This book contains the catecheses, or presentations, that were delivered by Pope Benedict XVI at his weekly general audiences from March 15, 2006 to February 14, 2007. The pope’s conferences were edited into book form and divided into three parts:
The first section has four chapters, the second twelve chapters, and the third five chapters.
- The Origins of the Church.
- The Apostles.
- The Co-Workers of the Apostles.
The first part is about the origins of the Church, starting with Christ as the founder and the one who designated those who would be his Twelve Apostles. The pope talks about the importance of communion with the Twelve but also communion with the Church. In chapter three he discusses what Tradition is and why it is important to the Church. In chapter four, he adresses the successors of the Apostles and those others who minister in the Church. He says that all members of the Church, not only the clergy, have a vital role of witnessing to the world to their faith - even if it is giving the ultimate sacrifice through martyrdom.
The second section is the main part of the book and of the pope’s conferences. He starts with the Apostle who holds the first place and whose name Jesus changed to show that he was to have a special ministry and position amongst the Apostles; this is, of course, Peter. Pope Benedict discusses why Jesus changed Simon’s name and what the change meant. He also addresses the fact that Jesus founded his Church on the Rock, Peter. This chapter on Peter is one of the longer ones in this book since Peter holds a special place. The next chapter covers Peter’s brother, St. Andrew, who is called the Protoclete, which means he was the first to be called as a disciple and who led Peter to Jesus. The third chapter is on St. James the Greater, not to be confused with St. James the Lesser whom the pope discusses in the fourth chapter. In the next chapter, the pope discusses the Apostle St. John, the Beloved Disciple. The pope examines the Gospel and other scriptures attributed to him. In sixth chapter, he talks about St. Matthew and how he is a bit different from the other Apostles since he was a tax collector, as such considered to be a traitor to the Jewish nation and a collaborator. He also discusses the Gospel that Matthew wrote.
In the seventh chapter the pope presents St. Philip. Philip and Andrew are Greek names, and the pope shows that Greeks approached them to talk with Jesus first. Next he discusses St. Thomas and how he provides a great example of a doubter who becomes a believer with his great exclamation, “My Lord and my God!” Then the pope talks about Bartholomew, spending time discussing his name and the tradition that Nathaniel in the Gospels is the same person. In the tenth chapter, he discusses Saints Simon and Jude. He presents them together because so little is known about them. He spends more time on Jude since there is a letter attributed to him in the New Testament. In the eleventh chapter, he discusses Judas Iscariot and St. Matthias. He spends more time on Judas and shows that Judas could have sought forgiveness but despaired. St. Peter denied Christ three times, but unlike Judas sought forgiveness and did not despair. In this chapter, the pope quotes from the Rule of St. Benedict, chapter five, about “never despair of God’s mercy.” In the last chapter of the second part, the pope presents the great Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul. St. Paul is not one of the Twelve who knew Christ during his earthly life. Paul, or Saul, was a great persecutor of the Church to whom, on his way to Damascus to arrest members of this New Way and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial and punishment, Jesus revealed himself and asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul converted and became a great Apostle of the Church which he had once persecuted.
Part three is about the co-workers of the Apostles and the women who served Christ. The first chapter is about Saints Timothy and Titus, who were companions and disciples of St. Paul. The second chapter is on St. Stephen, the First Martyr. The pope presents how Stephen became one the first “deacons” and how he ministered and preached and gave his life for the faith. The next chapter is on Barnabas, Silas also known as Silvanus, and Apollos. St. Barnabas is referred in the liturgy as an apostle, although he was not one of the Twelve; he and others are “lesser apostles.” The fourth chapter is about Priscilla and Aquila, a Jewish married couple exiled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius who helped St. Paul in his ministry and are mentioned in his letters and in the Acts of the Apostles. A church in Rome is possibly named in Priscilla’s honor. The last chapter is on the women who served Jesus and the Apostles.
There are no illustrations in the book, but the book jacket has a wonderful illustration of the Apostles with the Blessed Virgin at Pentecost. This is from the upper section of the Maesta altarpiece by Duccio di Buoninsegna that is at the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana in Siena, Italy. There are also two pictures of the pope. There is no index or bibliography. There are footnotes, which are mainly to Biblical texts. On the last page of the book is an advertisement for the64-page study guide for this book compiled by Amy Wellborn. The Apostles: The Origins of the Church and Their Co-workers is highly recommended to those looking for a book on the Apostles, for spiritual reading, and for material by the Pope. The pope is currently giving presentations at the weekly audience on the Church Fathers. This reviewer hopes that a book will be made of them, too.