Maxwell E. Johnson
To study the rites of Christian initiation in the early church is to encounter not one but several liturgical traditions in development. This article seeks to provide an introductory overview of the sources, issues, and problems encountered in the development and interpretation of the rites of Christian initiation within early Christianity. It proceeds in two parts: from the first century to the Council of Nicaea; and from the Council of Nicaea to Augustine of Hippo. Augustine of Hippo serves as a fitting conclusion to this focus since, as a result of his controversies with both Donatism and Pelagianism, a new article in Christian initiation begins and continues throughout the medieval and even Reformation periods of church history.
Dogmatic interpretations of Luther’s treatment of Christ’s atoning work dominated much of nineteenth- and twentieth-century assessment of his Christology and soteriology. Marc Lienhard and Ian Siggins moved toward more careful historical research into Luther’s appropriation and adaptation of medieval views of Christ’s two natures, focused on the communication of attributes which Luther refined in his dispute with Zwingli over the Lord’s Supper. Luther abandoned emphasis on the imitation of Christ for focus on his atoning work for the sinner’s reconciliation with God and the liberation of sinners from all forms of evil. Stressing Christ’s being ‘for us’ and the trust that grasps him, Luther taught that Christ is present through faith for the forgiveness, comfort, and guidance of believers.
Allan D. Fitzgerald, OSA
The study of penance in the early church can be challenging because of the variety of opinions among scholars; it can also be difficult because of the apparent diversity in penitential practices among the Christian communities in the first 600 years. Studies of penance have often described it in terms of its severity, rigour, or laxity. Hence, the terminology for this period should stay as close to the texts of that time as possible, so as to allow frameworks and descriptions to be the result of careful study. Some interpretations of the history of penance have presumed an individualistic appreciation of the penitential experience. Liturgy, however, was a significant dimension of the earliest Christian experience, and the communitarian and liturgical contexts for Christian penance need to be given greater importance than they have yet received.
Early Christian pilgrimage involved a journey to a place in order to gain access to sacred power, whether manifested in living persons, demarcated spaces, or specific objects. Movement towards the sacred site, as well as ritualized movements once at the destination, shaped pilgrimage. Places associated with the Bible drew large numbers of pilgrims from throughout the Empire. Yet, local martyrs' shrines and pilgrimage centres with international appeal drew visitors to Italy, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. Travel to sacred centres was common in Mediterranean religions. The Jewish pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles drew large crowds to Jerusalem until the Temple's destruction in 70
Columba Stewart OSB
Prayer is a universal feature of human religious practice. Among early Christians, it had two broad and frequently overlapping categories. First, and primordially, there was communal or liturgical prayer, consisting largely of conventional words and actions. Second, there was individual or ‘private’ prayer, more variable in form. This article focuses on private prayer, though the language of private prayer often drew from liturgical prayer. Silent prayer, like silent reading, was rare in antiquity. The study of prayer in early Christianity highlights the uneasy position of Christian religion in late antiquity. Oriented toward Judaism by their sacred writings and devotional practices, Christians found themselves in their early years struggling on two fronts to define their distinctive religious identity and to justify their understanding of God as disclosed in Jesus Christ.