The Apostles, Illustrated Edition

by Pope Benedict XVI

Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2008

ISBN 978-1-59276-538-6

The Apostles is a collection of talks the holy father gave between March and October 2006. You may recall Amy Wellborn reporting on them as they came out. Very similar to the compilation on the Church Fathers which I reviewed last fall over on the other blog.  It is therefore an easy book to read in small chunks. So even if the material is challenging at some points, you can bite off one section at a time, and it becomes more manageable.

Part I is a series of reflections on the apostles in general. The nature of the church, of apostolic succession, of communion, of the transmission of the faith. Good stuff, but not fluffy. If you can read the Catechism you can read this, but it is intellectually demanding for ordinary readers like myself.

–> If Part I gets overwhelming, I’d recommend just skipping to Part II. You can always go back. Although it is beneficial to read straight through, this is a book that very much lends itself to browsing.

Part I is also very catholic (answering that perennial question) – almost delving into apologetics at times. If you are a non-catholic Christian, this section will either be enlightening (what do catholics believe and why) or annoying (for obvious reasons). If the latter, skip to Part II. Catholics, of course, owe it to themselves to sooner or later master the material. Beautiful, beautiful, worth the effort.

Part II looks at each apostle in turn, drawing primarily from scripture, but also referencing outside traditions as well. It is interesting to see how the Holy Father handles debatable ‘facts’: he mentions what the going belief is, and then renders no opinion on the veracity of the point, but moves immediately to what inspiration we can draw from the tradition.

Each study is thorough, insightful, and pastoral. I certainly learned some new material – greek word studies and cultural contexts and that kind of thing – so presumably the average reader will do likewise. But in each biographical sketch, the Holy Father is never content to wallow in theology and history; he always brings home the personal message of good news for the reader. Very much like the readings in The Fathers, only maybe more powerfully so because these are the apostles themselves.

I could give you brilliant quotes all night long, but I’ll restrain myself and give just one, which is typical of the holy father’s pastoral heart. These are the last lines of the book, which come at the end of the study of Judas Iscariot and his replacement Matthias:

We draw from this a final lesson: while there is no lack of unworthy and traitorous Christians in the Church, it is up to each of us to counterbalance the evil done by them with our clear witness to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Highly recommended.


Oh and since I’m reviewing the Illustrated Version: the art is fabulous. I counted about sixty works altogether; drawn from all periods and multiple regions, but the bulk are renaissance western Europe. Classic works. All of them gorgeous. Given the choice, I would definitely go with the illustrated version just for the pictures.

Plus, if you are going to own the book,  and therefore can leave it sitting around for others to stumble upon, the one with the pictures is going to draw in readers who would otherwise not read the book. Especially true because the text is so eminently browseable.

But funny story (this could happen to you): I was reading about St. Andrew, and out of the corner of my eye of course I notice the image on the facing page. And I’m thinking to myself, “That looks like the Très Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry.”  But no, it couldn’t be, because it’s got to have apostles in it, not gardening scenes. Oops, yeah, apparently the Heures were more Riches than I knew – even though your basic model medieval history book invariably includes the farming pictures, turns out the martyrdom of Andrew is also in there. Who knew.


Anyhow, if you haven’t done so already, find a way to acquire this book.  And then enjoy.

–> I’m sure you can get your copy at any number of reputable catholic booksellers, but if at you are loose ends for a supplier, consider patronizing the Catholic Company, who sent me this book as part of their wonderful fabulous make-otherwise-lazy-bloggers-read-something-edifying-for-a-change book review program. I promise one of these months I’ll pick an easy book to review. But they keep having so many top notch titles, I just can’t resist.

(If you are interested in becoming a Catholic Company reviewer yourself, the info is at )

P.S. Please pray for Chris Cash’s new baby Adeline, who is finally coming home from the hospital today. Woohoo!  (Chris is the guy charged with herding us wayward reviewers)

P.P.S: Try not to panic.  Me posting my regularly scheduled post early rather than late is not one of the signs of the apocalypse.  Any ending-of-the-world will be purely coincidental.