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The Hope of the Early Church (Brian E. Daley)

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#1 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 01 August 2011 - 05:17 PM

Title: The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology
Author: Brian E. Daley
Publisher: Baker Academic, 1991
ISBN-10: 0801045975
Pages: 303
Sub-Genre: Church history
Price: $30
Description: "What did early Christians believe about last things? Eschatology--religious doctrine about "last things"--is the hope of believing people that in the end the incompleteness of their present experience of God will be resolved, that loose ends will be tied up and wrongs made right. Rooted in a firm faith in Jesus crucified and risen, Christian eschatological hope has proved remarkably resilient, expecting the Lord to return very soon, and wavering little when the wait has been prolonged. This comprehensive survey, based on Christian texts in the Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian traditions from the second century through Gregory the Great and John of Damascus, is already well known to biblical scholars, church historians, theologians, and other students of the history of Christian thought. Appearing in an affordable, paperback edition, it is now available to students and to contemporary believers, whose hope it aims to nourish and stir up by acquainting them with the faith of their forebears in Christ."


#2 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 01 August 2011 - 06:15 PM

The Hope of the Early Church was originally published twenty years ago but remains a standard work on the theme of eschatology in the Church Fathers. Beginning with the early Jewish-Christian sects and concluding with Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus in the East and Gregory the Great in the West, Fr Daley briefly presents the views of Greek, Latin, and Syriac writers on the Last Things.

I was immediately struck by the wide diversity of views on questions on many of the questions to which we want answers. This diversity, and it is a diversity that is found in both East and West, is often ignored by Christian apologists (of whatever church). Are the punishments of Hell retributive or medicinal? Is Hell a physical location or spiritual condition? Is it possible for a person to change his orientation toward God after death? Is there a purgatory? Are we judged immediately at death or only at the Great Assize? What kind of body will we receive at the resurrection? Will all be saved?

Despite the diversity of opinion, there is one point on which all Christians of the patristic period agreed: the joys of the Heaven exceed all description.

I am not a patristic scholar and so lack the competence to judge Daleys's scholarship. Given that the book continues to be widely used in college and seminary classrooms, I assume that his presentation is reliable and authoritative. It's certainly clearly written. Daley appears to be exceptionally and impressively conversant with the literature.

I often found myself wishing that Daley had written more about specific figures that are of interest to me personally, but of course, that would have made his book considerably larger. Daley devotes more pages to Augustine than to any other person, which is understandable given that Daley is a Catholic scholar writing for a Western audience. Origen comes in second place for most pages. One figure, though, is conspicuously missing from the survey--Isaac of Ninevah. Daley does briefly discuss another Isaac, Isaac of Antioch, whom he refers to as Isaac the Syrian. I was initially confused, until I realized that Isaac of Antioch lived two centuries before Isaac of Ninevah.

The Hope of the Early Church is essential reading for anyone who wants to know what the Church Fathers taught about the Last Things. Do not assume that you know what they taught. You may be in for a few surprises.

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