In our rush for spiritual truth in the new literature we may thoughtlessly bypass the wisdom available in books from the Christian past. Many of us have not read Christian writers of previous centuries simply because we have been unaware of their value, and no one has taught us to appreciate them. But some of us have tried to read spiritual classics with disappointing results. We may have put a book down because we knew too little history to figure out its context or to understand its topic.
To allow these difficulties to prevent us from studying Christian writers of the past is to deprive ourselves of invaluable resources for our lives in the Holy Spirit. Christians before us have apprehended the mystery of God's love for man and have spoken truth to people of their own times. A letter from a second-century bishop explaining his desire for martyrdom, a sixth-century manual setting up a pattern of life for members of monastic communities, and a fourtheenth-century essay on prayer can speak to us today. The Holy Spirit has worked in different ways throughout the centuries of Christianity to expose God's ways to us and broaden our vision of his plan of salvation; a vast literature about his activity awaits us.
We have chosen six books from the first 14 centuries of Christian history. Each book represents in some way the period from which it comes. To make reading easier, we have selected modern English translations intended for ordinary readers, not for scholars. All six books include introductions to help readers understand the historical situations in which their authors wrote.