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A Little Help, Please…

October 9, 2009

I have to write a paper for my class on the History of the Early Church and I’m having a difficult time settling on a topic. So I guess I’d like to know what some of you might find interesting. I want to use this opportunity to delve into an area of dispute and do an apologetic sort of thing. There are some obvious ways i could pursue this, which are outlined below the fold.

I could look into the structures that governed the Church in this period, most notably the concept of bishops, deacons and presbyters.  For example, Clement of Rome (who wrote between the years 90 and 100) wrote to the Corinthians asking them why they would remove ministers that the apostles and their successors appointed.  He writes:

We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blame-lessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them. But we see that ye have removed some men of excellent behaviour from the ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honour.

This quote from Ignatius of Antioch is also fascinating in that it talks about the importance of unity of local communities and larger territories. We might look at this today and think of Parishes and Dioceses:

, I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ…

Another option is to look at the Eucharist, which has been the most highly contested doctrine of Christianity since it was instituted by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that the Church’s current belief is in line with the Early Church as well, which is apparent in this quote from Justin Martyr, who wrote around the year 150 during a period of persecution:

And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these… so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

Pretty amazing, in my opinion.

I could do the same thing with sacramental confession and whether or not it was believed that certain men were given the power by Christ to forgive sins. Hippolytus has an interesting quote here in his explanation of episcopal (bishop) ordinations:

Pour forth now that power which comes from you, from your royal Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and which he bestowed upon his holy apostles . . . and grant this your servant, whom you have chosen for the episcopate, [the power] to feed your holy flock and to serve without blame as your high priest, ministering night and day to propitiate unceasingly before your face and to offer to you the gifts of your holy Church, and by the Spirit of the high priesthood to have the authority to forgive sins, in accord with your command”

Still, I could go a different route and tackle a moral issue, like abortion, which many are surprised to hear was practiced during this era. From a series of writings known as The Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve):

And the second commandment of the Teaching; Thou shalt not commit murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not commit paederasty, thou shalt not commit fornication, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not practise magic, thou shalt not practise witchcraft, thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten…”

Or I could do something completely different. Baptism, The Rite of Christian Initiation (which is now known as RCIA), the influence of Greek Philosophy on Christian theology, Martyrdom, or anything. Give me some ideas. What do you want to know?

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2 comments

  1. Less has been written on the early church’sstand on contraception and abortion.


    • How early are we talking? I’ve always been fascinated by the Arian Heresey and how it affected Council of Nicea and the defining of Trinitarian Doctrine, but that didn’t really happen until the early 4th Century. Are you writing this paper as a historian looking at the history or as a philosopher/theologian looking at the history? Answering that question may help you decide on the topic. It might be kind of cool to go from the historian angle and look at why a particular teaching was being focused on or defined during a particular point in time. Anyway, good luck, I hope you have some fun with it.

      -Janet



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