Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 7

Early Christian Spirituality

Contents 1. When we read the history of early Christian spirituality it is neither a single story, nor a linear development of ideas and practices. Write an essay in which you define early Christian spirituality critically and compare it to contemporary aspects of spirituality in your own religious context. a) Introduction b) Defining spirituality c) Defining Christian spirituality d) Defining early Christian spirituality e) Not a single story f) Aspects of contemporary Christian spirituality g) Conclusion

2. When we look at the history and development of the early Christian church it was surrounded with competing religions and philosophies. Briefly describe these phenomena that influenced the spirituality of early Christianity. a) Introduction b) Competing religions and philosophies c) Conclusion

3. Bibliography

1. When we read the history of early Christian spirituality it is neither a single story, nor a linear development of ideas and practices. Define early Christian spirituality critically and compare it to contemporary aspects of spirituality in your own religious context. a) Introduction Hendricks (2011: 11) claims that throughout history, spirituality and its definition has changed form and character, often subtly but sometimes substantially. In this essay, I will attempt to define what early Christianity was and then to compare this understanding of spirituality with aspects in a contemporary context. b) Defining spirituality In broad terms, the term spirituality is used to define the interior dimension of human life in which we live in union with God (Kritzinger, 2004: 163). Hendricks expands this definition, stating that spirituality refers to the authentic human pursuit of definitive value, by means of which people strive to attain their highest ideals (ibid: 12). Spirituality, in this broad sense of the term, has to do with a progressive, intentional seeking after selftranscendence within and toward the horizon of ultimate concern (Hendricks 2011: 12). c) Defining Christian spirituality Christian spirituality is concerned with conversion or turning towards God (Kritzinger, 2004: 163). This ongoing conversion is rooted in an experience of God, demands faith in Jesus Christ, is missionary and brings the individual into the mystery of Christs death and resurrection (ibid). This spirituality is nourished by the believing community (namely the church), Scripture and the sacraments, while through ministry this faith is expressed and shared (Hendricks 2011: 13). Hendricks further states that Christian spirituality must involve historical-critical, literary and theological analysis (ibid). The biblical students role is thus to examine the text of the New Testament with all the tools and methods available in order to illuminate not only its original meanings from the past (insofar as it can be established) but also its theological structures and implications for the present (ibid).

d) Defining early Christian spirituality In essence, early Christian spirituality refers primarily to the spiritualities expressed in the early Christian writings and the witness of the early Church to their relationship with God through the resurrected Christ, and how they experienced Him (Hendricks 2011: 13). Thus, in early Christian literature we find a multiplicity of spiritualities: the dialogical spirituality of the Deuteronomistic tradition in which God intervenes directly and participates in the history of Israel; the profoundly Christocentric spirituality of Paul, the contemplative Jesus-centred spirituality of John, and the apocalyptic spirituality of Revelation to name a few (ibid). Further, early Christian Spirituality also entails a pattern of early Christian life marked by devotion to Jesus. This life pattern concerns the beliefs and religious practices that constituted devotion to Jesus, who according to believers was a divine figure in earliest Christianity (ibid).

e) Not a single story Wessels explains that there was no single process of writing down the events of the New Testament or the life of Jesus. While there were many eye-witnesses to the events of the Gospels, no-one was recording the events or the words of Jesus as they occurred in fact, the written reports of the New Testament came as late as thirty to forty years after the events (2006: 12). Thus, from the time of the events of Jesus life until the final recording of the Gospels, a whole process had taken place, in various stages (Wessels 2006: 12 13): the first phase concerns the historical words and deeds of Jesus; the second has to do with the verbal witness of the disciples and apostles, who proclaimed His life and works following His resurrection; and the third stage was the writing down of the Gospels by the evangelists. As the new religion did not remain static during the period between the actual events and the written record being produced, the circumstances and contexts in which the early believers lived and worked affected the manner in which the traditions of the faith developed (ibid: 22). The writers of the Gospels then selected which of the materials in the oral tradition they wished to include, and which they wished to ignore, to suit their purposes. Their written records were also subject to translation errors, the writers individual personality and his or her own point of view in writing (ibid: 43). 3

It is thus clear that the development of spirituality and the texts it generates was not linear but multi-faceted. f) Aspects of contemporary Christian spirituality Thurston argues that in some respects modern Christian experience is similar to that which is outlined in the New Testament (in Holder, 2005: 68). The crucial characteristic of personal Christian spirituality is the experience of the relationship between the individual and God, as mediated by the person of the resurrected Christ (ibid). Where this experience differs is in the disparity between the worldviews of the early Christians and those of contemporary believers. Early Christians lived in a dual world, where the natural and the supernatural lived happily side-by-side (Hendricks, 2011: 18). In contrast, modern believers have a mainly one dimensional concept of reality, in which the visible and material is all that is considered real (Thurston, in Holder, 2005: 68). Thus our modern experience of God and even of Creation is very different to that of the early believers.

g) Conclusion We can thus see that the development of Christian spirituality was not a static, linear process, but a fluid, organic progression, with different modes and expressions of spirituality emerging through time. However, the centrality of the experience of God through the figure of Jesus Christ remains fundamental.

2. When we look at the history and development of the early Christian church it was surrounded with competing religions and philosophies. Briefly describe the phenomena that influenced the spirituality of early Christianity. a) Introduction Early Christianity did not develop in a vacuum the early Church was surrounded by an array of differing religions and philosophies in the Greco-Roman world where it originated, and all of these influenced the emerging faith to some extent. In this essay, I will discuss the characteristics of some of the major groupings which impacted on early Christianity. I will focus on Roman religion, Gnosticism and Judaism.

b) Competing religions and philosophies Roman religion the Romans initially practised an agriculturalist religion. They worshiped a mysterious, impersonal deity which permeated all of nature (Dowley, 1977: 46). This religion emphasized the importance of correct rituals, as it was believed that the people needed to work in order to preserve the peace of the gods (Ibid: 47). Part of this work entailed offerings and sacrifices, and special feasts and festivals portraying images of the gods were celebrated (ibid). During the period of the Roman Republic, Roman mythology replaced the Greek which had preceded it, and the Greek and Roman pantheons were blended and unified (for example, Jupiter replaced Zeus as ruler of the gods) (ibid). According to Drane, Rome tended to allow the practise of different religions, as long as their followers remained loyal to the state. Thus both Judaism and Christianity were tolerated initially, especially when Christianity was still regarded as a Jewish sect (1977: 160). However, when emperor worship became the test of loyalty under Emperor Domitian (AD 81 96), who required citizens to worship him as their lord and god, the position of the Christians in the Roman Empire changed, and they began to suffer for their faith (ibid). This is the context in which the Book of Revelation was written. Gnosticism one of the most popular and widespread philosophies during the time of the early church was Gnosticism. The central tenet of this faith was that people could be saved by secret knowledge (Greek gnosis), which had been handed 5

down from the apostles (Blackhouse, 2011: 13). The Gnostics also demonised matter, asserting that the material world was created by an evil god, and claiming that the secret message of Christ was the only way to escape from the world into the pure, spiritual realm (ibid). Further, the Gnostics denied the bodily incarnation of Jesus Christ, and argued instead that He had only appeared to be human, a philosophy referred to as docetism (Blackhouse, 2011: 13). Judaism the Jews believed themselves to be Gods chosen people, and awaited the Saviour promised in scripture. The first Christians were all Jews, who heard the apostles teaching and believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Much of the apostles preaching and teaching was based on the Old Testament, and used Old Testament images to describe Christ as the Passover Lamb and the Second Adam (Alexander, 1977: 97). As the Jews still lived under the Law of the Covenant, with its strict rules and ritual practices, some of the early Jewish Christians believed that the gentile converts must first become Jews in order to become true Christians. They thus insisted on them being circumcised and participation in Jewish rites and festivals. During the 1st century, the relationship between the Christians and the Jews deteriorated, especially following the war against the Romans in 66 AD (Alexander, 1977: 97).

c) Conclusion

An understanding of the spiritual and cultural background of early Christianity enables us to better understand the context in which early Christian spirituality emerged and defined itself. As we can see, the early church developed and grew in an environment of diverse philosophies and religions, which influenced the way in which the faith took shape.

SELF-ASSESSMENT RUBRIC FOR WRITTEN ACADEMIC WORK: Table of Contents: Reflect all the headings of your assignment as outlined as well as any sub-headings with relevant page numbers on which relevant sections can be found. Introduction, Language and style: Explain the purpose of your assignment and provide and overview of the structure. The essay has been written in good language, free from grammatical errors. Structure, Academic Style and Academic Contents: The essay is well structured, with a descriptive title, relevant introduction, leading into the main body of the essay. An accepted style of referencing was used. Was it consistent and were all cited works listed in bibliography? Does the essay present a coherent and sustained argument of specific viewpoints? Contextualisation: Relate the information to social, historical and religious contexts. Bibliography: Referencing of all prescribed books or journal articles and internet sources that were used is included. Good Average Average Good Good

3. Bibliography Blackhouse, S. 2011. The Compact Guide to Christian History. Oxford: Lion Hudson. Dowley, T. (ed.). 1977. The History of Christianity. England: Lion Publishing. Drane, J. W. & Field, D. (eds.). 1978. The Lion Encyclopaedia of the Bible: Volume 5. Herts: Lion Publishing. Hendricks, G. Department Of New Testament and Early Christian Studies. 2011. Early Christian Spirituality. Tutorial Letter: 101/3/2011. Pretoria: UNISA Holder, A. 2005. The Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality. Wiley: Blackwell. Kritzinger, J. N. J. 2004. Exploring Theology: An Introductory dictionary. Pretoria: UNISA Wessels, F. 2006. Wie was Jesus Regtig? Oor die historiese Jesus. Wellington: Lux Verbi.