THE EARLY CHRISTIANS faced a musical dilemma. They were surrounded by pagan spectacles featuring lavish choral singing, instrumental music, and dancing, and these were often associated with lust-provoking drama (performed in the nude) and the notorious roman blood combat. For obvious reasons, the north african teacher Tertullian (c. 160–c. 220) argued that Christian converts should shun the “shows” that had once given them such pleasure. and besides, all such entertainments were dedicated to pagan gods—or as Tertullian put it in typically...Read More
items tagged with early church
A sermon on love–but will you agree with his definition?
The battle over Christ’s Divinity.
North African bishop writes on the unity of the church.
The first theologian of the western church speaks out.
A pagan official asks the emperor how Christians are to be handled.
An early church manual instructs in Christian behavior.
Justin Martyr's First Apology1994
Justin Martyr was a philosopher turned Christian in the second century AD. Read his famous defense of the faith. (Call 1-800-468-0458 to order)
Clement's First Letter to Corinth1994
Clement was a Roman bishop in the first century AD, who wrote to counsel the Christians at Corinth. His letter was sometimes considered scripture by the early church. Read it for yourself in this handy pocket format.
From Christ to Constantine (Out of Print)1991
by A Kenneth Curtis and Carsten Thiede. An image-packed look at the trials and testimony of the early church. (Out of print.)
The Trial and Testimony of the Early Church1990
From Christ to Constantine; Trial and Testimony of the Early Church. The first three centuries were decisive for Christianity. The existence of the church was threatened by powerful opponents. These programs bring you close to the early believers.
• Chris Award from Columbus International Film & Video Festival
• Gold Award from Houston International Film & Video Festival
• Silver Angel from Angel Awards
• Golden Eagle Award from CINE
• Best Series from Christian Visual Media International
Perpetua: Early Church Martyr2011
Perpetua: Early Church Martyr documents the life and martyrdom of Perpetua in Carthage around AD 202. This young mother dared to claim Jesus as her Lord in the face of Roman opposition, giving up wealth, freedom, and eventually life itself, rather than renounce her faith.
• Winner 2011 WorldFest Houston Silver Remi.
- Issue 101: Healthcare and Hospitals in the Mission of the Church
- Issue 43: How We Got Our Bible
I. Overview histories and reference books
Oxford History of Christian Worship , ed. Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen Westerfield Tucker. Excellent one-volume scholarly overview of Christian worship across the centuries and around the globe. Articles written by Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox authors focus on theological, historical, and geographical topics.
The Complete Library of Christian Worship , ed. Robert Weber. Probably best described as an encyclopedia, these seven volumes feature discussions of worship from scriptural,...Read More
THE DIDACHE , or “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” is an anonymous text dating from the late first or early second century, making it one of the earliest non-canonical Christian texts. A central theme of the text is moral instruction, organized around the “two ways”: the “way of life” and the “way of death.” Each “way” consists of a list of actions that characterize those who follow it.
The same theme is found in the Epistle of Barnabas , another early non-canonical text. These early Christian writings affirm a close link between moral...Read More
THE ROMAN WORLD in the early Christian era was frequently troubled by plagues; the most famous and destructive of these broke out in 250 and lasted 15 years. Epidemics of plague are reported in a number of cities in the second through fourth centuries. In at least some cases, they were diseases brought back by Roman troops returning from far-flung campaigns. Some may have been versions of smallpox or measles.
Frequently, shrines and oracles of the Roman gods were consulted in efforts to learn what would stop the plagues. Some shrines, like...Read More
Great grandfather of medieval culture?
Clement of Alexandria (ca. 160–215) began the monumental project that would culminate in the Middle Ages—to place all of Western culture on a biblical foundation. Robert Wilken calculates there are between seven and eight biblical citations on every page of Clement’s writings, which contain, in all, some 1,500 references to the Old Testament and 3,000 to the New Testament. His writings are “suffused with [the Bible’s] language, its forms of expressions, its images and metaphors, its stories. Its heroes...Read More
A LITTLE-KNOWN MONK living in the Egyptian desert at the end of the fourth century provided one of the most durable interpretive keys in the history of Bible study. The monk, named Nesteros, proposed that all of Holy Scripture is to be understood in four ways or “senses.”
He explained this paradigm by examining the various meanings of “Jerusalem” in the Bible.
Jerusalem in its literal and historical sense, said Nesteros, is simply a city in the Holy Land. That is the Bible’s first sense, its literal and historical meaning.
Besides this,...Read More
THERE ARE PEOPLE who take great pains to twist the sense of the divine scriptures,” wrote the fourth-century biblical scholar, Theodore of Mopsuestia, a prominent voice of the exegetical school centered at Antioch, “and make everything written therein serve their own ends. They dream up silly fables in their own heads and give their folly the name of allegory. They misuse the apostle’s term as a blank authorization to abolish all meanings of divine scripture.”
At the beginning of the third century, Origen of Alexandria introduced to the...Read More
LET HIM KISS ME with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out. . . . How beautiful are you, my love, how very beautiful. . . . Your hair is like a flock of goats moving down the slopes of Gilead . . . your lips are like a crimson thread and your mouth is lovely. . . . Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.”
The words are not from a cheesy romance novel but from the Old Testament, specifically Song of Songs (1:1–2; 4:1, 3, 5). If these words...Read More
The Reformers taught “Sola Scriptura,” which meant every person became their own Bible interpreter, right?
Wrong. We asked noted Reformation scholar David Steinmetz of Duke Divinity School about this. In this excerpt from our interview, he reminds us that the reformers strove to ensure their own interpretations of Scripture matched those of the fathers.
"T he Reformation is an argument not just about the Bible but about the early Christian fathers, whom the Protestants wanted to claim. This is one of those things that is so obvious nobody...Read More
I n recent years, more and more evangelical Protestants have been looking at the early church fathers—that group of Christian teachers stretching from just after the apostles through approximately the first five centuries of the church—to see how they read their Bibles and did their theology.
"Exhibit A” in this resurgence is the Ancient Christian Commentary series edited by Thomas C. Oden and published by InterVarsity Press—a 28—volume set that places side by side with the text of each Bible book the key exegetical writings of the early...Read More
FEW FIGURES in church history have stimulated the level of debate and controversy that surrounds Origen of Alexandria (ca. 185 – ca. 254). To some, he was a brilliant intellectual as well as a passionately committed disciple of Christ, the most influential and seminal thinker in the early church. Others regard him as a dangerous heretic whose interest in philosophical speculation unleashed a string of teachings that stand in stark opposition to orthodox Christian faith (p. 2). Still others affirm the truth of both positions.
As a Christian,...Read More
Books and essays
• Timothy Barnes, Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study. Introduces Tertullian’s life and thought.
• Gerald Bray, Holiness and the Will of God: Perspectives on the Theology of Tertullian .
• Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo. Classic biography of Augustine.
• Massimo Capuani, Christian Egypt: Coptic Art and Monuments through Two Millennia.
• Classics of Western Spirituality series published by Paulist Press. Includes volumes containing writings of Augustine, John Cassian, Origen, and Jewish North African philosopher...Read More
CH: How did your initial desire to make the biblical wisdom of the church fathers available in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS) evolve into the mission of promoting early African Christianity?
TO: Through 20 years of working on the ACCS, our editorial team saw how so much important Christian exegesis came out of Africa. In textbooks, the earliest Christian writers in Africa are viewed as either Romans or Greeks—ideas moving down into Africa. But ideas were actually moving from Africa to the north. Why were the African...Read More
Mark, apostle in africa
According to the New Testament, Mark was a cousin of Barnabas and accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. He was also a companion of Peter (1 Peter 5:13). By the second century Christian writers identified this Mark as the author of the Gospel that bears his name and as a faithful interpreter of Peter, his apostolic source.
Some Christian historians from the fourth century onward provide an extensive, though unverified, account of Mark’s activities in North Africa as the founder of the church...Read More
WHEN AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (354–386) is studied in universities and seminaries, it is most often as Augustine the philosopher or Augustine the theologian. But what about Augustine the pastor? Without a doubt, the African church leader was one of the greatest thinkers in Christian history. However, his “day job” for nearly 40 years was serving first as priest and then bishop in the church at Hippo Regius (modern Annaba, Algeria ) in North Africa.
when the bishop calls
In 391 Augustine traveled from his hometown of Tagaste (modern Souk Ahras,...Read More
IN ANTIQUITY “North Africa” was a province of the Roman Empire where today we find Tunisia . Its capital was Carthage . We may think of Rome as the center of the Roman Empire. But while many roads of culture and society met in Rome, many also ran through Carthage as a major center of imperial trade. Destroyed but then rebuilt by the Romans, Carthage was called “the granary of the empire.” Carthaginians made beautiful pottery and traded figs, grapes, olive oil, and beans with the interior of the African continent and much of the rest of the...Read More
IT WAS THE YEAR 240. At the church in Jerusalem, the reader stood up to read the Sunday lesson from the Septuagint, the early church’s Greek translation of the Old Testament. Starting where he had stopped the week before, he read through four episodes from the story of Saul and David (our 1 Samuel 25–28, though they had neither chapter nor verse numbers). The story ended with Saul’s visit to a necromancer—a woman inspired by a demon.
how can this be explained?
The ending of the reading puzzled the congregation. Did a necromancer actually...Read More
WHEN WESTERNERS ENTER a worship service among the Ethiopian Orthodox—as one Westerner has said—they enter an experience of “delighted disorientation . . . the opulent vestments, the sumptuous processional ‘parasols,’ the grand elaborate liturgies, the ornate gold crosses, the vivid icons, the drums and sistrums and ritual dance and mesmerizing pentatonic [five-note] chant.” This spellbinding worship experience expresses a very ancient faith, practiced today as it has been for centuries in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. (The word...Read More
NAG HAMMADI was a fairly unknown city in Upper Egypt until one day in 1945. Egyptian farmers knew that ancient papyrus would enrich their fields, and a farmer out digging for compost discovered 12 codices ( bound books) in a sealed jar. No one immediately recognized the importance of the books. In fact, some were used as kindling for fires. One found its way to a Belgian antiquities dealer, from whom the Carl Gustav Jung Institute
in Zurich purchased it in 1951.
Scholars eventually analyzed over 50 different works from the...Read More
ON MARCH 7, 203, the Roman colony of Carthage celebrated the birthday of Geta Caesar, 14-year-old son of Emperor Septimius Severus. Severus was an African—an ambitious provincial from the lesser aristocracy who had fought his way to power in a civil war 10 years earlier. Just the previous year, he had waged a successful campaign in Africa. Roman power had been vindicated, the barbarians had been driven back, and peace had been confirmed.
Roman Carthage was founded in conquest, literally built on the ruins of Rome’s greatest...Read More
CHRISTIAN HISTORY SAT DOWN separately with church historians Lamin Sanneh and Jacquelyn Winston to discuss what the stories in this issue have to teach us. We asked them about the value of the African Christian tradition in the development of world Christianity and the lessons modern Americans need to hear from these stories.
Jacquelyn Winston: As a historian of early Christianity, I believe African Christianity is one of the most important foundations of Christian faith and practice. African church fathers gave us classic formulations of...Read More
CHRISTIANITY IS OLD. Really old.
I think we all know this. We know that Christians have been at this for over 2,000 years. We, if we are Westerners, know that the setting into which Christianity was born looks very little like the setting we find ourselves in today.
But most of the time our Christian walk is based on the things we hold in common with the first Christians—the doctrines that have endured through time that we confess each Sunday.
Sometimes it helps us to think about the context in which those doctrines were first confessed....Read More
BORN IN WATER, CARRIED BY PRAYER
Africa is the home of many Christian “firsts.” To Tertullian of Carthage we owe the earliest Christian treatise about the sacraments, On Baptism : “But we, little fishes, after the example of our ΙΧΘΥΣ Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water.”
Tertullian also wrote a famous treatise on the Lord’s Prayer, reminding us that “Even the Lord Himself prayed; to whom be honor and virtue unto the ages of the ages!” (For more on Tertullian, see “See how...Read More
A MONASTIC ASKED AN ELDER, “What good work is there that I should do?” And he said to him, “Are not all works equal? Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable, and God was with him. And Elijah loved contemplative silence, and God was with him. And David was humble, and God was with him. So whatever you see your soul desire in accordance with God, do that, and maintain interior watchfulness.” (Early monastic story)
While early Christians from Syria, Palestine, and Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) made significant contributions to the...Read More
I N OCTOBER 346, Alexandria was abuzz with word of Archbishop Athanasius’s return from six years of exile. In that city, his Arian opponents were in retreat, and his followers were aflame with heightened zeal for their faith. Wives and husbands heeded Paul’s advice (1 Cor. 7:5) to refrain from sexual relations and turn instead to prayer. Fathers persuaded children to renounce the world, and children encouraged parents in their asceticism. Young women who had looked forward to marriage chose instead to remain virgins for Christ, and young men...Read More
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