I really enjoyed this book. Not to say that I felt it was not flawed, but I really enjoyed it.
Father Thomas Hopko writes the Preface for this book and he sets out several of its problems. It is shot through with the author Robert Payne's own misguided notions on many subjects and viewpoints.
Father Hopko quickly points out in the Preface that Robert Payne "is not a theologian, patrologist or historian, but he is a marvelously gifted writer and a spiritual man".
He has a real tangible love for the men in the book he portrays for us and he brings them to life in his own very unique way.
To Robert Payne there is an Eastern Church and a Western Church, therefore Francis of Assisi is a saint to him, and other such things he "assumes" into his material.
I would urge the reader not to find fault with my making mention of this small example but I do so to merely point out that many of these "assumptions" are not settled in our day and age and his work does not, nor is it meant to, even attempt to tackle the nature of the Church(he does make mention briefly at several points that some of the quarrels in the Church, such as the Arian heresy, do not make sense to the casual purveyor of religion, that such points seem so insignificant and petty but nonetheless they are in important).
The word "orthodox" and "orthodoxy" are not in capital letters which betrays his own attempt to stay out of the doctrinal wars between The Orthodox Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
I will make out a list of the persons the author brings to life in this book:
1. The Forerunners--In this section the author sets the groundwork for his later portraits of the men he writes about. He speaks about the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles in The Didache. He also makes a somewhat liberal use of gnostic and apocryphal material such as the The Gospel of the Nazarenes, The Gospel of Peter, The Acts of John and The Acts of Thomas.
He also speaks on some of the early Christians such as St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp in preparing the reader for the rest of his material.
2. Clement of Alexandria
5. Basil the Great
6. Gregory of Nyssa
7. Gregory of Nazianzen
8. John Chrysostom
9. Dionysius the Areopagite
10. John Damascene
11. Gregory Palamas
Though I found fault with much of what he had to say, I must confess that this was made up for by how he portrays these men. My imagination was fired and I thought along new lines in my own understanding. Especially following on the heels of my reading of the book Orthodox Spirituality by Father Dimitru Staniloae, his surprisingly deep understanding of the essence of God as distinct from His energies in his portrayal of Saints Dionysius the Areopagite and
Gregory Palamas was very helpful to me.
A very good read.