In the late second and third centuries a shift occurred. The Christians began to adopt the pagan view of reverencing the dead." Their focus
Some have argued that the pre-Constantine Christians were poor and could not own property. But this is false. Under the persecution of Emperor Valerian (253-260), for example, all property owned by Christians was seized. See Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerd mans, 1910), 2:62. L. Michael White points out that the early Christians had access to higher socioeconomic strata. Also, the Greco-Roman environment of the second and third century was quite open to many groups adapting private buildings for communal and religious use. Building God's House in the Roman World (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 142-143. See also Steve Atkerson, Toward a House Church Theology (Atlanta: New Testament Restoration Foundation, 1998), 29-42.
Snyder, Ante Pacem, 67. These restructured homes are called domus ecclesiae. -■ Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries, 3rd ed. (Abilene, TX: A.C.U. Press, 1999), 46,74. White, Building God's House, 16-25.
John F. White, Protestant Worship and Church Architecture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 54-55. "Converting a House into a Church," Christian History12, no. 1 (1993): 33.
Norrington, To Preach or Not, 25. In addition to remodeling private homes, Alan Kreider states that "by the mid-third century, congregations were growing in numbers and wealth. So Christians who met in insulae (islands), multi-storied blocks containing shops and housing, unobtrusively began to convert private spaces into domestic complexes tailored to fit congregational needs. They knocked out walls to unite apartments, thereby creating the varied spaces, large and small, that were required by the lives of their growing communities." Worship and Evangelism in Pre-Christendom (Oxford: Alain/GROW Liturgical Study, 1995), 5. Turner, From Temple to Meeting House, 195. The Renaissance theorists Alberti and Palladio studied the temples of ancient Rome and began using the term temple to refer to the Christian church building. Later, Calvin referred to Christian buildings as temples, adding it to the Reformation vocabulary (p. 207). See also Davies, Secular Use of Church Bu/ldings, 220-222, for the thinking that led Christians to begin using the term temple to refer to a church building. Snyder, Ante Pacem, 83,143-144,167.
was on honoring the memory of the martyrs. So prayers for the saints (which later devolved into prayers to them) began.'
The Christians picked up from the pagans the practice of having meals in honor of the dead." Both the Christian funeral and the funeral dirge came straight out of paganism in the third century."
Third-century Christians had two places for their meetings: their homes and the cemetery." They met in the cemetery because they wished to be close to their dead brethren.35 It was their belief that to share a meal at a cemetery of a martyr was to commemorate him and to worship in his company."
Since the bodies of the "holy" martyrs resided there, Christian burial places came to be viewed as "holy spaces." The Christians then began to build small monuments over these spaces—especially over the graves of famous saints." Building a shrine over a burial place and calling it holy was also a pagan practice."
In Rome, the Christians began to decorate the catacombs (underground burial places) with Christian symbols." So art became associated with sacred spaces. Clement of Alexandria was one of the first Christians advocating the visual arts in worship. (Interestingly, the cross as an artistic reference for Christ's death cannot be found prior to the time of Constantine.' The crucifix, an artistic representation of
"Praying to the 'Dead,'" Christian History 12, no. 1 (1993): 2,31.
Snyder, Ante Pacem, 65; Johannes Quasten. Music and Worship in Pagan and Christian Antiquity (Washington DC: National
Association of Pastoral Musicians, 1983), 153-154, 168-169 .
Quasten, Music and Worship, 162-168. Tertullian demonstrates the relentless efforts of the Christians to do away with the pagan custom of the funeral procession. Yet eventually the Christians succumbed to it. Christian funeral rites, which drew heavily from pagan forms, begin to appear in the third century. See David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Bel/efs (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 80: Everett Ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990), 163. The practice of Christians praying for the dead seems to have begun around the second century. Tertullian tells us that it was common in his day. See Tertullian, de car 4.1, and F. L Cross and E A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). 456. Snyder, Ante Pacem, 83.
■■ Fleas, "Where Did Christians Worship?" Christian History 12, no. 1(1993): 35; Turner, From Temple to Meeting House, 168-172. Haas, "Where Did Christians Worship?" 35; Josef A. Jungmann, The Early Liturgy: To the lime of Gregory the Great (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1959), 141.
White, Protestant Worship and Church Architecture, 60. These monuments would later be transformed into magnificent church buildings.
Jungmann, Early Liturgy, 178; Turner, From Temple to Meeting House, 164-167.
Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2:292. "The use of catacombs lasted about three centuries, from the end of the second to the end of the fifth" (Snyder, Ante Pacem, 84). Contrary to popular belief, there is not a shred of historical evidence that Roman Christians hid in the catacombs to escape persecution. They met there to be close to the dead saints. See "Where Did Christians Worship?" 35; "Early Glimpses," Christian History 12, no.1 (1993): 30.
Snyder, Ante Pacem, 27. "Jesus does not suffer or die in pre-Constantinian art. There is no cross symbol, nor any equivalent" (p. 56). Philip Schaff says that following Constantine's victory over Maxentius in AD 312, crosses were seen on helmets, bucklers, crowns, etc. (Schaff, History of the Christ/an Church, 2:270).
the Savior attached to the cross, made its first appearance in the fifth century.' The custom of making the "sign of the cross" with one's hands dates back to the second century.
At about the second century, Christians began to venerate the bones of the saints, regarding them as holy and sacred. This eventually gave birth to relic collecting.' Reverence for the dead was the most powerful community-forming force in the Roman Empire. Now the Christians were absorbing it into their own faith.'
In the late second century there was also a shift in how the Lord's Supper was viewed. The Supper had devolved from a full meal to a stylized ceremony called Holy Communion. (For more on how this transition occurred, see chapter 9.) By the fourth century, the cup and the bread were seen as producing a sense of awe, dread, and mystery. As a result, the churches in the East placed a canopy over the altar table where the bread and cup sat. (In the sixteenth century, rails were placed upon the altar table." The rails signified that the altar table was a holy object only to be handled by holy persons—i.e., the clergy. *6'
So by the third century, the Christians not only had sacred spaces, they also had sacred objects. (They would soon develop a sacred priesthood.) In all of this, the second- and third-century Christians began to assimilate the magical mind-set that characterized pagan thinking.' All of these factors made the Christian terrain ready for the man who would be responsible for creating church buildings.
Snyder, Ante Pacem, 165.
Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2:269-70.
A relic is the material remains of a saint after his death as well as any sacred object that has been in contact with his body. The word relic comes Irvin the Latin word reliquere, meaning "to leave behind." The first evidence of the veneration of relics appears around AD 156 in the Martyrium Polycarpi. In this document, the relics of Polycarp are considered more valuable than precious stones and gold. See Cross and Livingstone, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1379, Michael Collins and Matthew A. Price, The Story of Christianity (New York: DK Publishing, 1999), 91: Jungmann, Early Liturgy, 184-187. Snyder, Ante Pacem, 91; Turner, From Temple to Meeting House, 168-172.
This is the table where the Holy Communion was placed. The altar table signifies what is offered to God (the altar) and what is given to man (the table). White, Protestant Worship and Church Architecture, 40, 42, 63. Side altars did not come into use until Gregory the Great. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3:550.
In the fourth century, the laity was forbidden to go to the altar. Edwin Hatch, The Growth of Church Institutions (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1895). 214-215.
Norman Tower Boggs, The Christian Saga (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1931), 209.
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