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The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God Hardcover – March 11, 2003

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Editorial Reviews


"We recommend (The Spirit of Early Christian Thought) as outstanding...Any Christian concerned that the traditional Christian faith and its consequent Way of Life is often disparaged as 'irrelevant' and 'refuses to face philosophical and social criticism' will find this book a gold mine."--Doxa: A Quarterly Review Serving the Orthodox Church
(Doxa: A Quarterly Review)

From the Publisher

Also available by Robert Louis Wilken: The Christians as the Romans Saw Them

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 398 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Later prt. edition (March 11, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300097085
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300097085
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #537,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Alvin Kimel on December 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I probably cannot add much to the reviews that have already been posted, but I would like to add my 5 stars vote to the chorus.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I know that I will be rereading various chapters, as needed. Wilken's writing style is clear, ordered, thoughtful, and at times lyrical. He evidences a real love for this material.
Wilken looks at the patristic period thematically, focusing on one or two of the Fathers under each theme. Not only are we introduced, therefore, to the theology of the Fathers, but we end up getting to know a bit each of the featured Fathers.
As a Roman Catholic, Wilken of course provides a Western appraisal of the Fathers. His great love is Augustine. But he also has excellent discussions of Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor. His reading of the Fathers is truly catholic. He is eager learn from all the Fathers, whether Eastern or Western. Even when the Fathers are wrong, they have so much to teach us. More than ever, the Church of Jesus Christ needs to drink at this well and imbibe their spirit.
I would love to read a thoughtful Eastern Orthodox review of Wilken's book. In recent years I have discerned a growing anti-Augustine sentiment among Orthodox writers, with some even dismissing Augustine as heretic. Wilken, on the other hand, considers Augustine to be a giant among the Fathers. One thing I do know, after reading Wilken I am finally going to have to break down and read the City of God. :-)
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92 of 101 people found the following review helpful By matt on September 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wilken is one of the best writers on the early Church around. While each chapter deals with specific issues, he touches on a great deal of relevant points, which makes the read both enlightening and fun. His style is easy to follow, which is something that I cannot always say of the preeminent historian of dogma, Jaroslav Pelikan, who heartily indorses this book. You really won't go wrong with this one. Every page has a distilled quality that comes from teaching and living in the minds of the Fathers for several decades.

The contents are as follows:

1. Founded on the Cross of Christ 2. An Awesome and Unbloody Sacrifice
3. The Face of God for Now 4. Seek His Face Always 5. Not My Will But Thine 6. The End Given in the Beginning 7. The Reasonableness of the Faith 8. Happy the People Whose God is the Lord 9. The Glorious Deeds of Christ 10. Making This Thing Other 11. Likeness to God 12. The Knowledge of Sensible Things

He writes: "The intellectual tradition that began in the early Church was enriched by the philosophical breadth and exactitude of medieval thought. Each period in Christian history makes its own unique contribution to Christian life. The Church Fathers, however, set in place a foundation that has proven to be irreplaceable. Their writings are more than a stage in the development of Christian thought or an interesting chapter in the history of the interpretation of the Bible. Like an inexhaustible spring, faithful and true, they irrigate the Christian imagination with life-giving water flowing from the biblical and spiritual sources of the faith. They are still our teachers today."

In terms of errors or just overstatements, there are few worth noting, none of which deserve to take away from the book's great worth.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on March 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Wilken has given us a beautiful book. In the preface, he mentions that he originally intended the book to be a sequel to his earlier excellent _The Christians as the Romans Saw Them_. The first book presented the prosecution's case against early Christianity, as it were, and the new one would present the defense. But he eventually dropped the idea, because as he delved deeper into the writings of the early Church Fathers, he realized that their thinking was much too independent of Greco-Roman thought to be interpreted merely as a response to it. So the new book emerged.
One of the most fascinating and instructive points of Professor Wilken's new book is his claim that Harnack and Co. were wrong to suppose that early Christian thought was thoroughly Hellenized by cultural osmosis. This of course has been the standard way of thinking since the mid-nineteenth century. But in fact, as Wilken's goes to pains to demonstrate, just the converse is true: Christianity dramatically influenced Hellenistic culture. It was Christianity that radically transformed the secular world, not the other way around.
Wilken demonstrates that this radical transformation of Greco-Roman culture--which was at the same time, of course, the coming-into-its-own of Christian thought--was never primarily intellectualistic. Christianity is a religion, not a philosophy. It stresses love, compassion, service in the world, and worship, and these elements define the parameters and shape the content of early Christian thought. Wilken works through this claim by examining, chapter by chapter, how the early Christians viewed (for example) worship, the Resurrection, the Trinity, the Passion, and so on.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Mac D. Culver on May 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you have a desire to know the thought of the Early Church but have a difficult time working through the volumes of writtings of the Fathers, this book is a blessing beyond belief. Not only does Dr. Wilken allow you to hear them, but you leave the book feeling as if you know then and have walked with them.
The book not only explores the historical realities of what happened, but you experience the motivation and love of the Church that has been given down through the centuries as a precious gift.
Five stars is a gross under statement for this outstanding work. This book makes me desire to return to the class and to explore again that which I may have missed in previous studies.
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