The Apostasy That Wasn’t: The Extraordinary Story of the Unbreakable Early Church
Author: Rod Bennett
Publisher: Catholic Answers Press
Are you looking to dive into the history of the early church? Do you enjoy books that are written like you are sitting around a campfire listening to a riveting story full of suspense, periods of joy, persecution, perseverance, and fortitude? Are you seeking answers to arguments against Catholicism? Do you wonder if there was any controversy in the early church? If you answered yes to any of these questions, I recommend you pull up your favorite reading chair, grab a refreshing beverage, and take a journey back into the 3rd century to the desert and a man called Antony (St. Anthony).
Ten years ago, if I were to read a book, I would most likely have skipped the introduction and started right at chapter one. Sometimes, I get in a hurry reading, but I have learned that most times, the introduction or preface is worth the time and detail. I highly recommend not skipping the introduction of this work, as in it, Rod Bennett details more of his journey to Catholicism and tells of a place called Fields of the Wood. You might remember this author from a prior book review of his work Four Witnesses, and in case you’re wondering, he did not lose his ability to tell a great story. One important aspect that can be found at the end of the introduction is the purpose of this book. It is as follows: “The ‘Great Apostasy’ simply wasn’t, Athanasius did save Christianity, and the Universal Church survived intact into the second millennium.”
On the official Catholic Man Show technical read scale *** I rate this book at a ten as I had to take extra time to read and then re-read most of this work and make notes to follow the history and story line that was unfolding. Do not let the rating of 10 deter you from this book as history and dates are difficult for me personally, so I need extra time to process. I know not all people are the same, so if you are a person who can easily follow and digest history, then you might find this read easy and on par with a leisurely read. I have no regrets in reading this book and enjoyed looking over each chapter again as more details came back to my memory and made the topic more vivid.
So where does this story begin? The author starts with the dropping off in the desert of a young man named Athanasius (St. Athanasius) in the year 304 A.D. Why would a Christian mother drop her son in the desert? Well, the answer takes several pages to explain in good, descriptive writing, but in summary, the persecution of Christians by the Roman empire started in 303 A.D, and as a result, a select handful of Christians fled to the desert where Antony and the desert monks were located. The Christian church was still present in the cities, but had been drifting away from the faith well before 303 A.D. The author explains it better stating, “While the city Christians normalized their own decayed state of affairs (ate, drank, and made merry), Antony’s boys kept themselves alive on locusts and wild honey…and were filled with the Holy Spirit, who confirmed their mission with signs and wonders.”
At this point, the story chronicles the persecution of Christians under Galerius, Antony’s return from the desert to the judgment hall of Alexandria (don’t miss this account), and the eventual birth and perpetual struggle with the Arian heresy. As the storyline is unfolding, the author allows the reader the chance to meet several main players like Eusebius of Nicomdemia, Constantine, Alexander (St. Alexander of Alexandria), Arius, Contantius, Basil of Cappadocia (St. Basil the Great), Gregory Nazianzen (St. Gregory the Nazianzen), Julian, Pope Liberius, Gregory of Nyssa (St. Gregory of Nyssa), Valens, Theodosius, Jerome (St. Jerome), and of course Athanasius. As one can imagine, this work is filled with much contentious debate, and the author helps unpack the details in an entertaining manner which makes the topics not only interesting, but also easier to understand.
After reflecting a little more deeply on the details of this book, I have found it has strengthened my Catholic faith in a few new ways. One, I better understand the tumultuous times of 300 AD-400 AD and how the Arians would just not give up trying to spread their heresy. Two, the patience of St. Athanasius as he endured 5 different exiles to the desert, returning to his roots to not only escape persecution, but prepare for the future. Three, when it came to debate whether at the Council of Nicea (325 AD) or the Council of Constantinople (381 AD) it was usually the humble men from the desert that won the day. In closing, if you are looking to take a deep historical dive and grow in your faith, then pick up a copy, take your time, and enjoy the read!
By: Kent Keithly, husband and father
***Regarding The Catholic Man Show technical read scale: A 3 out of 10 is a leisurely read that could be read in a couple of weeks, an 8 out of 10 is a more technical read which requires more time and often requires looking up definitions of words to clearly understand the author, and finally a 10/10 is an extremely technical read that requires a significant amount of time to complete the book, as well as, extra time to look up further explanations of the topic, definitions, and likely requires that some pages be read more than once to grasp the content.