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 , 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