The final volume in the series is edited by Angelo Di Berardino of the Augustinian Patristic Institute in Rome. The volume focuses on ecclesiology and eschatology by examining the creedal phrase, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” In his introduction and explanatory sections, Di Berardino recounts Christianity’s gradual transition from a Jewish sect to a Gentile church, though it is unclear whether the editor sees this transition as Christ’s actual plan or merely the circumstances that developed after Christ’s death and resurrection. As the church continued to grow, a leadership structure developed, which Di Berardino interprets along episcopal lines. As with other theological matters, Patristic ecclesiology developed largely in response to heretical movements, especially Gnosticism.
We are all tempted to read our ecclesiological convictions into both the Scriptures and the Patristic period, and at times Di Berardino’s Roman Catholicism understandably colors his interpretations, as already evidenced in his views of Patristic polity. Many evangelicals will push back against his assumption that the NT teaches some form of baptismal regeneration (5:xxvii) and his preference for Petrine supremacy among the apostles (5:xxxi). However, his discussion of the different metaphors and images used in the NT to describe the church, while unoriginal, will serve as a helpful reminder to the large number of evangelicals who relegate ecclesiology to a place somewhere between neglect and adiaphora. His discussion of the church’s character as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic is very charitable and will be appreciated by many evangelical readers, even those who tend to be very hesitant about Roman Catholicism.
In the primary source selections themselves, evangelicals will find a wide variety of opinions related to ecclesiology and eschatology. Most evangelicals will likely appreciate the general Patristic emphasis on eschatology, both personal and cosmic, and premillennialists in particular will resonate with the pre-Origen emphasis on this view among some early thinkers (5:161–67). Patristic emphasis on the universal church more than the local church and advocacy of infant baptism (5:107–9) will incur a variety of responses, depending upon individual preferences in these perennially controversial matters. Evangelicals will appreciate the Patristic emphasis on the doctrine of adoption (5:117–23) and most will agree with the majoritarian position in the early church that unbelievers suffer eternal torment in hell, a doctrine that has recently been called into question by some left-wing evangelicals such as Rob Bell.
Not surprisingly, evangelicals will also resist many Patristic views from this era. Most will likely reject the common allegorical readings of the Song of Songs as a picture of the marital relationship between Christ and his church, though perhaps some who identify with the theological interpretation of Scripture movement will agree with this view. With the possible exception of some Anglican evangelicals, most will also dismiss the Patristic argument for apostolic succession (5:77–86), though one might argue that many of the fathers were more concerned with the succession of sound doctrine, which was to be guarded by bishops, than they were with the succession of the bishopric itself. Other ideas evangelicals will refuse to accept include advocacy of baptismal regeneration, which was widespread (5:95–97, 101–07, 124–38), universal salvation, a minority view advocated by Origen and Gregory of Nyssa (5:167–71), and a nascent form of purgatory (5:243–44); the latter would of course become Catholic dogma during the Medieval era.
Because volume five concludes the ACDS, it includes some resources in addition to the primary sources and Di Berardino’s comments. Series editor Oden adds a short concluding essay that for the most part revisits the same themes of his series introduction in volume one. Also included is a very helpful selection of biographical sketches of Patristic thinkers and brief descriptions of anonymous works included in the ACDS. There is also a helpful timeline that visualizes when the various works were likely written.