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

4.6 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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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 (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #429,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback
This book left me feeling very torn. On the one hand, it was really a great read. On the other hand, it seemed that there was an underlying agenda that the author refused to admit (or realize). At times, it seemed a little like Bart Ehrman's book--only half the story gets told to bend the conclusion. Of course, Wilken admits that he is not telling the whole story, but he leads the reader to believe that he is being fair. Allow me a few examples. Wilken admits that Augustine is the giant of early Christian thought, and quotes him in every chapter, and on almost every subject. However, when he begins to talk about free-will, there is no talk of Augustine, and Wilken says that all the early fathers believed in free-will. While Augustine may have been in the minority, the average reader (to whom the book is written, as purported by Wilken) would have no other idea. Also, Wilken talks about the monothelite controversy. Usually, he deals with all the bishops and emporers on both sides of a debate. However, in this discussion, he fails to mention Honorius, prelate of Rome. This would be unknown to the average reader, but seems (to me) that it would be important enough to mention. There are a few other, mostly minor, examples of things like this. It all seems to be an apologetic for Roman Catholicism. While that's fine to write an apologetic for your church, telling half the story is deceitful.

That being said, the book is a good read. It flows well, and is enjoyable. Technical terms (usually Greek or Latin words) are explained and used in useful ways. The book contains a good amount of information, yet is presented in an understandable way and is made easy to remember. It isn't just another book on early church history--it traces other things like poetry, etc.
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