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The First Four Centuries of the Church and the New Evangelization

The First Four Centuries of the Church and the New Evangelization

Teresa Matula Bobrow

Teresa Matula Bobrow is a retired teacher who has a Master of Philosophy
in Latin from the University of Toronto.

We must realize that there is a huge gap that exists in the Western Church.
By that I mean our understanding and knowledge of the wonderful writings
of the Greek Fathers of the Church.  In fact, an international conference was
held in Jerusalem at Hebrew University in June 2013. (1) It concentrated on
the state of Patristics Studies throughout the world. The New Evangelization
will fail if it is not rooted in the Tradition of the first four centuries of the Church.
Almost all of the teaching during those centuries was in Greek.

In Section 688 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: "The Church,
a communion living in the faith of the Apostles which she transmits, is the place
where we know the Holy Spirit . . . In the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers
are timely 'witnesses.' " (2) Again in Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's Verbum
Domini, Section 37: "A significant contribution . . . can also come from renewed
attention to the Fathers of the Church . . . The Church Fathers present a theology
that still has great value today because at its heart is the study of sacred Scripture
as a whole.  Indeed, the Fathers are primarily and essentially 'commentators' on
sacred Scripture.' "(3)

Interestingly, Father Roberto Spataro, professor at Universita Pontificia Salesiana
In Rome, presented a paper at the June 2013 International Association of Patristics
Studies conference , in which he concentrated on Benedict XVI's Catecheses
on the Church Fathers, that is, the General Audiences dedicated to the Church
Fathers. (4)  In 2007-2008 Benedict XVI saw fit to teach the essentials about the
earliest Church Fathers at his Wednesday General Audiences.  Obviously, this
was a very powerful way to present the early Fathers of the Church.  Let us
follow suit.

On March 7, 2007, Benedict XVI pointed out that St. Clement, fourth bishop of
Rome, " ' had seen the blessed Apostles, had been conversant with them, and might
be said to have the preaching of the apostles still ringing [in his ears], and their
traditions before his eyes.' " He is quoting St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons until
202 or 203. (5)  We know from Eusebius of Caesarea that " ' There is extant an
Epistle of this Clement which is acknowledged to be genuine and is of considerable
length and of remarkable merit. He wrote it in the name of the Church of Rome to
the Church of Corinth, when a sedition had arisen in the latter Church.  We know
that this Epistle also has been publicly used in a great many Churches both in former
times and in our own.' " (6). Benedict XVI tells us that this Letter by Clement can be
dated immediately after 96 A.D. after Emperor Domitian's death.  This Letter gives
us direct evidence of the very early existence of the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
According to St. Irenaeus:   " ' In the time of this Clement, no small dissension
having occurred among the brethren in Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most
powerful Letter to the Corinthians exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith and
declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the Apostles. ' " (7)

The following Wednesday, March 14, 2007, Benedict XVI spoke about St. Ignatius,
Bishop of Antioch from 70 to 107.  Eusebius of Caesarea, Church historian who
lived in the fourth century, gives us important details about St. Ignatius: " ' he
fortified the parishes in the various cities where he stopped  [on his way to Rome]
by homilies and exhortations, and warned them above all to be especially on their
guard against the heresies that were then beginning to prevail, and exhorted them
to hold fast to the tradition of the Apostle. ' " (8).  On his way to martyrdom in Rome
Ignatius visited St.Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who was a disciple of St. John.
In Smyrna Ignatius wrote to the Churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralli and Rome.
Then in Troas he wrote two letters to the Churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna and
a letter to St. Polycarp.  The Letters of St. Ignatius are required reading for any
Christian for their expression of this saint's extraordinary love of God.  He yearned
for union with God and bravely welcomed martyrdom.  When writing to the Church
In Ephesus, he said, " ' It is fitting that you should concur with the will of your Bishop ' "
(9), and in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans  he said, " ' Let no man do anything connected
with Church without the Bishop.'" (10)  Above all, he urged unity, " ' Be one' " (11)
it was St. Ignatius who wrote that the Church is "catholic" or "universal".Wherever
Jesus Christ is there is the Catholic Church.' " (12)

Now we move on to St. Justin, philosopher and martyr (Benedict's General Audience
on March 21, 2007).  St. Justin lived,from about 100 to 165, a famous apologist who
defended the Church against both pagans and Jews. It took him a long time to become
a Christian, for he was seeking truth in Greek philosophy.  He even started a school
in Rome, where students could learn about Christian truth for free!  This resulted in
his being martyred about 165 under Emperor Marcus Aurelius. These writings of his
survive, two Apologies and a Dialogue with the Hebrew, Trypho.  Benedict tells us this
about St. Justin: " ' Although he continued to hold Greek philosophy in high esteem
after his conversion, Justin claimed with power and clarity that he had found in
Christianity , the only sure and profitable philosophy.' " (13). In fact, Justin associates
pagan mythology with the lies of the Devil - a very strong accusation. For him Christ is
the Truth. 

On March 28, 2007, Benedict XVI centred his General Audience on St. Irenaeus, who
was most likely born in Smyrna between 135 and 140.  He studied under Bishop
Polycarp, a disciple of St. John the Apostle., By 177 he was a presbyter in Lyons and
shortly thereafter became Bishop of Lyons until 202 or 203.  He was.a strong opponent
of heresies.  We have two works of his.The Detection and Overthrow of the False Gnosis
as well as Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching, which Benedict labels the "oldest
catechism of Christian doctrine." (14). Irenaeus was adamant about handing on the true
Faith, which he had learned from St. Polycarp.  He writes " ' the Tradition passed down
by the Apostles and the faith proclaimed to men . . . Have come down to us through the
succession of Bishops. ' " (15).  St. Irenaeus firmly taught that God the Holy Spirit
enables the Church to preserve the true Faith.

Clement of,Alexandria was the topic of Benedict's April 25, 2007 General,Audience.
He was born in Athens, most likely during the middle of the second century.  He was
also steeped in Greek philosophy, became head of the catechetical school in Alexandria
and died in Caesarea in 215.  His famous works are the Protrepticus, the Paedagogus
and the Stromata, dealing with the life of the soul. (16). In the Protrepticus it is Jesus
Christ who encourages a person to seek truth.  In the Paedagogus Jesus is the tutor
of the baptized person.  In the Stromata Jesus teaches the baptized  person more
intensely. (17). St. Irenaeus takes the Christian by the hand, so to speak, to lead him
in developing his spiritual life, knowledge and love of Christ who is Truth. (18). For
Clement of Alexandria, Benedict tells us: " ' two virtues embellish the soul . . .freedom
from the passions [and] love, the true passion that assures intimate union with God.
Love gives perfect peace and enables [one to] climb . . .to the peak of virtue.' " (19)
For Clement Greek philosophy led to the Logos, Jesus Christ.  (20)  Here is a prayer
that Clement wrote to Christ the Logos: " '. . . Grant us that we may live in your peace
. . .sail over the billows of sin without capsizing, be gently wafted by your Holy Spirit.' "

Origen of Alexandria was the next outstanding early Church leader that Benedict XVI
meditated upon in his April 25, 2007 General Audience.  Eusebius in his Church History
tells us about Origen:  by the divine power working with him he aroused a great many to
his own zeal.' " (22). This great theologian died in 250; to him we credit the ways to
Interpret Scripture: what a passage really means, how to apply it to one's Christian
life, and how all of Scripture points to Jesus Christ,(23). On May 2 Benedict continued
his catechesis on Origen of Alexandria, who stressed that we must not just study
Scripture, but we must study Scripture prayerfully. (24) In his ninth Homily on Leviticus
Origen deals with the common priesthood of the faithful, urging Christians to lead a pure
and honest life, strengthened by faith and knowledge of the Scriptures.  " ' Impress upon
us the light of your face, O Lord. . .' "(25)

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria was the topic of Benedict's June 20, 2007 General Audience.
Saint Athanasius was a great Teacher of the early Church, who denounced the Arian
heresy.  He was born in Alexandria around 300, became well-educated, then a deacon
and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria. This meant that he was able to participate in
the Council of Nicaea of 325, which condemned Arianism.  Benedict XVI pointed out that
this heresy is still with us when so many regard Jesus as only a man. (26). In 328
Athanasius became Bishop of Alexandria and vehemently defended the divinity of
Jesus, indeed enduring exile and suffering, but continuing to teach the truth about
Jesus. He was close to the hermit St. Antony in Egypt and promoted the monastic life.
His greatest work is On the Incarnation of the Word, that God became man, is near,
with us.  Other writings of his include four Letters on God the Holy Spirit, and about
thirty other Letters to the Churches and monasteries in Egypt.  He also wrote meditations
on the Psalms and the well-known Life of Antony, influential in spreading Eastern
monasticism.  (27)  Athanasius tells us that the hermit St. Antony's fame was a result
of " ' his piety towards God . . .[a] gift of,God. . . Who makes his own known everywhere
. . .to lighten all. . .and be zealous in the path of virtue. ' " (28)

As we have seen, the early Fathers of the Church have so much to offer us.  They must
not be neglected but incorporated into the New Evangelization. Their fervour, conviction,
solid teaching, extended to so many, are an example to all of us.  They were guided by
the Holy Spirit to carry on despite all the odds.  In no way did they water down the Faith
to appease their opponents.  Let us take a look at what John Paul II had to say in
Catechesis in our Time (1979),Section 12: " The mission of teaching that belongs to the
apostles and their fellow workers was continued by the Church . . .From Clement of Rome
to Origen, the post-apostolic age saw the birth of remarkable works. . .Some of the most
impressive Bishops and pastors, especially in the third and fourth centuries considered
it an important part of their episcopal ministry to deliver catechetical instructions and
write treatises." (29)

It is important that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI devoted so many General Audiences to
the early Fathers of the Church.  He surely set an example that we need to be familiar
with the early Church Fathers in order to renew our Faith and acquire zeal and courage to
pass on the truths of Christ, knowing that so many Church Fathers, many of them saints,
are with us, helping us as we read their works.  We must not forget to ask for their

Yes, it is also important that the early Church Fathers were a part of the June 2013
International Patristics conference when Father Roberto Spataro delivered a paper on
Benedict XVI's General Audiences on the early Church Fathers. Not only Benedict
XVI but also Father Spataro made a great contribution to the New Evangelization
by dwelling upon the early Church Fathers.

A far cry from the lives and writings of the early Church Fathers is akedia, boredom,
discouragement, dissatisfaction.  In his April 24, 2013 General Audience Pope Francis
encourages us to wake up: " The life of slumbering Christians is a sad life, it is not a
happy life.  Christians must be happy, with the joy of Jesus.  Let us not fall asleep!"
(30). Are we half-asleep or wide awake, letting our joy as Christians make us look
happy and energized to be authentic evangelizers?  Let us take a look at akedia,
using Jean-Claude Larchet's book, Remedy for Spiritual Illnesses. (31)

"Akedia is a neighbour to sadness. . .certainly corresponds to a certain state of laziness
and a state of boredom, but also of disgust, aversion, weariness, and likewise despondency,
discouragement, languor, torpor, nonchalance, drowsiness, sleepiness, heaviness of
body as well as of soul. (32). Akedia can even put a person to sleep when he is not
really tired." (33)  A person suffering from akedia is very restless and anxious. (34)
How many times we have heard someone say, "I'm bored.  I'm anxious."  The author of
akedia is a demon . . ."the demon attacks those who are trying to lead a spiritual life.
He seeks to divert them from the ways of the [Holy Spirit]. . . To break the silence and
stillness." (35). Bishop Kallistos Ware in his Inner  Kingdom, Volume 1, writes: "Unless
and until we have gained some measure of inner silence, it is improbable that we will
succeed in converting anybody to anything."  He is referring to St. Isaac the Syrian.

"All the Fathers see in akedia one of the principal obstacles to prayer. (37). Certainly
without prayer the New Evangelization will be ineffective.  When it is time to pray, the
demon akedia comes on full force.  This demon makes a person "indifferent to the
'whole work' of God" (38). Surely we can safely say that the demon of akedia has been
very successful.  To ignore or deny his interference is no way to combat him.

Akedia can also imfluence a person to be dissatisfied with his life, his work, where he
lives.  Such a person seeks lots of diversions to fill up his time. (39). That is no solution.
We see so many people rushing around, looking for happiness here and there, never
satisfied, looking for something else.  St. Thalassios tells is us: "akedia is the negligence
of the soul.  The soul is negligent that is sick from the love of pleasure." (40)

A person suffering from akedia does not want to talk about God.  Even the mention of
church or religion he finds boring.  That person is just not interested and quickly turns
the conversation to other topics.  Little does that person realize how empty his life is,
no matter how busy he is or how many friends he has.  Listen to St. John Climacus:
"The soul that has been wounded by this trouble is truly dormant with respect to all
the contemplation of the virtues. . .and . . .all vision of spiritual understanding." (41)
Such a person distances himself from anything related to God.  Not only this but he
becomes easily irritated and also "There comes a wandering of spirit, which is the source
of a thousand temptations." (42). Certainly anyone afflicted by akedia can neither be
an enthusiastic evangelizer nor be easily evangelized. Indeed the Come, Holy Spirit
prayer must often be applied.  Saint Mac of Egypt tells us: "Ever since Adam's
transgression, the enemy has set himself to wounding and befogging the inner man
. . . Thence his eyes have been fixed on evil and the passions, remaining closed to
heavenly things." (43).

As new evangelizers we present Jesus to others, Jesus the Physician.  We encourage
others to go to Him to be healed from akedia especially.  Origen is very frank: "The
human race, overtaken by madness, had to be healed by the means the Logos saw
useful for leading the fools back to good sense." (44). Clement of Alexandria suggests
we can invite "him who is deprived of reason to the salvation that makes him sound in
spirit (45).  Saying the name of Jesus can help keep us calm.  We must be peaceful,
act peacefully, look peaceful, knowing we are never alone in trying to evangelize.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived until 386, writes: "He is called 'Jesus' . . . For he saves
by healing."(46) we need to be alert to the signs of akedia.  We must not be indifferent
passers- by. Origen recognized Christ as Physician in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
(47). We can see ourselves as Christian "physicians" united to Christ the Physician as
we go about evangelizing, resisting the demon of akedia.

Being assertive, not aggressive, in suggesting a person turn wholeheartedly to
Christ the Physician means that we must say it as it is, present Christ as truly God
and truly a man who is the true healer of anyone downcast by demonic akedia.  Of
course, such a person must want to be healed.  As Theodoret of Cyr says: "The Doctor
of souls does not put pressure on those who do not wish to profit from His care." (48)
A person who lives in denial of his akedia is just not ready for Christ's powerful
healing.  "For those who sincerely seek a remedy the healing cannot fail to come
through the True Doctor of souls." (49).

We turn once again to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  On January 16, 2013, he gave us
his Apostolic Letter, Motu Proprio, Fides per Doctrinam (Faith through Teaching). 
He begins with "Faith needs to be strengthened through teaching" (50) for at the present
time there is a "dramatic crisis of faith." (51). The Church must answer the
many questions that doubters have.  The whole Church [must] keep the message of
Christ ever fresh and effective. . . through clear teaching which must nourish faith."
(52). In other words, the truth of Christ must be expressed in words that the contemporary
world understands.  He notes that after the Second Vatican Council unfortunately the
content of the Faith suffered from incorrect teaching.  Then he refers to Paul VI, who
wrote in his Evangelii Nuntiandi: " ' The intelligence, especially that of children and
young people, needs to learn through systematic religious instruction the fundamental
teachings,the living content of the truth which God has wished to convey to us and
which the Church has sought to express in an even richer fashion during the course
of her long history' " (53). Further on, Benedict XVI confirms the valuable contribution
that the Catechism of theCatholic Church has made as a resource for teaching the
true content of the Faith. (54)

Next he emphasizes: " The teaching  of the Council and the subsequent magisterium,
reflecting the Church's great tradition in this regard, closely, linked catechesis to the
process of evangelization." (55). That tradition is so prominent in the early Fathers of
the Church as we have noted in some detail. Benedict XVI reminds us why he issued
his Apostolic Letter, Motu Proprio,Ubicumque et Semper on September 21, 2010.
He established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization to
[encourage] "reflection on topics of the new evangelization, and [identify] and [promote]
suitable ways and means to accomplish it." (56)  He entrusted his Pontifical Council
with the responsibility of making known the Catechism of the Catholic Church more
extensively for its full exposition of the truths of the Faith.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New
Evangelization.  In promulgating the Motu Proprio,  Fides per Doctrinam he stressed
that "Catechesis emerges as a necessary factor in sustaining faith. . .knowledge of
the content of the faith is fundamental and necessary, and its rediscovery urgent for
the process of the New Evangelization." (57). Also he is very optimistic: The religious
Illiteracy which is among the causes of the crisis of faith affecting many Christians
can easily be overcome. . .by Catechesis and Christian education. . .essential for
rendering Christians faithful and courageous witnesses to the Risen Lord." (58)
In October 2011 Archbishop Fisichella said that we need evangelizers "who have a
profound sense of belonging to the Church and. . .are open to others. .  [and have]
a good dose of joy and enthusiasm (59). Again he was positive and optimistic,
encouraging a joyful approach to the NewEvangelization.  The virtue of joy is so
necessary to combat the negativity of akedia.

In October 2012 the Synod of Bishops met in Rome, invited by Benedict XVI to
"reflect on the "new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith.'"  
(60)In their Their Message to the People of God the bishops stated: "Everywhere indeed
we feel the need to revive a faith. . . the rediscovery of the faith. . .which brings joy
and hope. ' " (61)" They stressed that our Christian communities must be welcoming
and our liturgies beautiful, our lives holy." (62). We need to rediscover the ways  in
which Jesus approached persons and called them." (63). We must be open to God
the Holy Spirit and pray to Him often to help us with the New Evangelization.
We must be humble but determined.  We know that we must face in this world a
difficult struggle against  the 'principalities' and 'powers', the 'evil spirits', but we
must not be afraid. (64)

"The New Evangelization is centred on Christ and on care for the human person
in order to give life to a real encounter with him. . . The Gospel of Jesus is peace
and joy.  We need to set aside time for  prayerful silence." (65)

Now we turn to Father Robert Barron's documentary, the New Evangelization, in
which he shows us how the New Evangelization is being put into practice in various
countries.  He is well respected as a veritable successor to Venerable Archbishop
Fulton J. Sheen.  First of all, in his documentary he finds promise, for he saw many
encouraging signs of new zeal in Australia, England and the UnitedStates.  He
believes that the  New Evangelization shows signs of life despite the struggle to
share the Gospel,  Since World Youth Day had such a big impact, Australia is
doing well.  England and the United States are making progress.

In addition, Father Barron elsewhere discusses theology and the Bible with Dr.
Scot Hahn.  In their  discussion they include the importance of St. Ignatius of Antioch,
St. Polycarp and St, Irenaeus. (67)

Now we want to draw your attention to Michael Voris' talk on the early Church
Fathers.  He emphasizes how orthodox the early  Church Fathers were in teaching
the One True Faith.  They were sincerely dedicated to evangelizing, no matter how
great the personal risks.  (68)

Next we turn to Marcus Grodi of EWTN's The Journey Home.  He devoted one  of
his shows to the early Church Fathers, explaining how reading them in more detail
definitely helped him become Catholic. (69) Also Mike Aquilina discusses the early
Church Fathers at Franciscan University, emphasizing how the early Church Fathers
kept the Faith alive. (70)

Finally, we get to Pope Francis. He reminds us of the early Church Fathers
by his conviction and pastoral care.  Like St. Clement of Rome he admits there is
trouble in the Church and is taking action to find remedies.  Like St. Ignatius of
Antioch with joyful enthusiasm he risks his own life in evangelizing.  Remember that
Ignatius of Antioch told the Christians in Ephesus: " 'concur with the will of your
Bishop.' " (71) Also Pope Francis tells us: "Bishops are the pastors of the People
of God.  Follow them with trust and courage." (72). Like St.Justin Martyr Pope Francis
Insists we not follow the myths and lies of the Devil, for we must not believe the Evil One
when he tells us that there is nothing we can do." (73). Like St.Irenaeus who wrote that
the Holy Spirit enables the Church to teach the Truth, Pope Francis reminds us: "The
Holy Spirit. . .creates harmony and unity, and gives us courage and joy for mission."
(74). Like Clement of Alexandria who presented Christ as a tutor in his Stromata, Pope
Francis encourages young people: "Dear young friends, Christ has confidence in you
and he entrusts his own mission to you: Go and make disciples!"  (75). Recall that
Origen wrote: " ' Impress upon us the light of your face, O Lord." (76). Pope Francis
advises us : "learn to pray every day: this is the way to know Jesus. (77). Saint
Athanasius of Alexandria wrote: " 'lighten all . . .and. . .be zealous in the path of virtue.' "
(78). Likewise Pope Francis asks: " Are we ready to be Christians full- time, showing
our commitment by word and deed?"  (79 p In his own way with conviction and
pastoral care Pope Francis is keeping alive the Tradition of the early Church Fathers,
which never grows old, as he leads us in the New  Evangelization.


(1) http://www.csc.org.il/template/default.aspx?Pageld= 89
(2) Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Burns & Oates), 158
(3) http:// www.vatican.va/...hf_ben-xvi_exh_211930_verbum-domini_en.htm
(4) http://csc.org.il/download/files/Patristic%20Studies
Roberto Spataro, " Benedict XVI and his Catecheses on the Church Fathers:
Suggestions to Theologians"
(6 Ibid.
(29) Catechesis in ourTime (Boston: Pauline Books and Media), 11.
(30) http://www.catholicworldreport.com/...pope_francis_and_the_sad_life_of,slumb...
(31)Therapeutique des maladies spirituelles (Paris: Les Editions du Cerf,2013). 
   Available to me was an English translation completed before the publicatiopp of another
    English translation.
(32)Jean-Claude Larchet, Therapeutique des maladies spirituelles, 207.
(36)The Inner Kingdom, Volume 1(Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press),
(37) Larchet, 209.
(38) Ibid.
(39)Ibid., 210.
(40) Ibid.,211.
(41)Ibid., 212.
(42)ibid., 213.
(43)Ibid., 288.
(44)Ibid., 293.
(46)Ibid., 294.
(48)Ibid., 343.
(50)http://www.annusfidei.va>. . .>The Pontifical Council
(53)http:www.vatican.va/. . . hf_p-vi_exh_19751208 _evangelii- nuntiandi_en.html
(54)http://www.annusfidei.va>. . . The Pontifical Council
(56)Article 1
(60)http://www.annusfidei.va>. . .The Pontifical Council
(64)The Holy Bible.Revised Standard Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006).
(67)m.youtube.com/watch?v=L- kRa9sJdTB
(68)http://www.churchmilitant.tv/premium,The OneTrue Faith,Season Three,The Church
from my iPad

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