Book Review: Handed Down by James Papandrea

Catholic Answers has published another solid book called Handed Down: The Catholic Faith of the Early Christians, by James Papandrea.

When I first saw this book, I wondered how it was different from Rod Bennett’s The Apostasy That Wasn’t. Both dealt with the early Church and what she believed. But the similarities really end there, another testimony to the need for a variety of apologetic works that cover the same kind of ideas but in completely different ways.

Clear and Accessible Teaching

Papandrea has a clear writing style and he lays out the importance of the Church Fathers in understanding the beliefs in the early Church.

Then the book is divided into chapters where he discusses a doctrine–say, the Eucharist–and after laying out the biblical, traditional, and historical case for that teaching, he follows up with a vignette of one of the Church Fathers.

James Papandrea Handed Down
James Papandrea Handed Down

So while we are learning the powerful Catholic arguments for the sacraments, Scripture and Tradition, the Communion of saints, and the papacy, we are also getting illuminating background on St. Clement (one of the first popes), Sts. Augustine and Ambrose, Pope St. Leo the Great and even more controversial figures like Novatian.

Along the way, Papandrea unearthed the most compelling quotes from the early Fathers, including from Sts. Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Tertullian.

The reader is treated to a survey of the early Church for the first few hundred years and what she taught and why. It is all thoroughly Catholic of course, one of the primary motivators for me to enter full communion with the Church from Protestantism. Reading the Church Fathers at any depth convinces you that the Catholic Church has a much more plausible claim to be true than does any form of Protestantism.

Papandrea is matter of fact in his delivery. No polemics or vitriol toward non-Catholics, just straight facts and evidence from history and what the most fitting answer is to them: The Catholic Church.

Pick up Handed Down today and grow in your understanding of the early Church and appreciation of Catholicism!

The Blood of the Martyrs Is the Seed of the Church

I just read Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s new book To the Martyrs: A Reflection on the Supreme Christian Witness and give it my strong recommendation.

Cardinal Wuerl starts from the beginning of the Church and explores the martyrdoms that Catholics have endured down through our time.

Martyrs in Every Age

Tertullian said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Cardinal Wuerl demonstrates the truth of that statement as he looks at the first martyrs in the early Church, including the Apostles, and how the Church grew from their witness.

tomartyrsHe moves forward in time to the various Roman persecutions, telling the story of what it was like to be a Christian during those times, how the Church grew from a tiny, insignificant thing into a powerful social, economic, and moral force in the Roman empire.

The Cardinal then heads into the 600s and did not hold back from describing the rise of Islam and its immediate persecution of Chrisitans:

Muhammad was astonishingly successful. He took many towns and oases, and he absorbed many tribes, sometimes through battles, but sometimes without any resistance at all. The key to many victories was the ferocity of Muhammad’s warriors, who had no fear of death. Indeed, they seemed to welcome it, as Muhammad had applied a traditional honorific term to his warriors who died in battle. It was a Christian term, martyr (shahid in Arabic), and it acquired a new meaning in the emerging religion known as Islam, whose followers were known as Muslims.

There is a key difference, however. The Christian martyrs laid down their own lives, but took no one else’s. The Arab warriors took many lives, including those of many Christians and Jews.

In the next chapter he jumps ahead to the Protestant Reformation and focuses on King Henry VIII. I was pleased to see here that he called out King Henry’s brutality, lust, and the grievous devastation he brought upon the Church, including countless martyrs, with Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher being the most well-known.

The Reformation paved the way for the Enlightenment, and Cardinal Wuerl describes the slaughter of Catholics during that time, including holy nuns and priests who brought the mobs to silence with their solemn, joyful witness to Christ even as they were being executed.

He then heads into the twentieth century–where more martyrs were made than in all the centuries prior–and discusses the reality of the Armenian Genocide by Islamic Turkey, the Mexican persecution and Cristero War, the Soviet Union, the Spanish Civil War, Nazi Germany, and Communist China.

But the blood shed has produced fruit already. For instance, in China:

In 1949 there were only one million Christians. Forty years of anti-religious communist rule produced some 1.2 million martyrs. The result: explosive church growth to today’s 90 million believers.”

Martyrdom Today

Cardinal Wuerl brings the reader up to the present day, and discusses the martyrdom in our age, where Islamists like ISIS make martyrs right before our eyes and upload the videos to YouTube.

And in our own country, persecution is rising. Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice here. To think that it can’t grow into something far worse ignores history, as Cardinal Wuerl points out:

And no land is safe from a sudden resurgence of persecution. Think about the bloodiest purges of the last century. Where did they take place? Catholic Spain. Orthodox Russia. Christian Germany. Christian Armenia. They began with small encroachments that grew greater over time.

To say “it can’t happen here” is to speak from profound naiveté and ignorance of history.

In January 2012, Pope Benedict XVI warned the United States bishops of a “radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres” in our land.

To conclude the book, Wuerl connects martyrdom–witness–with Jesus in the Eucharist:

As the Eucharist is a re-presentation of Jesus’ Passion, so is martyrdom. As the Eucharist is a voluntary self-offering, so is martyrdom. As the Eucharist brings about communion, so does the act of martyrdom. As the Eucharist is given so that others might live, so are the lives of the martyrs.

Having not read any books by Cardinal Wuerl before, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was impressed by this book. It was an excellent survey of Church history and how men and women gave their lives for Christ. They didn’t go looking for death, but when it came for them, they were ready. May we be so as well!

So go check out To the Martyrs and grow strong through the example and prayers of these great saints!

The Biblical Roots of the Mass

I recently read an excellent, in-depth book on the Biblical origins of the Mass written by Thomas J. Nash.

The Biblical Roots of the Mass successfully sets out to show that the Catholic Mass is of divine origin.

Begin At the Beginning

 

bibl1Nash begins with a deep examination of the Old Covenant, beginning with Creation itself in Genesis with the tree of life and how it ultimately points to the Eucharist. I liked how Nash begins at the beginning and in each chapter lists out the relevant Scripture passages for the topics he covers. Then at the end of each chapter he has discussion questions for a small group, RCIA class, or Bible study.

This book is dense. It is not a book you read in an evening. In fact, I read it during my weekly Holy Hour of adoration over the course of a few months.

Having written books myself, I have an appreciation for Nash’s work here: the level of research and scholarship required to write even one chapter of his book must have been incredible.

In Depth Explanations

 

For instance, I have always wanted a thorough and clear explanation of how the mysterious figure of Melchizedek relates to Christ and His priesthood. The allusions in the Bible to this association are few but obviously of great significance to Jewish people at the time of Christ and to the first Christians. Nash delves into this relationship and elucidates the background and importance of it.

From an apologetics standpoint, Nash answers the common Protestant objections to the Mass and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Such arguments, like “Catholics re-crucify Christ every Mass”, he analyzes, rebuts, and then goes one level deeper in explaining why they don’t work and what the actual Church’s teaching is on the subject. Another one he tackles is whether and how Christ could have been present in bread after consecrating it during the Last Supper.

The Biblical Roots of the Mass is an eye-opening book to understanding how the central sacrament of our Faith is directly connected to all the major events of salvation history.