Author Archives: Derek A. Olsen

Prayer Book Studies II: The Lectionary

Sharing the latter half of the volume with PBS I is Prayer Book Studies II: The Liturgical Lectionary which examines and recommends changes to the lectionary appointed for the Eucharist.

Note the timing: this was published in 1950 and was based on work done before that time. The three-year lectionary is not even a twinkle in Rome’s eye at this point. As a result, this book is focused entirely on tweaks to the classical one-year lectionary. This volume could be considered an anachronistic waste of time as it refers to a system we no longer use any more but for two important points.

First, the three-year lectionary has come under fire lately and there have been a number of pieces written on the superiority of the one-year system and calls for its restoration. In light of that call, I find it quite valuable to see this list of considerations on what needed to be changed in that system by people who had lived within it for decades. It’s easy enough for people of my age and younger who have never lived under it to wax eloquent about its benefits; it’s more instructive to hear trained scholars with lengthy experience with it hold forth on how it could be made better.

Second, this volume addresses what I understand as a fundamental principle of any good Eucharistic lectionary:

In other words, it is none of our concern to impose any individualistic idea of our own as to what the Christian Year is, much less to reform it to what we might like to make it. As a matter of fact, we know what the Christian Year is only by studying what it has been: and any emendations we may make should be limited to those which will actually enable it to say better what it is evidently trying to say. (PBS II, 45)

One of the brief side-arguments I made in my dissertation that I’d like to revisit and expand upon at some time is just this notion—that there is an Aristotelian back-and-forth between the character of our liturgical seasons and the content of our Eucharistic lections. That is, the themes of the season inform the choice of the lessons; the content of the lessons establishes the themes of the season.

The argument rightly presented here is that “…the Church’s cycle of commemorations was not a system which was systematically planned and executed at any one time, but a collection which was gradually piled up through many centuries” (PBS II, 40). Indeed, further scholarly work like McKinnon’s magisterial The Advent Project (published in 2000 and argued about since then) gives a fascinating visibility into the fits and starts by which accumulation and systematic planning alternated in the life of the Church and the growth of its lectionaries and Minor Propers.

There is a not insignificant amount of unhappiness with certain aspects of the Revised Common Lectionary—the three-year cycle we currently use for our Eucharistic lectionary. While many folks take the opportunity to spout off about what’s wrong with it, this volume offers an opportunity to examine how to go about thinking through what careful, intentional, systematic revision could and should look like.

It’s worth noting that the changes discussed here are grounded in one particular book, The Eternal Word in the Modern World, by Burton Scott Easton and Howard Chandler Robbins (Scribners, New York, 1937). The introduction to PBS I/II states :

The Commission records its loss in the deaths of two of its members, whose final contributions to the Church they served are reflected in this first issue of the Prayer Book Studies. . . . The Reverend Doctor Burton Scott Easton, late Associate Member, in his published work on the Epistles and Gospels of the Christian Year, furnished the foundation and inspiration for the Study on “The Liturgical Lectionary.”

So—the first author of the book was also a participant in the drafting of this volume. I’ve never seen a copy of this work for myself, but now I’m curious about it…

Another interesting throw-away line was this one:

It is a curious fact that no Lectionary of any Church ever made a systematic attempt to secure a definite ‘liturgical harmony,’ featuring a single common theme between all the portions read at each service, until the American Lectionary of 1943. (PBS II, 44)

The reference here is not to a Eucharistic lectionary, but to the revision of the Daily Office Lectionary. While I’m aware of this lectionary and have interacted with it to a certain degree,  I’ve not yet studied it in depth. When I have the opportunity to do so, the starting point will no doubt be Bayard Jones’ The American Lectionary (Morehouse-Gorham, 1944).

Jones was one of the Big Three in the early work of the Standing Liturgical Commission, the other two being Morton Stone and Massey Shepherd, Jr. All three of these guys—as liturgy professors at Episcopal seminaries—wrote important books on the 1928 BCP and its liturgy that might make interesting reading to supplement what is found in these Prayer Book Studies volumes.

PBS I: Baptism & Confirmation

I’d hoped to glance quickly over the text of PBS I, which I’ve already finished, and to jot out a quick post pointing out a few highlights. Instead, I started reading through the text and got bogged down into a few google searches leading inevitably to the agreement between two bishops of the 1750’s that they’d be happy to give away the body of St. Anselm to the superstitious King of Sardinia on the principle that if they could give away some dusty bones to the benefit of a single Protestant they’d be ahead in the bargain! (And, of course, that any old Anselm would do to be sent off anyway…). [Both plans A & B were thwarted.]

However, I did find myself making a number of footnote additions to the text. The authors assume that the readers either know the text of the 1928 BCP intimately or that they have a copy of it at hand while they read the Studies.  While that’s probably not a bad idea, I’ve elected to include footnotes containing the various prayers and other things they make reference to in case there isn’t a ’28 BCP around.

In any case… The study does open with the question of the relationship between Baptism and Confirmation which will continue to be a major topic in Anglican liturgics to the present. While the question is identified, it is not solved or even fully engaged here. Rather, the proposed changes to Baptism: “may be subsumed under three headings: the length of the service, the clarification of rubrics to meet modern needs and demands, and the simplification of the ritual text.” (PBS I, 12). What this line doesn’t mention but explains later is one of the central planks of the revision of Baptism, namely that the baptismal service should be shortened so that it is not overly burdensome when inserted into a regular Sunday Service, preferably a Eucharist.  Private baptism are not forbidden but certainly discouraged.

The discussion of the Blessing of the Font under the third heading brings up again the Confirmation question which concludes in this way:

All that the present revision claims for itself is that it has sought to avoid any phraseology which would foster an interpretation of Baptism with Water in such a way that it usurps or makes superfluous the normative and necessary place of Confirmation in the perfecting of the Christian, or would reduce the meaning of Confirmation to a mere strengthening of what has been received in Baptism. (PBS I, 19)

After this, they do hasten to add that Confirmation should follow directly after if at all possible.

The changes to Confirmation include making it a full stand-alone service, but also a move back towards a second giving of the Spirit:

The most significant alteration in the prayers which follow are designed to restore the primitive view of Confirmation as the gift of the indwelling Spirit in all His fulness to the baptized, and not merely as an added, strengthening grace. Thus, “Send into their hearts thy Holy Spirit” is substituted for “Strengthen them with the Holy Ghost” as in the present form. This brings the prayer closer not only to the 1549 form, but also to the original Gelasian wording: immitte in eos Spiritum sanctum. Similarly, “Confirm” has replaced “Defend” in the prayer said by the Bishop at the imposition of his hand. This change makes it clear that Confirmation means primarily the action of God in confirming His children. In our present rite the word “confirming” is confusingly used only of the action of the candidate in renewing his vows. Moreover the word “confirm” includes all that is implied in “defend” and more! (PBS I, 21)

Needless to say, this direction will be significantly reversed in later volumes…

The second big topic here is the question of bringing  Chrismation back into the service. The Sarum materials mention the bishop “signing and sealing” but don’t mention oil.  While Cranmer had kept the language of “signing and sealing” in the 1549 book, this was all excised in the 1552 BCP. This revision notes that many bishops are signing and sealing with oil, and as much as you get the sense that they’d like to go there, the authors stop short of actually proposing it. It’s floated as a trial balloon in the text, but not included within the proposed service itself.

In summary, then, this study offers some initial steps towards baptismal revision. Private baptisms are discouraged, but there is no sense here of the Baptismal Covenant. The Confirmation revision doubles down on the rite as an invocation of the Spirit upon the confirmand, emphasizing thereby that the “confirming” is something done just as a much by God as it is by the individual.

Prayer Book Studies: Digital Edition

One of the things I have hoped and intended to do for a long time is to make the Prayer Book Studies series more available throughout the church.

For those not familiar with it, “Prayer Book Studies” was a concept set into motion by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 1949. This would be a study of liturgy, liturgical principles, and the rites of the church that would guide progress towards a new Book of Common Prayer. Prayer Book Studies I/II (containing the first two studies) appeared in 1950; Prayer Book Studies 29: Introducing the Proposed Book of Common Prayer was published in 1976.  Appearing (mostly) in floppy blue pamphlets of varying length, these booklets are invaluable looks into the thoughts, logic, knowledge, and assumptions of the men (mostly men…) who shaped our present American Book of Common Prayer (1979).

As we discuss liturgical revision at this time, and as we have memorialized the 1979 BCP—whatever that means—it is imperative that we as a church gain a clear sense of this book that we have and the principles and priorities that produced it.

And these topics are discussed and made explicit in the volumes of the Prayer Book Studies.

I have signed a contract with Church Publishing to produce a digital edition of the full series. Exactly how they will be gathered and distributed is a marketing decision, and not entirely in my hands. Nonetheless, the goal is to produce the complete text containing footnotes (and introducing editorial footnotes where I think something needs to be added or clarified) for the reflection and edification of the church.

Want to know why a text was chosen? Check here first.

Want to understand the reason for a rubric? Check here first.

Want to get a better sense of why we do what we do? Check here first…

We plan to move quickly on this. I’ve already begun the first series, and PBS 1-3 are in the hands of the good folks at CPG. I intend to finish the first series (Prayer Book Studies I-XVII) by the early summer; I don’t know what that means exactly for a release date, but I hope not too long after that. I plan to blog as I go, sharing some of the gems I discover, and whetting your appetites for the arrival of the full set.

(Work on the Psalms book still continues, albeit at a sluggish pace, and will be back on the front burner when this is done…)

So—check back frequently for more updates, ask me if you don’t see any, and keep me in your prayers as I work to make this great set of resources available for the church!

Resurrecting the Blog

Easter-tide is perfect for resurrections…

It’s been a really rough year for me personally and for the blog and my writing as well. I had a job loss, some floundering, then a new job, and a new medical diagnosis lurking behind it all.

For almost the past decade, I worked in the IT department of a financial-sector Fortune 50 company. It had its pros and cons,  the biggest pros being my immediate supervisors who  were (and are) terrific people. The cons were the constant layoffs and downsizings, and eventually they got to my name on the list…

When I was told that was ending, I thought about what to do next. I had a vision of writing and programming full-time: really taking the blog and the breviary to the next level and incorporating some additional projects to make this all work. I gave that a shot. That’s when I put up the Patreon page, and tried to make a go of it. I quickly realized that—at least at this point in my life—that wasn’t going to fly.

A new attractive job opportunity opened up—teaching Computer Science (and math) at an inner-city Catholic girls school here in Baltimore. So I made the switch. And while I love it, and it’s great fun, learning the ropes of a new job, teaching a full load of classes none of which I’ve ever taught before, and trying to stay on top of all of the grading has all but torpedoed any hopes I had of maintaining all of the other side projects.

Especially the blog…

In and through all of this, I’ve been grappling with a new reality about my life. Around the same time that I was laid-off, I was diagnosed with adult Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). I had never thought of myself in that way before, but after the diagnosis, looking through the literature, watching videos like this one and this one and many more, and generally educating myself about the condition—so many things about my life made so much more sense!!

Now I know that typically in our culture we hide neurodiversity/mental illness. Sorry—I have no interest in doing that. It’s part of who I am. It’s not something I’m ashamed of (or proud of); it’s just me.

Please notice I used two terms in the previous paragraph: “neurodiversity” and “mental illness.” I did that for a reason. As I see it, neurodiversity recognizes a biochemical fact—my brain isn’t wired like other peoples’ brains. I lack (or have diminished capabilities in) certain executive functioning pathways and other links that occur in the majority of adult human brains. Mental illness is when my different functioning becomes pathological, and disrupts normal relationships and prevents me from working or living well with my neurotypical family, friends, and colleagues.

I’m on medication and working with strategies to manage my condition, to keep it non-pathological. (And I’m recognizing strategies and coping mechanisms I’ve always used and never realized before!) However, it’s still a challenge, especially with all of the other life changes I am wrestling with right now.

To bring this back to the blog and the church stuff, my ADHD is one of the reasons why I have so many side-projects going on—and why I have such difficulty finishing the ones I start! Part of my sanity process going forward will be to rein these in and to actually finish all of the various and sundry projects that I have started—before I start any new ones!

I have used this blog in the past as, essentially, an accountability strategy. That is, I’ve posted things here in order to keep my forward progress going forward. It doesn’t always work—but it can and has with several projects in the past. So, as one of my strategies towards sanity, I’m going to get back to the blogging, to keep you up to date on things and, hopefully, to keep moving forward with the things I need to do.

What’s prompted this now, at this particular time, is one of the many side-projects that isn’t purely self-directed. When I commit to doing projects with and for other people—people with budgets and timelines—there are consequences for falling through, like important projects I believe in and care about getting cancelled. So. In my next post, I’ll formally announce this project and work towards finishing it, and then tackle the other projects that I (and maybe you) care about too so that we can get these finished up…

Thoughts on Good Friday

I don’t think that the crucifixion was inevitable. I don’t think it necessarily had to go this way.

God sent his Son to be incarnate and live as one of us. Jesus was sent to reconcile humanity with God, to repair the breech, to lead us back to unity with God, and to enable us to share in the hopes and dreams and desires of God for his vast creation. God doesn’t choose to play us like puppets, so there had to be some freedom and flexibility in the plan, so that God could adapt to the human element, to the ways that we might act or react or change the plan. That doesn’t mean that we had to end up killing him—but that’s what we did.

I don’t think that the crucifixion was inevitable—but it was very likely, knowing who God is, and knowing who we are. We humans have an innate tendency to be selfish. We look after our own interests. Our tendency is to look out for number one, and to be suspicious of anyone or anything that threatens our power, our position, or our possessions. It’s a system that works. It’s not a system that is good, but it works because it is predictable and reliable.

Jesus came to break this system.

Jesus came to tell us about a more excellent way. And he didn’t just come to tell us with his mouth, but with his whole body and through everything that he did and the people he hung out with. He could have been part of the political system, he could have gotten in good with the religious system—but he didn’t. Instead he came to break the system. He came to challenge and question and confuse and confound and to beat up the scribes and the lawyers and the religious leaders with their own law because he knew it better than they did. He came, asking the hard questions about what justice, and mercy, and grace, and love really look like and act like and feel like. Jesus threatened the system and so the system fought back in the only way that it knows how. We didn’t have to end up killing him—but that’s what we did.

Because, at the end of the day, that’s who we are. We make the selfish choices. We perpetuate systems that aren’t fair, but that work because just enough people get what they want, they can justify taking it away and keeping it away from others. We made the choice to kill the Lord of Life because that’s who we are.

But—we call this day “Good” Friday because of the other person in the equation. God knows humanity. God knows humanity thoroughly. And even if the crucifixion wasn’t part of the original plan, God wasn’t done with us yet. Despite our pettiness, our fear, our cruelty. Despite humanity staying true to our worst instincts, God stayed true to his best nature. God kept on being God and that means bringing hope out of darkness, bringing freedom out of captivity, bringing redemption out of death. Even while we were yet sinners, Christ Jesus chose to die for us, and in so doing, turned our ultimate act of betrayal into a means for achieving the reunion that he came to accomplish. God loved us—and loves us—so deeply that our own attempts to ruin it were doomed to failure because there is nothing that you or I or anyone else can do that is bad enough to make God stop loving us. God’s capacity for love is greater than our capacity for sin.

I don’t think the crucifixion was inevitable—but it was likely, and I suppose it’s not surprising knowing the way we are. Good Friday is the day that humanity failed. We failed because we closed our eyes and minds and hearts to God’s message of love and truth and peace. We failed because we thought the way to stop God from challenging us and challenging our systems was to kill. We failed because there is nothing that we can do to make God stop—to make God stop loving us and calling us back to him.

Today is the day that we failed—but God wasn’t done with us yet.

God isn’t done with us yet.

Thanks be to God.

Hear Me Talk about Oxford 2.0

At school the second quarter is coming to an end and we're gearing up for midterms. It wasn't until my friends from All Things Rite & Musical tweeted a link to my Anglo-Catholic Future talk that I realized it was up for listening!

So---here you will find the audio of me talking about my take on an modern Oxford Movement 2.0.

If you haven't read them before---or if you haven't read them recently---I'd recommend reading Robert Hendrickson's "It's Time for a New Oxford Movement" post and also the follow-up from Ed Watson "What's Preventing a New Oxford Movement?" before listening to my talk.

I usually post the text as well, but there's talk about doing something else with these so I'm holding off until I know more.

Antichrist Morning

I was reminded of Adso this morning.

Adso was a French Benedictine abbot from the end of the 10th century (and a contemporary of Aelfric). He is best remembered for his letter on the Antichrist to Gerberga of Saxony/France (one of the interesting, literate, and powerful women of the period). This letter would become the standard treatment of the Antichrist throughout the medieval period.

The Antichrist is a feature of historic Christian teaching that modern mainline sorts look at askance, largely because of the prominence given the figure in Darbyite constructions of the End of Days popular among certain kinds of fundamentalists. People’s Exhibit A being, naturally, the Left Behind series…

There are two main problems with the figure of “Antichrist” to the modern Christian mind.

The first is that it contorts Christianity into a full-on dualistic position: there are the forces of Good with God, Jesus as main figurehead, and the believers and doers of good on one side arrayed against Satan, the Antichrist as main figurehead, and the workers of evil on the other side. This is a awfully black-and-white construction of reality. It may work well for propaganda purposes (City on a Hill [us and our geo-political allies] vs. the Empire/Axis of Evil [them and their geo-political allies]), but works less well for nuanced theological thought. Clearly this theological construct can and has been marshaled in service of Christian Nationalism which can then get linked to a host of other unsavory notions I need not descend into now but seem pretty obvious in our current context…

The second is its minimal biblical moorings. The term “Antichrist” only shows up in four verses in the Johannine letters, and seems to refer not specifically to one individual but to a class of folks who deny the Incarnation. However, these references were then connected to Paul’s references to “the Lawless One” in 2 Thessalonians (rendered in the Vulgate as homo peccati, filius perditionis [man of sin, son of perdition]) and then to the chief political enemy in the Book of Revelation. From there, a narrative is set up and Adso—among others—connects the dots to come up with a biography of the Antichrist.

Obviously, the image of the Antichrist is not only a dualistic one but apocalyptic. And that’s no surprise as apocalyptic rhetoric generally is strongly dualistic in order to set up an us-vs.-them dynamic. Apocalypticism defined the world that Adso lived in. He was living towards the end of the Viking Age. While this period had begun with Scandinavian attacks on England and Francia, its ending saw vikings as not just raiders but conquerors. It was not hard at all to see the struggle between the kingdoms of England and the Continent as engaged in an eschatological battle with martial implications as the (largely) pagan vikings sacked, looted, burned, and ruled Christian areas.  Adso, Wulfstan, Aelfric and their contemporaries could easily see a viking king on the  throne who would persecute Christians bringing all of the prophecies about the Antichrist together in their lifetime. Nor were they terribly off-base: the Dane Canute would become king of England in 1016. Luckily, Canute’s grandfather—Harald Bluetooth (yes, the guy the short-ranged communication protocol is named for)—had converted to Christianity and was the first Christian king of Denmark.

So—why was I reminded of all of this stuff this morning? Cranmer’s psalm cycle offers us Psalms 9, 10, and 11 this morning.

Psalms 9 and 10 also formed a central point of reference in the early medieval understanding of the Antichrist. Just as they understood the Psalms to speak directly of Christ, so too do these two psalms speak of the Antichrist. Just as the gender-inclusive plural (“Blessed are they…” in Psalm 1) hides from us some of the classical identifications of Christ in the psalter, so too here. While the “ungodly” and “wicked” of Ps 9:15 and 17 are in the plural in the Latin (we’re looking at what Adso was looking at…), the references to the wicked in our Psalm 10 (his second-half of Psalm 9) are in the singular. Hence the “wicked” and “covetous”—rendered by Jerome as impius and peccator—are a singular actor in the psalm, cursing God and acting unjustly towards the poor and innocent. Augustine connects this sinner to the Antichrist in his commentary; Cassiodorus takes this identification and runs with it, solidifying the interpretation of these psalms for Adso to take up and use.

As I frequently remind my church history students, the notion of what is “biblical” is not static. There are a host of things that we look at and wonder how Christians in previous ages could have believed such things—time and again the reason is because they found them in the Scriptures. To them and their reading logics they were clearly and obviously Biblical Truth.

Bottom line—“biblical” is not a simple binary. That doesn’t mean that it’s not useful and we shouldn’t use it, but that we should do so advisedly. What do we do with Antichrist? Well—we keep celebrating the Feast of the Incarnation! And we remember that our tradition has used this language to challenge those in power who act against biblical standards of justice and righteousness.

Christ the King

LORD of the ages evermore,
Each nation’s King, the wide world o’er,
O Christ, our only Judge thou art,
And Searcher of the mind and heart

Though Sin with rebel voice maintain,
‘We will not have this Christ to reign,’
Far other, Lord shall be our cry,
Who hail thee King of Kings most High.

O thou eternal Prince of peace,
Subdue man’s pride, bid error cease,
Permit not sin to wax o’er-bold,
The strayed bring home within the fold.

For this thou hangedst on the Tree
With arms outstretched in loving plea;
For this thou shewedst forth thy Heart,
On fire with love, pierced by the dart.

And yet that wounded side sheds grace
Forth from the altar’s holy place,
Where, veiled ‘neath humblest bread and wine,
Abides for man the life divine.

Earth’s noblest rulers to thee raise
Their homage due of public praise
Teachers and judges thee confess;
Art, science, law, thy truth express.

Let kings be fain to dedicate
To thee the emblems of their state;
Rule thou each nation from above,
Rule o’er the people’s homes in love.

All praise, King Jesu, be to thee,
The Lord of all in majesty;
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore. Amen.

Today is the Feast of Christ the King in the old Western Kalendar. I relized this late and was scrambling this morning to insert propers into a database following the Old Kalendar so they would display correctly. As I typed and read through these texts, the more they spoke to me.

I rose this morning to the news that there have now been three domestic terror attacks within the span of a couple of days fueled by ideological and racial hatred. The secular world can only shake its head and talk about intolerance and the partisan divide. Luckily, I’m a Christian so I have better language: this is evil, caused by sin. More specifically, it is sin empowered and emboldened by the loudest voice in the State.

Ant. 1: This is the true Solomon, † whose Name is the pledge of peace to the whole world, * and the throne of whose kingdom God hath established for evermore.

Now I get that there are some in the Episcopal church who find the language of royalty and kingship challenging. I have heard that this language of dominion can be a retrenchment of patriarchal thought. And yet I find it a comfort and aid this morning as I consider the news.

I am a Christian first.

I put my identity as a follower of Christ before my gender, my race, and—yes—even before my national origin. For me my Baptism is at the heart of my identity. Don’t get me wrong—I am proud to be an American (usually) and am proud to be the son of a veteran from a lineage of veterans. But the words of the Pledge, “and justice for all,” ring hollow when politicians flagrantly disregard them. At those moments, I remember that I am the subject of a Sovereign.

Ant. 3: Behold the Man who is like to the sunrising, † whose Name is The Branch; * he will sit and rule upon his throne, and speak peace unto the nations.

Political systems and movements that play upon racial hatred are anti-Christ. There is no other way to say it.

The propers of Christ the King take the ideas of dominion and lordship and sovereignty, and subvert them in line with the Gospel and the gospels we have been hearing the last few Sundays:

So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

The hymn above emphasizes that kingship was accomplished through the humiliation of the cross and comes to us in the simple forms of bread and wine. Domination and hierarchy are subdued by self-offering. The Lauds hymn is the Vexilla regis which even more emphasizes that the power by Jesus flows from selfless service rather than from might or manipulative rhetoric (“Fulfilled is all that David told/In true prophetic song, of old:/Unto the nations, lo! saith he,/Our God hath reignèd from the Tree”)

The proclamation of Christ as king gives us an alternative and superior political standard that challenges all earthly systems and regimes and powers. Sin and evil and death are put on notice. But we—we the people—have to follow the lead of our true leader.

Chapter at None: For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of his Cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself, * whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven (Col 1:19).

Pass My Exam!

As most of you know, I’m doing quite a lot of teaching right now… I’m up to my eyeballs in my new day-job teaching high school and had already committed to teaching two Master’s level classes before getting that job offer. Thankfully, I had taught one of those before—my Church History class. However, I decided to do something a little differently this go around…

I’m trying to prepare my students to use their Church History where it counts—at the back of the church when some one asks an innocent question that is best answered with thirty minutes and a pile of books yet you know their eyes will glaze over after just a minute. Therefore, I’m giving an exam where the students will have to prepare short [short] answers to the kinds of questions that I’ve heard.

So, how well would you do on my first-section of the semester exam? It spans the period from the writing of the New Testament to the Church Fathers (end of the 4th century). Here’s the study guide I gave them:

H601 Study Guide for First-Half Exam

The few dates I actually want you to memorize (and why)

  • AD 70–The Destruction of the Temple: This event ended the plurality of Late Second Temple Judaisms and set the stage for the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity as distinct entities. The Early Church saw the destruction as confirmation of Jesus’ prophecy in the Gospels. Also, it established Vespasian and Titus as the new dynasty of the Roman Empire
  • AD 136—end of the Bar Kochba revolt, the third and final Jewish revolt against the Romans that led to Jewish expulsion from the region of Jerusalem. Continuing anti-Jewish policies played a role in Jewish-Christian self-differentiation.
  • AD 180 (roughly)—Irenaeus writes Against Heresies and demonstrates a coherent Christian self-understanding embodied in the three marks of the Church that is only two generations removed from Jesus’ own circle: (Irenaeus learned from Polycarp who learned from John the Elder)
  • AD 250—The Decian Persecution: This is the first time that persecution of Christians became a matter of Imperial policy requiring sacrifices and written proof of thereof. Although short-lived, it set an important precedent.
  • AD 313—The “Edict of Milan”: While probably less formal than an edict, this was the agreement between Constantine and Licinius to allow Christianity throughout the Empire
  • AD 325—The First Ecumenical Council at Nicea called by Constantine to address the Arian Controversy and ended the Quartodecemian Controversy.
  • AD 380—Theodosius declares Catholic Orthodoxy the religion of the Empire.
  • AD 410—The Sack of Rome by Alaric and “the Goths”: More an internal policy dispute between a Roman army and Roman officials than a barbarian sack of a civilized city, it nevertheless prompted a crisis concerning the efficacy of Christianity as a state religion.

Important Relationships (and their chronological order where pertinent)

  • Apostolic Fathers—Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, the anonymous author of the Didache (The first generation of Christian thought and witness after the age of the New Testament)
  • The birth of Monasticism: Origen – The Desert Fathers & Mothers, know Antony and Pachomius – Athanasius – Jerome – John Cassian – Evagrius of Pontus
  • The Four Doctors of the Western Church: Ambrose – Augustine – Jerome – Gregory the Great
  • The Four Doctors of the Eastern Church: John Chrysostom – Basil the Great – Gregory of Nazianzen – Athanasius
  • The Great Trinitarian Champions: Athanasius of Alexandria – Leo the Great – Gregory of Nazianzen – Gregory of Nyssa – Basil the Great
  • The African Fathers of Latin Christianity: Tertullian – Cyprian – Augustine

Be able to identify:

  • The Three Marks of the Church according to Irenaeus (Canon/Creed/Apostolic Succession)
  • The main idea of the Gnostics
  • The main idea of the Arians
  • The two positions in the Quartodecemian controversy
  • The main idea of the Donatists
  • The main idea of Ecumenical Councils

Short Answer Questions to Prepare:

  • Why was the destruction of the Temple in 70 such a big deal?
  • Acts says that the Early Church was “of one heart and one mind.” Is that really how it was and how do we know?
  • I hear that the Gnostics were very spiritual people—why did the Early Church think that they were so wrong?
  • As long as we have the Bible I don’t know why we need any of this other stuff.
  • I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark—it seems to me like Jesus becomes divine at his Baptism. Is that right?
  • I just think the idea of dying for a belief is strange. Why wouldn’t early Christians just fib and skip the whole martyrdom thing?
  • Why did the Romans want to kill Christians, anyway? What were the Christians doing that was so bad?
  • Christians hid from the Romans in the catacombs so they wouldn’t get martyred, right?
  • Why would reasonable people believe in all of this allegory stuff? Why not just read the Bible the right way?
  • Well, I take all of this stuff with a grain of salt. We all know that nobody thought Jesus was a god until Constantine decreed it to be the case.
  • If the creed is what the church believes, why are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed different?
  • The Church Fathers may have written a lot of stuff but that’s just their opinion. Why should theirs be any better than mine?