The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church by Jimmy Akin is a compilation of quotations from the Church Fathers that reveal what the Early Church believed.
This is very handy because Scripture, although very important in itself, can be unhelpfully vague. The writings of the Early Church can elaborate on many matters.
The main text is approximately 420 pages, organized into two parts. This is followed by a section about the translations used, a document index and a Scripture index, collectively about 30 pages.
Part One is approximately 90 pages, in effect an introduction that discusses what a “Church Father” is as well as outlining some history. It contains the following:
The criteria for a “Church Father”. The definitions are not tight. As for the period, it typically ends at the death of St Isidore of Seville in the year 636 for the western tradition or of St John of Damascus in the year 749 for the eastern tradition.
An outline of some church history organized by region (Jerusalem, what is modern-day Turkey, Greece and Rome, Western Europe, North Africa), briefly running through some key dates, individuals and circumstances. The author does not go into specifics but merely provides a snapshot.
Biographical sketches of some Church Fathers, typically a short paragraph in length, to help further provide background. It is in alphabetical order, not chronological.
A short list of councils/synods with a few lines of description in alphabetical order. It would arguably be better if it is in chronological order.
A short list of heresies with a brief description in alphabetical order. Like the above, it would arguably be better if it is in chronological order.
Part Two is approximately 310 pages and is the compilation of material written by the Church Fathers. It is organized into 8 chapters by topic, and each chapter is further divided into more specific sub-topics. The 8 chapters are listed below with some sub-topics provided as examples.
God, including The One True God, The Trinity, Filioque
Creation, including Creation Out of Nothing
The Sources of Faith, including The Canon of Scripture
The Church and the Pope, including Apostolic Succession, Peter’s Primacy, Peter’s Successors
Morality, including Mortal Sin, Abortion, Astrology
Sacraments and Worship, including The Necessity of Baptism, Infant Baptism, The Real Presence
Mary, the Saints, the Miraculous, including Mary, Ever Virgin, Intercession of the Saints, Private Revelations
The Last Things, including Purgatory, Reincarnation, Antichrist
Each sub-topic begins with an introduction of a few paragraphs followed by the relevant quotations from the Early Church in chronological order.
The author’s own text is plainly written, particularly in Part One. The introductory paragraphs in Part Two are sufficient for topics that are simple, although a little more detail on the more complex issues would be better, whereas the few brief quotations from this post-Vatican II era are unnecessary as they don’t add any value.
On balance, along with the nice layout, the text is easily accessible and a quick read despite the page count. Obviously, for any given topic that one is interested in, it is recommended to read the sources but this is an excellent reference book that also serves well as an apologetic work.
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