Book Review – The Breeze of the Centuries (Mike Reeves)

I have been highly anticipating the release of this book, ever since I read (and loved) Mike Reeves’ brief history of the Reformation (The Unquenchable Flame). I had assumed that this would be the prequel, filling in some church history. However, it appears that this book is the first of two(?) that introduces the life and writings of significant theologians of church history.

It gets its title from C. S. Lewis’ observation that every generation works with a large set of assumptions that seem to it so self-evident that they are never questioned. “The only palliative”, argues Lewis, “is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.”

Reeves starts us off with the Apostolic Fathers, which he characterizes as the “best-sellers” of the first century, rather than necessarily representing good theology. He gives a page or so to each writing. Each chapter of the book closes with a paragraph explaining where best to start for those who want to read the works discussed for themselves, and also suggested biographies. A timeline is also provided, giving dates of the key events and writings of the life of each author featured in the chapter.

A second chapter deals with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, and in particular guides us through how they sought to demonstrate that Christianity was taught in the Old Testament. Another chapter is devoted to Athanasius, which includes a good deal of space to his life story, before summarising his key works.

In a chapter on Augustine, we are given summaries of each of the chapters of his “confessions” (which includes some of his life story), as well as briefer looks at his other works. The final two theologians to be considered are Anselm and Thomas Aquinas. The material on Anselm is fascinating as it explains his remarkable project of “proving” all major Christian doctrines from reason alone. For Aquinas, he takes us through each section of the Summa Theoligiae.

Overall, this is a little harder to read through than The Unquenchable Flame, although this is understandable since the task of explaining the thought processes of some of these ancient thinkers is no mean feat. Reeves does an admirable job, although some may find his superb talks on these theologians a little easier to digest, many of which can be found at His characteristic sense of humour shines through, as he likes to throw in a few of the more bizarre moments from the life and writings of these theologians. It has inspired me to make a bit more effort reading some older works, maybe venturing back into my copy of “City of God” which I made very little headway into.

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