What did monks do all day? Columba Stewart tells us in his marvelous little book Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (Orbis, 1998):
The Work of God
At the center of the Benedictine life was the daily round of liturgy called by Benedict the “Work of God” (opus dei). The Rule specified eight such ‘offices’ per day. The first, very early in the morning, was “a comparatively long service of psalms and readings called Vigils.” Then came Lauds [“lawds”] followed almost immediately by four other brief offices during the day—Prime, Terce [“terse”], Sext, None [rhymes with “bone”], an evening office (Vespers) and a brief bedtime office (Compline [“COMP’-lin”]). All told, this amounted to nearly four hours per day spent in communal prayer, during which the monks would work their way through all of the psalms once each week.
Important to the monastic life was the slow, meditative reading of scripture, called the lectio divina. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged Benedict, Benedictine, Bible, hours, lectio divina, Middle Ages, monasticism, monks, opus dei, Order of Saint Benedict, prayer, Scripture
Complete writings of church fathers before, during, and after the Council of Nicea (325)
Why did C S Lewis so strongly rely on the integrity of the Christian tradition? Why was he a “traditional” Christian–a reader of the church fathers, a student of the medieval mystics, an appreciator of scholastic theology? For one thing, he saw what many modern Christians do not: that the boundaries marked out by tradition and the interpretive frameworks provided by it strengthen our ability to understand and live the primary revelation of Scripture.
Tradition in the early church: Irenaeus and the Cappadocians address the heretics
One barrier that still stands in the way of broader acceptance of tradition among free-church Protestants is the misunderstanding of the Reformation that says that medieval Christians treated tradition as a source of authority separate from Scripture. The notion would have been ludicrous to medievals. Scripture and tradition had never been separated in the early church. The church had met together in councils repeatedly to discern the meanings of Scripture. The resulting creeds (elaborated out of long-repeated local church creeds that developed out of the heart of worship) became part of tradition, as protections against wildfire teachings such as Arianism, docetism, and monophysitism.
The very New Testament canon itself, whose now-accepted list of books did not appear until 367 AD in an Easter letter of Athanasius, emerged out of a process of communal discernment led, as they believed, by the Holy Spirit. Which books and letters, when read in the congregations, evidenced spiritual power and truth by supporting and edifying the congregants and building up the church? No serious Christian thinker until the Wycliffes and Huses of the late medieval period—when tradition had become a crutch and a tool of power on the part of some of those at the top of the church—seriously doubted the seamlessness of Scripture and tradition and their necessity to one another. Continue reading
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. When the debate about Jesus’ divinity first hit the streets of Alexandria, the Emperor Constantine saw the handwriting on the wall (perhaps literally, if he came across some of that theological graffiti!). He said to himself, “This empire isn’t going to fall apart on my watch!” And so he called together a giant council of the church at his summer palace in Nicea (Nicea is now a town called Iznik, in Turkey—and sadly for us historians, there’s nothing left of that palace). Constantine was doing, on a larger scale, what the church had always done in its first three hundred years when a crucial matter like this came up. He called on the bishops—that is, the teaching pastors of key churches—to come together.
The point was not to have these top pastors get all creative and brilliant and make up some new doctrine that everyone would have to follow from then on. No, since the beginning, the bishops in the church had had only one main function, and everyone understood it. The job of each bishop—and especially of all the bishops together—was simple: they were expected to faithfully pass on the teachings of the Apostles. Continue reading
From the Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies, check out these talks by Everett Ferguson and Robert Louis Wilken on the whys and wherefores of patristics:
The stories of other Christians are vitally important to our spiritual lives. That, in fact, is why the discipline of church history was added to Protestant seminaries’ curricula. But how and when did this happen? I got to share this story with Bethel Seminary’s trustees and the readers of Christianity Today online a few years back:
When Theology Comes Alive
Living theology: that’s what the 17th-century Pietists wanted to see. And so they invented church history.
An earlier version of this essay was given by Dr. Chris Armstrong (associate professor of church history, Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, and senior editor, Christian History & Biography) as a talk to the trustees of Bethel University on May 5, 2005.
Dorothy Sayers, a 20th-century, Oxford-educated dramatist, novelist, and lay theologian, wrote to wake up her sleeping Anglican church. She saw people inside and outside of the churches of her day completely unaware of how radical and powerful the gospel really is. And so she wrote essays, stories, and dramas that made the gospel come alive for people. She had a phrase she liked to use when she encountered people who thought church doctrine—”dogma” as it is still sometimes called—was dull and irrelevant. She would say, “The dogma is the drama!”
I love that. The dogma is the drama. What Sayers was reminding us was that if we are falling asleep in church, it is because we have no idea what dynamite we are sitting on.
And as I always remind my students, a wonderful place to go to see what happens when the Gospel’s dynamite blows up in people’s lives is Christian history. I’ll put this idea in less violent form: Christian history is where theology comes to life. Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Bible, biography, Christian history, church history, Dorothy Sayers, early church, history, holiness movement, King David, Philip Spener, Pietists, Saints, scientific revolution, Scripture