THE CHURCHES THE APOSTLES LEFT BEHIND is no longer a new volume, and there has been a great deal of research in the early Church since the publication of this book. None the less, I often find myself going back to this gem of a resource whenever I am trying to find something interesting to present about the various Churches founded by the Apostles. The communities that Brown discusses are those of Paul, both from his letters and the Lucan communities often associated with Paul, Peter, John, and Matthew. Brown looks at these major communities from the traditional point of view, but includes current scholarship at the time of the book's publication as well. While Brown's Catholic perspective is evident in much of his writing, he was asked as a Catholic to address an ecumenical audience, so the book demonstrates what unites Christianity, namely a common early history, rather than what divides us today.
During his lifetime, Raymond Brown was a Sulpician priest involved in the training of people for ministry. This book reflects his pastoral concern. Actually, many of the chapters were presented as lectures for people involved in ministry.
on August 29, 2005
In the manner of a great scholar, Raymond E. Brown normally multiplies arguments built upward from his unusual command of a great array of facts. A hint of that tendency emerges in The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. Fr. Brown, a Roman Catholic priest, asks how the churches of the late first century survived the trauma of the deaths of the originary apostles. Using paradigms that emerge from reading the Pauline pastoral epistles, Colossians/Ephesians, Luke/Acts, First Peter, the Gospel of John, the Johannine epistles, and the Gospel of Matthew, Brown presents models of church laitant in the communities of the New Testament documents. Though his book traces an emergent ecclesiology in the Christian canon, it intends to provide an ecumenical church of the present age lessons in just how we might be church in the present age. Rather than a teacher of dusty history, Fr. Brown here serves as a pastor for the church of flesh and blood. The Churches the Apostles Left Behind presents a different kind of read for Fr. Brown's students.
on February 25, 2005
The genesis of Christianity from the death of the apostles to the sub-apostolic communities is an interesting topic. The late Raymond Brown wrote three books specifically devoted to this issue: THE CHURCHES THE APOSTLES LEFT BEHIND, ANTIOCH AND ROME (with John P. Meier) and THE COMMUNITY OF THE BELOVED DISCIPLE. Taken as a whole, these three discuss the trajectory of early Christian history from the time of the apostles to the end of the 1st century (or slightly after). It should be noted that Brown believes that most of the works of the New Testament were written during the final third of the century.
The CHURCHES THE APOSTLES LEFT BEHIND is probably the best place to start. The contents of the book were given as lectures in 1980 and are easier to read. He deals with seven movements: the Pastoral Epistles, Colossians/Ephesians, Luke/Acts, I Peter, Fourth Gospel, the Epistles of John, and Matthew.
Regardless of one's views of the authorship and dates of the books of the New Testament, there is no doubt that the writers were dealing with different situations and, at least in some respects, had different theologies. While one may try to harmonize the various strands, certain tensions remain. For example, the Johannine literature mentions the church only a few times, and only then in reference to the local church. Colossians/Ephesians make reference to the universal church. The Pastorals concern the teaching church. And, as Brown notes, one wonders if Paul could have met the requirements for a presbyter-bishop as set forth in the Pastorals given his fiery temper.
These books share the strengths and weaknesses of Brown's approach. They are well written and informative, but too dismissive of those he disagrees with.
on December 13, 2005
Raymond Brown's investigation into the Apostolic communities of the early Church provides a solid biblical foundation for studies of the Church. It offers a mature view of the scripture which attests to these communities. While remaining orthodox, Brown does not appeal to less-informed views of the Bible. Instead, he views the testimony of the New Testament writers within their realistic historical contexts. It is from his view of these contexts that his work derives most of its strength.
Brown looks at each book (or set of books) that he investigates as an example which addresses the strengths and weaknesses of the community which caused the writing to come into effect. He realizes that the work of the New Testament is one which is an organic whole, no one work being a microcosm of the message of the New Covenant. By starting from this perspective, Brown is able to explain the strengths and weaknesses of each community and how each is addressed in the works associated with them. This gives a mature view of how scripture informs us, as a whole, not as isolated parts.
In the study of ecclesiology, it can become very tempting to approach the views of the Church from a solely historical perspective, without taking reflection to scripture. Brown's book gives a good starting background to investigating ecclesiology as a whole, scriptural and traditional.
on April 26, 2012
Father Raymond Brown's book is a short but interesing account about the status of the early Catholic Church. He wrote an interesting account about different interpretations of Christ, His teaching, the differences among the apostles, and the differences among the early Christian communities. This book is NOT for anyone who refueses to understand that there is a complex history during the first Christian century. Father Brown used biblical texts and comments from some of the very early Church Fathers to explain this complexity.
Father Brown began this book with a very clear statement that different churches and traditions existed by the year c. 100 AD. Some of these differences dealt with Christ's status as man and/or God or Son of the God. For example, John's Gospel and the Epistles attributed to John stress Christ's divinity without eliminating Christ's status as a flesh-and-blood Man.
Disputes arose between those early Christians who came from a Jewish tradition and the "gentiles." Among others, St. Paul argued for a universal (Catholic)Church, and "true believers" did not have to adhere to Jewish traditions. This led to another debate as to whether the early Christians fulfilled the Hebrew Bible(Old Testament)or should they abandon the Old Testament. Let the record show the early Catholic Church councils opted to include the Old Testament in the Biblical Canon.
Most of the early apostles disappeared by c. 67 AD, and the historical question is how the early Church survived. Some of these questions were settled by Catholic Church Councils such as the Nicene Council (325 AD)-the Holy Trinity. Other issues such as the status as the Vulgate Bible were settled at the Council of Carthage (393), Council of Hippo (397)and another Council of Carthage (419 AD). However the history of these councils are beyond the scope of Father Brown's book. Yet, Father Brown could have further exploited the Council of Jerusalem which is described in the Book of Acts (chapter15). Father Brown made a good case that St. Paul was both a missionary and the pastor who battled "false teachers" and those who would assume too much about interpretation. Even during St. Paul's lifetime, the early Church had structure and authority. Sts. Titus, Barnabus, and Timothy were bestowed with authroity and were early bishops. The problem for many early Christians was not new concepts but the danger of NO ideas or concepts. The bishops had authority of interpretation.
Father Brown made a good case that when there is little arguement, the issues of belief and the Faith were settled. Yet, the apostles wrote about conflicts both to get concepts correct and to avoid excessive conflict which was a delicate balence. Both Sts. Peter and Paul made appeals for careful interpretation and even went to Rome to reguister their appeals and interpretation in the capital of the Roman Empire. Added to the internal conflicts were the persecutions against the Early Church during the reigns of Nero, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, and later Diocletion.
As Father Brown noted, St. John effectively argued for a universal Church by emphasizing Christ's divinity and the fact that ALL people were God's children. St. John emphasized the Eucharist and the beginnings of the Sacraments. Not only John, but the other Gospel writers wrote about forgiveness of all including women whom some of the "heretics" stated had no souls and were simply doomed because of their gender. Christ's teaching and Gospel accounts rejected such a view.
A cursory view may give readers that the New Testament authors, the apostles,and Christ Himself undermined the Old Testament. Father Brown made a good point that Christ and early apostles actually preserved the best of the Old Testament, and Christ alerted his audiences to exceed the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Scribes in holiness by focusing on men and women becoming better people. Forgiveness exceeded the petty resrtictions and penalties that were in place.
Father Brown argued that biblical reading and interpretation should not focus on whom is right or wrong, but such careful reading should be done to may be missing re our understanding. "Battle lines" can undermine deep understanding and important insights.
Father Brown's book should appeal to serious readers regardless of whether they are Catholic or Protestant. His book raises good questions and explains the different interpretations that have developed during the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church and Christianity. Father Brown could have elaborated on the DIDACHE which is very similar to the Catholic Mass and helpd preserve some unity. He should have included a more comprehensive bibliography. The one he used is weak and sparce. In spite of this fact, this book is informative and useful to those interested in Church History.
James E. Egolf
on December 23, 2015
I think the author sort of wondered. I picked up the book due to the title. I thought it would go into detail about Church history, where it was and what it did. The book really turned into a discussion about interpretations of the bible. It is written like a Seminary lecture; and a catholic seminary at that. I initially did not catch that the author was a priest. That quickly becomes aparant as you get into the book. You also will pick up that the author really doesn't like protestants. The bible goes into how the early church viewed the gospels. There is a lot of attention to John, the fourth gospel. The book is very well referenced from the bible. He mixes in some interesting bits about current take, Vatacian II, and things like that. Even though I did not agree with his view I did find it interesting to see the catholic take.
The book is obvious Seminary school material. I doubt most would like this.
on August 5, 2000
As with *The Community of the Beloved Disciple,* this volume avoids the pitfalls of being either too simplistic or just over one's head. In it, Brown offers an ingenious look at the various communities of the Christian Testament and describes their differences.
For my particular tastes, Brown is sometimes too quick to accept the face value of some early traditions concerning the Apostles. But this slight weakness is easily overcome by his scholarship, his open attitude and his readability. This volume is very helpful and will open the eyes of its readers to the fact that there has not been only one ecclesiology is Christianity, but many.
on June 5, 2008
This book primarily asks the question, "How did the first century churches survive once the most prominent apostles (i.e. Paul, Peter, James) died?" In answering this question, Brown dispels the myth that early Christianity was homogeneous and forwards the view that each church community nuanced their theology and praxis to accommodate their context. Specifically, Brown attempts to identify the single element which enabled each church to survive.
Brown's book has much that is praiseworthy. First, it adds significantly towards understanding the various contexts the churches found themselves in during the first century. Second, Brown's strengths and weaknesses of each survival motif are helpful in reminding us that no single church model is perfect. Third, Brown's applications for the modern church may aid ecumenical conversations.
My main criticism of Brown's book is the rigidity with which he confines each church community to one survival theme. At times, this forces Brown to over-generalize in connecting certain New Testament documents. For instance, in addressing Colossians/Ephesians, Brown sees the survival motif to be the church as the body of Christ to be dearly loved yet love is much more prominent in Ephesians than in Colossians. At other times, Brown betrays his own methodology as he identifies two survival motifs for the church community associated with John (although he creates two separate chapters - one for the Gospel of John, one for the Epistles of John - to avoid the appearance of such a reality). This weakness notwithstanding, Brown ably reminds the church today that biblical study should always be attempted with the original context in mind and that theological ideas, taken from the Bible in isolation from other biblical insights, can lead to church failure and compromise.
on March 20, 2013
I had read Raymond Brown's book on the Community of the Beloved Disciple and liked it very much. I found it to be historical, very informative and easy reading. I was expecting this to be pretty much the same but covering instead several other churches but not in the depth he went on the one church in the other book.
This book studies seven churches as we know them from the epistles that were written to them and is interested in the ecclesiology of the church. If you don't have an good grasp of the epistles you are at a disadvantage reading this book. I wiil say though that in my case it has encouraged me to take a greater interest in the epistles. You will learn a lot about them but it is not a study of the epistles themselves.
Fr. Brown concludes each chapter with a comment on the strength and weakness of the ecclesiology each church developed. It isn't what I was expecting but seeing the state of things in various churches in the period 70-100 A.D. may be a great basis for further research in how the church settled on one ecclesiology later. That would be a more interesting read for me but this book doesn't go there.
I learned a lot but just not what I expected.
on June 3, 2015
I have been a fan of Ray Brown's books and found this early one pertinent and insightful regarding the early Christian Communities from the New Testament writings of the Gospel writers, Paul and the Pastoral letters.