Book Review: John Michael Talbot’s The Ancient Path

I received a copy of The Ancient Path by John Michael Talbot through Blogging for Books. The book is an introduction to the writings of the Early Church Fathers that follows Talbot’s own spiritual journey. Those who have read other books by Talbot will recognize his personal style coupled with the richness of Catholicism. He is a convert to the faith after years as a professional musician. This book is interspersed with pieces from the Early Church Fathers and how it has helped him in his own conversion.

What constitutes a Father? There are differences between the Eastern and Western traditions of the Church, but Talbot points to the works of a 5th century monk from Gaul in saying that to be a Father they had to be orthodox, holy or possessing sanctity, have approval from the Church, and survived since antiquity. In other words, the Church views a Father as someone who lived a life of holiness, has been approved by Holy Mother Church, submitted to orthodoxy, and whose works have survived the test of time. These are the men who Talbot is referencing throughout the book.

One of the main focuses for Talbot is on the center for early Christians who was Christ. He points out: “If Christians were willing to die as martyrs, it was because they wished to imitate Christ and reach Christ.” The very center of their lives and works was the Word of God Incarnate. These Fathers were dedicated to the authentic and true doctrine of the Faith and spent much of their time combating heresies aimed at Christ Himself. The Early Church Fathers spent much time engaged in Christological debate and councils. What is certain is that every aspect of the lives of early Christians was Christ centered. They desired to be like Him. That is the same desire each one of us should have today.

The book is not meant to be an exhaustive historical or theological explanation of the prolific writings of the Fathers. Rather, it is Talbot’s own story and journey with them. He shares much of his personal life, including the difficult periods while he was a professional musician before his full conversion. He uses various Fathers as examples of how he was experiencing struggles in his own life. The book is a window into Talbot’s spiritual journey through the Fathers, his spiritual director, study, and the Sacraments.

Talbot spends pages giving a much needed explanation of the Mass. This is an area where many Catholics are lacking in understanding and who do not grasp the sacrifice of the High Priest, Jesus Christ that goes on in the Liturgy of the Church.

“What follows is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the portion of the right that is properly sacrificial. And, really, this is why we’ve come to church. Catholics don’t go to Mass for singing, preaching, or entertainment. Sometimes the music’s good, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the preaching is good; sometimes it’s not. It’s good when it’s all good. God deserves our best—and the liturgy is, after all, our “public work” for him! But, primarily, it’s his public work for us. It’s opus Dei, God’s work. And that sacrificial work of Christ our High Priest is what God is up to in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.”

The book is a reminder to us that God is the center of all things, not us. Talbot spends time explaining the ancient roots of the liturgy in light of the Fathers. He reminds us that the Mass isn’t so much about us, but about God. He spends time explaining the necessity of patrimony, charity, and holiness. The book covers a lot of material that is pertinent to the Catholic Christian life.

The Ancient Path, is an excellent read for those who want to grow in a deeper understanding of the Church Fathers while also reading about another man’s spiritual journey. The book provides a wonderful introduction to the Fathers, the early Church, and how the long tradition of the Church is meant to be lived today. If you have not delved into the Fathers, this is a good place to start.

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