Friendship and the Fathers – Mike Aquilina

Friendship and the Fathers Mike Aquilina
Friendship and the Fathers: How the Early Church Evangelized by Mike Aquilina
Published by Emmaus Road Publishing on May 19, 2021
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Leadership
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For the Church Fathers, friendship was at the heart of the Gospel. It was the way to salvation and the most effective means of evangelization. God had taken flesh in order to befriend mankind. Jesus had called his Apostles friends. The first Christians, in turn, spread salvation through friendships of their own. Evangelizing the world was done through one friend bringing another into the Church—where both could be friends with God.
Friendship and the Fathers brings together, for the first time, the Church Fathers' doctrine and stories of friendship—mostly in their own words. You'll meet many giants of the early Church, including
* Minucius Felix, and walk with him as he brings a pagan friend to faith.* Sts. Basil and Gregory, best friends from school whose friendship was shattered and then restored.* St. Ambrose, who encouraged his clergy to cultivate strong friendships.*St. Augustine, whose grief for a lost friend led him to profound insights—and whose friendship with St. Jerome was fraught with emotional baggage.* St. Rabanus Maurus, the great biblical commentator and writer of hymns, whose counsels on friendship have never before appeared in English.

Friendship and the Fathers is a unique look into the development of the early church and what it thought and wrote about friendship. Mike Aquilina relies heavily on original writings, bringing them to life through his careful commentary. Some manuscripts had never appeared in English before this book, making a groundbreaking text for accessible study of church history.

It is very easy, in the study of church history, to get bogged down with names and dates and doctrines and schisms and movements and forget that these were real people. Humanity was different in many ways, of course, but our fundamental humanity has not shifted. Friendship is as much need and desire then as it is now. In fact, if you study the era, in some ways friendship was more valued and more respected than we often give it today.

Mike Aquilina is a patristics expert who serves as the vice-president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. There are not too many people more qualified to write this book and that long expertise shows. Unlike some other books I’ve read on the topic, Aquilina is content to let the Fathers do the majority of the talking. This is a book that is more a compilation and clarification of patristic texts than it is a commentary or biography on the Fathers and their writings. That really enables the read to connect with the ancient sources, with Aquilina serving as a conduit for the original story, rather than trying to retell the story or make many modern applications.

Friendship and the Fathers covers all the names you’d expect. The largest chapters are given to Augustine and Chrysostom. Other well-known figures are included, even if they did not write too much on the subject. Irenaeus receives four pages. Gregory of Nyssa gets two. Aquilina also includes some Church Fathers that are not as well-known (at least not to myself). I’m not quite clear on how the chapters were arranged. It’s not chronological, and yet the flow of the book seems to fit in a way that keeps the overarching narrative going.

As you read the book, you’ll find that despite cultural differences and nearly two thousand years of history separating us, the conversations that are had and the ideas that are discussed are remarkably similar to modern discussion. It highlights the human need for friendship—one that stems from the very first time God said his creation was “not good” because man lacked companionship.

Aquilina gives readers an accessible look in the early Church Fathers, deftly curating their work to specifically hone in on friendship. Friendship and the Fathers will be an invaluable resource for anyone studying friendship and, specifically, how Christianity changed the classical model of what it meant to be a friend.