Thursday, July 12, 2007

Conversions in the Early Church

I'm about a third of the way through Carl Sommer's We Look for a Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early Christians (Ignatius Press) and it is fascinating! I was at first intimidated by its size and "scholarly" look, but it's really quite accessible and written for "every man".

The first segment provides an in-depth overview of the Roman empire at the time of the Early Church in order to understand the world the Early Christians were living in and the challenges and opportunities that arose from it. (This is a book written for adults, by the way. Some mature content arises in this context.)

I've just gotten into the segment on the witness of the Early Christians to those around them. Here are several parts I found particularly interesting and beautiful.

The first is a list of six factors that made Christianity attractive to people at that time:
1) charity offered without expectation of return or profit

2) fellowship offered to all social levels

3) Christian steadfastness in the face of persecution

4) the high moral standards of the Christians

5) Christians' assurance of victory over demons

6) the sacraments, which conveyed the promise of salvation
The second is a quote from St. Justin Martyr (writing about his own conversion):
For I myself, too, when I was delighting in the doctrines of Plato, and heard the Christians slandered, and saw them fearless of death, and of all other things which are counted fearful, perceived that it was impossible that they could be living in wickedness and pleasure. For what sensual or intemperate man, or who that counts it good to feast on human flesh, could welcome death that he might be deprived of his enjoyments...?
You can also see here a strong hint of misconceptions about Christianity that were present even in its earliest days.

And finally, a quote from the text itself:
The early Christians were completely earnest when they converted. They knew what form of death they were courting, and they certainly knew that at the very least they would be subjected to considerable ridicule from their old friends and associates. And yet they continued to present themselves for baptism. Their motives were powerful. When a person made the fateful step of approaching his Christian friend and saying "I want to be like you", he was saying, in effect, "I know my way of life is bankrupt and I cannot continue to live this way anymore. I need Christ, the Church, and the sacraments to become the person I want to be."
Fascinating! This looks to be one of those books that are well-suited for homeschool parents wishing to brush up on their history in order to teach their children. It might be read, at least in part, by more mature teens to great benefit as well.

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