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.
Larry D. Bouchard
The history of drama and performance often overlaps with histories of religious practice, belief, experience, and thought. This chapter surveys such histories and gives consideration to religious stories and themes, ritual structures, dramatic forms (including “metatheater,” “epic theatre,” verse drama, naturalism, and avant-garde theater), and to theories of religion and performance. The discussion is framed by the question, “Is drama inherently a way of being religious?” That is, does theatrical drama—by virtue of being a hybrid of narrative, dialogue, and embodied performance before live audiences—inherently create possibilities for religious, social, and ethical meanings and relations? The question’s value lies in its power to catalyze discoveries, not in any definitive answer. The chapter concludes with recent theological and ethical views of how drama can open questions of self-transcendence and otherness.
Harvey E. Goldberg
Life-cycle rituals only gradually became an explicit axis of concern in Abrahamic religions while some of the cultural materials for this focus are ancient. There are both conceptual and empirical reasons for this lag. The notion of ritual as a defined domain of concern emerged only in recent centuries, while the traditional study, and self-understanding, of these religions has emphasized authoritative texts rather than the depiction of practice. Parallel to this, scholars often have searched for historical connections linking the religions, while paying less attention to synchronic approaches which view each religion, and their socio-historical expressions, in their distinct contexts, a step that also lays the groundwork for analytic comparisons among them. Modern and late modern sensibilities have strengthened awareness of the individual self and quotidian practice in all the religions, while ethnographic research has shown how this trend intermeshes with cultural and socio-political developments.
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.
This essay discusses politically motivated contests over the authenticity of ritualized emotion, such as weeping or visionary bliss, which can be contests internal to a community or between different communities, as in the context of charges of appropriation across traditions. It also examines scholarly debates over cognition and culture, or the relative importance of neurophysiological versus social and cultural influences on the origin, function, and meaning of ritual. It argues that the study of ritual and emotion needs to attend to embodiment and physicality, as well as to the social, historical, and cultural networks within which ritualized emotions “make sense.” But first it looks at various definitions of ritual before commenting on crocodile tears and the authenticity of ritual emotion.