Review: Ancient Christian Doctrines Volume 1

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I want to thank Intervaristy Press for this review copy. In the course of my studies, due to a long time commentator, on the history of doctrinal development, I have become interested in the Church Fathers. While I may not always agree with everything found in them, they serve as a vital link from our time to the Apostles. (Not to say that everyone followed the Apostles) It is important to constantly test your doctrine against that of history. With the multitude of new doctrines being formed, and ancient heresies resurrected, we should look to the past before going forward with any new idea, or revelation, which we might have.


Publisher’s Description: “We believe in one God, the Father.” The opening clause of the Nicene Creed can be summed up in a single word–monotheism. In the early centuries of the church, this striking doctrine stood starkly against a cultural background of multiple deities and spiritual powers. While it clearly builds on its Jewish heritage, calling God “Father” anticipates the Father-Son relationship in the Godhead that early Christians knew and robustly upheld.

The first article of the Nicene Creed also presupposes that there is an objective body of teaching that Christians are expected to confess as their faith. This idea seems normal and natural to us, but it was a novelty in the ancient world. Neither Judaism nor any pagan religion or philosophy could claim to have a closely defined set of beliefs that everyone adhering to it was expected to profess publicly and defend against all comers.

While this article on God the Father is the shortest and arguably oldest portion of the Creed, it fully sets forth the fundamental understanding of God as creator and originator of all that is. This commentary in its selection of texts from the early church highlights the common understanding of the One God in three Persons, elucidating the church’s understanding of divine attributes and Trinitarian relations.

A pdf copy of the Introduction can be found here.

As a followup to the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series, InterVarsity Press has issued a series on what many consider the most important creed formulated by Church councils – the Niceno-Constantinoplitan. (Compared to the Nicene Creed of 325, it includes major additions developed after the serious Arian controversies in the 4th century.) For the editors, this Creed is a binding tool of ecumenicalism which is shared by Catholic, Orthodox and most Protestants alike, so it is only natural that any series on ancient Christian doctrine which is meant to solidify what is considered orthodox focus on this creed.

In the chapters, the reader finds a consistent voice supported by mainstream theologians of the period, from the close of canon to the 8th century. One of the benefits/detractions is that the Editor uses only those writers who can be interpreted in the orthodox light, and only their orthodox writings. While this is acceptable if the intent is to issue a commentary on the creed, the reader may want to obtain other books for a history of the development of the Creed of 381.

Each chapter, as given below, opens with the the stanza in Greek, Latin, and English with the phrase to be supported in bold. The Editor then goes on to give a historical context of the particular phrase. This is followed by an overview which essentially is a summary, complete with references to the Fathers, of the forthcoming commentary. This overview is creedal in of itself in that it is short sentences from the various writers which you are about to read.

The chapters themselves are made up of short sayings by various authors including those who ended their Christian life less orthodox than one would like to believe, such as Tatian and Tertullian. The translation of these texts range from old texts modified slightly to new texts, never before translated, but done so for this work with a dynamic equivalency. The fact that this series uses never before translated works makes it a valuable resource to have.

This volume in particular deals exclusively with the first stanza, or article, of the Creed of 381, which is arguably the oldest section, and longest surviving (virtually unchanged from the days if Irenaeus) part of the creed. The chapters of the book are organized around each clause of the first line of the creed, as follows:

  • We Believe
  • In One God
  • The Father
  • The Almighty
  • Maker
  • Of Heaven and Earth
  • Of All That Is, Seen
  • And Unseen

Finally, the quality of the book is outstanding. It is a nicely designed hardback with a beautifully designed dust jacket. The print is readable, with the different authors clearly separated by bold print. The additional material includes a Scriptural Index, an outline, and a source for the authors used.

The main goal of the book is to “foster the edification of Christian believers” (xli), and with this volume, that goal should easily be accomplished.

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11 Replies to “Review: Ancient Christian Doctrines Volume 1”

  1. Joel, I’m really interested in this series. It sounds like it mainly consists of translations of primary texts. Is this right? Does it consist of much else?

  2. Joel,
    I have this series coming to me automatically, but not here. When it comes to this Creed, and the early great dogmatic work of the Eastern Orthodox, this definition of that portion of the creed of Christendom, which concerns theology proper – the doctrines of the essential nature of the Godhead and the doctrine of the Godhead in relation with manhood in the incarnation…shines forth truth.  But it is but a “fence around this great truth,” we cannot fully define it, but fence it we must, in certain truth!
    Fr. R.

  3. Yes Joel, it is sweet stuff really. I think we both might have to get a small house for just our books! lol  I am glad that you are in there working, reading and writing…these pieces! 
    Fr. R.

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