Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Early Christian Spirituality

Fortress Press sent me a review copy of Early Christian Spirituality. This book is part of the Sources of Early Christian Thought series. Typical of the series, the book is 120 pages long with about about half the book devoted to introductory material and the other half containing a collection of primary source material. The introductions were helpful in describing the historical setting of the documents and their general purpose. There was a little bit of neo-orthodox vocabulary in some of the descriptions but nothing too distracting. The book spans the time period from the second century through seventh century. The first writing is some very short selections from the Odes of Solomon.

The next selection is The Martyrs of Lyon. If you visit your local Christian bookstore and visit the "Christian Spirituality" section you are unlikely to find accounts of martyrdoms. If you look in the movie section of the Christian bookstore you are likely to find movies where the main character is having problems at work and marital problems but converts to Christ and lives happily ever after. Early Christian Spirituality was the exact opposite and many places in the world today it is still the exact opposite. If you convert to Christianity people may kill you instead of giving you a job promotion. The early Christians understood that imitating Christ meant much more than looking at a WWJD bracelet to decide what car to buy. The imitation of Christ often included being killed. Christians would retell these martyrdoms to strengthen one another in the faith instead of stories about how becoming a Christian will make you rich and successful.

The next selection is Clement of Alexandria's Exhortation to the Greeks. Then Athanasius of Alexandria On the Interpretation of the Psalms where Athanasius understands the Psalms Christologically and gives helpful advice on how to understand them.

Then we have a sermon by Gregory of Nazianzus. Next we find Concerning Virgins by Ambrose of Milan. Ambrose recognizes the importance of marriage and children but praises virginity just as Paul does in his epistles. The praise of virginity seems to be absent in Protestantism. Then there's a sermon by Augustine on the first Epistle of John.

The last two selections in the book were my favorite. "Through the Coming of Your Holy Spirit" is profound as are all Romanos the Melodist's hymns. The last selection is from Maximus the Confessor. I don't think I've ever read such theologically deep material and hope to read more by Maximus in the future.

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