Prompt: Using the text on Christianity, what was life like for early Christians? What beliefs do they profess? How might their beliefs and practices exacerbate differences between Christians and non-Christians? How do these beliefs and practices compare to modern Christianity?
Upon examining accounts of the period, early Christians in the Mediterranean region were seemingly engulfed in a sort of spiritual grief. This is evident in Egeria’s narrative which relates her Holy Week pilgrimage to Jerusalem with other Christians. Although Egeria was separated from the events of Jesus of Nazareth’s life by approximately 350 years, the rituals she describes are saturated with mourning. In her description of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, she relates, “…the gospel passage is read recounting Jesus’ arrest. During the reading, there is such bawling and roaring among the people, along with weeping…” (Gainty & Ward, 2011). Egeria also describes what sounds like a precursor to Christian mass in which religious leaders lead services from a raised table and encourage worshipers to approach. Additionally, the presence of remnants of the cross used for the Christ figure’s crucifix foreshadows the use of holy relics in the medieval period.
Early Christians were also forced to compete spiritually with those of other faith systems. In his City of God, Augustine of Hippo castigates Roman pagans for their role in the fall of the Roman Empire and outlines some of the ways in which he perceives the differences between Christian and non-Christian worship: “…masses flock to the churches and their chaste acts of worship, where a seemly separation of the sexes is observed; where they learn how they may so spend this early life, as to merit a blessed eternity hereafter” (Gainty & Ward, 2011). This passage is contrasted with an earlier one in which Augustine proclaims the lewdness of pagan ritual dictates the worshiper’s degree of spiritual devotion. Benedict of Nursia, who founded an influential monastic order, also comments on proper Christian behavior. With regard to those who choose a monastic life, Benedict prescribes a regimented schedule devoted to communal labor, scriptural study, and worship (Gainty & Ward, 2011).
One can certainly see the echoes of modern Christianity in the beliefs and practices of early Christianity. In most denominations, there are still those who embark on pilgrimages and adopt the monastic lifestyle. Further, a huge component of the Christian identity is how one worships—the typically involves attending religious ceremonies. Although some Christians approach their faith with the same militant zeal described by Augustine and Zachariah of Mitylene, Christianity is no longer a misunderstood minority religion. Some of the ways in which belief and practice have changed (such as the decline in pilgrims and clergy) reflect its dominance as a world religion.
- Gainty, D. and W. D. Ward. (2011). Sources of World Societies, Volume 1: To 1600. London: Macmillan.