this book Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians and I can't wait to tackle his next book Commentaries on Galatians - Philemon. If you are a lover of Scripture and Patristics, like me, you need these commentaries. Ambrosiaster is a large unknown, and he shouldn't be because he could be the most significant source of Latin Patristics between Cyprian and Jerome.

This book was provided to me for free by InterVarsity Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Acts of the Apostles (Liguori Publications)

The Acts of the Apostles is another volume in the Liguori Catholic Bible Study series, written by Fr. William A. Anderson. Like other books in this series, it begins with an introduction to the series, a basics on Lectio Divina, and tips for how to use the book. There is then introductory material on Acts, which includes the author, audience, and themes found in this book of Scripture. There are then eight lessons, each with a segment for group study and individual study (with the exception of Lesson One). This is done to encourage you to study Scripture together, and also to expose you to all of the particular book of the Bible in a reasonable timeline. If you tried to study every chapter as a group, it would take a lot more than eight lessons. The lesson titles are:

1. Preparing for Mission
2. The Mission in Jerusalem
3. Persecutions in Jerusalem
4. The Mission in Samaria and Judea
5. The Gentile Mission
6. Paul's Missionary Journeys
7. Paul Imprisoned
8. Paul Brought to Rome

Each group lesson comes with questions to discuss and prayers. Each individual study spreads out your study over several days and focuses on important passages to meditate on using Lectio Divina. I appreciate this format as Lectio Divina has always been difficult for me. There are two things I would have placed emphasis on in this book that I didn't notice Fr. Anderson did. First, while Fr. Anderson did point out that Luke was the author, I think he should have made it clear that the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles are basically two parts of one book. You can't and shouldn't read one without reading the other. Secondly, what always helped me understand Acts was breaking it into two parts, the book of Peter and the book of Paul. Those complaints aside, this was still a useful study and I would recommend it to any group looking for a Bible study book on Acts. Four stars!

This book was provided to me for free by Liguori Publications in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!