The book is Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Luigi Gambero (Ignatius Press, 1999). Fr Gambero opens the introduction by explaining why the exploration of early Christianity generally and patristic writings specifically is good and fruitful. From the start, he admits that this study can be frustrating since it can raise so many historical-critical problems. I would add that frustration also occurs when one approaches the Church Fathers as the final authority, or at least a deciding factor, in matters of faith. When this is the approach, the Fathers are often read outside of their historical context as we insist that they speak to our questions in our day. In his volume, Fr Gambero diligently seeks to understand each particular Father and writing in its own specific historical and theological context. As such, he lays down this "rule" which, I think, should be uppermost in the minds of all who study the Christian writers of any era:
The purpose of such research cannot be the search for a verification of our religious creed and our personal Christian life, or a quest to make sure that we are being faithful to the patrimony of faith (depsitum fidei) entrusted by the Lord to his apostles and to the Church. The teaching of the Church, in every age of her history, is sufficient to guarantee this certainty, because it embraces the whole treasury of tradition, rendered present and alive by the faith and Christian action of the people of God.
Our interest in rediscovering the very beginning of the Christian tradition becomes more understandable if considered from a different perspective. For us, retrieving the orgins of Christian doctrine can be like tasting the fresh waters of a spring, where the word of God is poured out by the pen of man under the illuminating and charismatic impulse of the Spirit, where the first Christian generations found nourishment for their faith, prayer, and life. We, too, know the wellsprings of this inspiration: Sacred Scripture and the apostolic tradition, the marvelous works of the Holy Spirit, acting in the lives of the scriptural authors and Fathers of the Church to make them authoritative witnesses and outstanding heralds of the good news of Jesus, through their preaching, writings, and living example. (p. 17)