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The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy [Paperback]

Paul F. Bradshaw

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Book Description

11 April 2002
Traditional liturgical scholarship has generally been marked by an attempt to fit together the various pieces of evidence for the practice of early Christian worship in such a way as to suggest that a single, coherent line of evolution can be traced from the apostolic age to the fourth century. Paul Bradshaw examines this methodology in the light of recent developments in Jewish liturgical scholarship, of current trends in New Testament studies, and of the nature of the source-documents themselves, and especially the ancient church orders. In its place he offers a guide to Christian liturgical origins which adopt a much more cautious approach, recognizing the limitations of what can truly be known, and takes seriously the clues pointing to the essentially variegated character of ancient Christian worship.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 2 edition (11 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195217322
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195217322
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 16.2 x 1.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 197,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"An indispensable instrument for liturgical teaching and research."--Worship"Thank you for this wonderfully informative book. It is so well done and fills such a current need."--Lynn McMillon, Oklahoma Christian University"Splendid--first rate!"--Edward Foley, Catholic Theological Union"Lucid and insightful....Bradshaw's more 'cautious' approach to the history of liturgy provides an admirable introduction to the field."--W.T. Flynn, Emory University"This is a great contribution to the study of the church and its worship to God."--Wayne Kilpatrick, International Bible College --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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It seems strange that, while conscious reflection on the methodologies appropriate to the discipline has constituted a significant element in scholarly research in such areas as biblical studies and ecclesiastical history in the course of recent decades, the same has not really been true in the field of liturgical history. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
80 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Revised Classic 25 Mar 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
When the first edition of this study appeared in 1992, the initial shock it caused was indicated in a review written by George Saint-Laurent for this journal: "Tacit assumptions are spelled out, presuppositions are investigated, and long-standing hypotheses are proved to be attractive and imaginative but, alas, unsubstantiated by the evidence . . . . Indeed, this reviewer has been forced painfully to conclude that he must revise the content of his own courses in substantive ways and discard many of those cherished 'insights' which he has so confidently presented for years" (JECS 2.3 [1994], 356). But Bradshaw's piercing methodological study of ancient Christian liturgiology has not yet had the impact it is due. Hence, ten years later he moves the following observation, without changing a word, from the midst of his first edition to page one of the second: "While conscious reflection on the methodologies appropriate to the discipline has constituted a significant element in scholarly research in such areas as biblical studies and ecclesiastical history in the course of recent decades, the same has not really been true in the field of liturgical history."
Nonetheless, a growing number of scholars are coming to share the main points of Bradshaw's thesis: when the fragmentary nature of the evidence and the problems of interpreting it are adequately taken into account, rather little can be known about Christian worship in the first several centuries. What we do know points to diversity of liturgical practices rather than uniformity. Hence, the notion that "a single coherent line of liturgical evolution can be traced from the apostolic age to the fourth century" must be scrapped (ix). Bradshaw powerfully proves these points with his penetrating and, at times, devastating reviews of secondary studies and thorough analyses of primary sources. Indeed, he has set the standard for future research on ancient liturgy; any scholar who ignores this foundational work risks laboring in vain.
This second edition has been expanded and restructured with very little taken out but much added. Bradshaw has amended the following chapters to include important research from the past decade: "Worship in the New Testament," "Liturgy and Time," "Ancient Church Orders," and "The Background of Early Christian Worship" (formerly "The Jewish Background of Christian Worship," now renamed to accommodate a brief section on pagan influence). The chapter on ancient church orders, which has been enriched by Bradshaw's ongoing studies of the Apostolic Tradition, is the most authoritative and concise introduction to the documents, the scholarship, and the continuing enigmas of this odd genre. He arranges the chapters on Christian Initiation, the Eucharist, and "Other Major Liturgical Sources" by geographical provenance, thereby highlighting the differences in liturgical practices among various communities.
The first chapter, "Shifting Scholarly Perspectives," has seen the most revision. It has absorbed the chapter previously entitled "Ten Principles for Interpreting Early Christian Liturgical Evidence." One can still discern the "ten principles" although they are presented under different forms and not enumerated as such. Bradshaw restructures the chapter so that it focuses on the methodologies employed by liturgical historians: philological, structuralist (Dix), organic (Baumstark), and comparative (Mateos, Taft). He then recommends the hermeneutics of suspicion for dissipating the naiveté with which previous scholars have approached the sources. The chapter on the Eucharist similarly reads as a fascinating review of scholarship. Perhaps the most significant additions are drawn from Enrico Mazza's work, in light of which Bradshaw expands his conclusions on the development of Eucharistic prayers.
The final two chapters did not appear in any form in the first edition. Devoted to Christian ministry, the first of these dwells on the roles of deacons, presbyters, bishops, and priests in both Latin and Greek sources. The second and last chapter investigates "The Effects of the Coming of Christendom in the Fourth Century." It differs markedly from the other chapters, for in it Bradshaw does not review scholarship so much as provide his own theories regarding post-Nicene Christian worship. While cautioning against overstating the differences between pre- and post-Nicene worship, he argues that the influx of new members did result in some radical changes. Pagan influences crept in while the questionable moral comportment of many new converts led to changes in the understanding and structure of key rituals. Bradshaw refers to such developments as "seeds of further liturgical destruction" (219) and finds evidence of a "tendency towards disintegration . . . rather than the full flowering of the Christian vision" (213).
In the light of the preceding chapters, one sees Bradshaw's own scholarly skepticism folding back on him. How can he speak of "the Christian vision" after going to such great lengths to emphasize the diversity of Christian liturgical practices and theologies? And in the use of such evaluative terms as "disintegration" and "destruction," can one detect the very type of unwarranted presuppositions that Bradshaw so frequently exposes in other scholars? Despite such unguarded moments, this final chapter proves a splendid capstone to Bradshaw's study. For in it he offers possible explanations of the apparent unity in post-Nicene liturgy that many scholars have erroneously assumed indicates unity in the preceding centuries.
This book is truly a model of method. It constitutes a sweeping summary and evaluation of over a century of scholarship on early Christian worship and an exemplary exploration of the primary sources by the person who currently is the master of the field. This is an indispensable methodological guide for any serious scholar investigating the first centuries of Christian liturgy and an obvious springboard for teaching the topic to graduate students. In lieu of a bibliography one finds an index of modern authors and a rather sparse subject index, but given the meticulous organization of the text, it can, nonetheless, be easily consulted as a reference tool.
Daniel Van Slyke
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Liturgical Studies: Bradshaw and Everything Before & After 6 Jan 2007
By Michael J. Pahls - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In his The Early Church: An Annotated Bibliography of Literature in English, Thomas A. Robinson acknowledges the important contribution of this work by Paul Bradshaw. Even Robinson's high praise of the work's significance seems understated in light of its subsequent reception, however.

Originally published in 1992, the second edition has been thoroughly expanded and updated and is now widely recognized as heralding a new age in the study of early Christian liturgy (Be sure to buy the current edition if you by used).

In the preface, Bradshaw borrows the nomenclature of comparative linguistics which distinguishes between "lumpers" (those who group diverse languages into a few familes) and "splitters" (those who inspect the resulting lumps and find fault lines). This work represents something like the latter approach as applied to the history of primitive Christian worship. Bradshaw summarizes this perspective in four guiding assumptions: 1) We know far less about the first three centuries of Christian liturgical practice than has been previously thought. 2) What we do know points to considerable diversity rather than a previously assumed uniformity. 3) The "classical shape of the liturgy " is more the result of the fourth century assimilation of different traditions than the perseverance of an original apostolic pattern. 4) The post-Nicene era reflects frequent liturgical compromise and mutation rather than the triumph of one way of doing things (though discrete examples of this are not unknown).

To cite one example, in his chapter, "Christian Initiation: A Study in Diversity," Bradshaw brings this methodology to bear on the catechumenate itself. After surveying the evidences from Syria, North Africa, Rome, Gaul and Spain, and Egypt, he concludes that one cannot legitimately speak of a standard or normative pattern of early initiation practice in ante-Nicene Christianity. He also concludes that the traditional distinctions between "Eastern" and "Western" practices is likewise illegitimate. While Bradshaw does admit of evidence for some common features that transcend the diversity of local practice (preparatory prebaptismal instruction, a formal act of renunciation and faith, anointing, immersion, and the imposition of hands), he also argues that these features do not always share a common form or meaning. His conclusion is that "there are just too many variations in structure and theology to allow us to construct a single picture in anything but the very broadest terms" (170).

Bradshaw readily acknowledges his debt to the prior work of Georg Kretchmar's "Beiträge zur Geschichte der Liturgie, inbesondere der Taufliturgie, in Ägypten" (really the first work to point out the irreducible diversity in the early Christian catechumenate). But Kretchmar's essay suffered for its inability to reach a wide audience. Search for the Origins of Christian Worship, on the other hand, has been widely read and cited as defining a new orthodoxy in the field. Prior work on the early Christian liturgy, however important in particular details, is really subject to revision according to the consensus that has gathered in this volume's wake and subsequent work must account for its concerns.
8 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Origins of Christian worship 9 Jan 2007
By Patrick G Cox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have found this book very useful in putting into perspective a number of liturgical practices and issues. I can commend this to anyone with an interest in the patterns of liturgical worship.
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