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This is the long awaited publication in English of the author's German volume, Lehrbuch der Patrologie, published in 1994. Perhaps this English version would have been better served by titling it with the translation of its German title, "A Textbook of Patrology." In the English sub-title lies my problem with this book, for the expression "Comprehensive Introduction" is something of an oxymoron. After we learn what the volume attempts to do, we can decide whether or not the title makes any sense and is an adequate description of the book. The book surveys the fathers from the late first century through the seventh century, organizing them by common emphases rather than by a strict chronology. One of the book's great strengths is that this English version includes a twenty four page "Supplementary Bibliography" by William Harmless, S.J., professor at Creighton University. This bibliography consists of mostly English works in Patristics published since 1994, including a few from before that date that were not included in Drobner's German edition. In this reviewer's opinion, the extensive bibliographies found throughout the volume are its greatest strength. In this regard it is a veritable goldmine for the researcher who wants to go beyond what Drobner has told us about each of the "fathers" that he treats. And it is in just that area - the actual description of the Fathers and their writings that the English sub-title is misleading and the volume a bit of a disappointment. How can a work that includes only one to two pages (apart from the bibliography) about the life and work of most of the Fathers be in any sense "comprehensive?" It could be called an "introduction," but it is in no way a "comprehensive" introduction.Read more ›
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To echo what Dr. Varner said in his review, we would expect more from a book with the rather presumptuous subtitle of Comprehensive Introduction. It is understood that this is the fault of the translators more than the author.
Nevertheless, there is much to praise in this volume. For instance, the background material concerning heresies confronting the early church (and still with us today to be certain) provides the necessary background for the context of the early fathers and their writings. Also of value is the all too brief section on oral tradition. This is not so much a discussion of early church writings as it is a contextual biography of the early church writers. Perhaps the author was ambitious in attempting a single volume work for a mutli-volume subject but, after all, it is an introduction rather than a comprehensive study despite the misleading English subtitle.
Something must be mentioned of the organization of material. The organization provides for quick reference by both period and type of literature. Overall, it is organized into 5 parts generally by era and each part/era is organized by type of literature or language depending on the era.
The translation is clear and reads as if English were the original language for the most part. Very well done overall and a worthy addition to any library of patristic study. But, you will want further study in addition to this introductory material.
Along with this competent tome (1st German edition was 1994), one also might want to look at the more doctrinally focused introduction "Way to Nicea" and "The Nicene Faith" by John Behr or the new Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature.
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