The Spirit of Early Christian Thought Seeking the Face of God Robert Louis Wilken

Publication date:
11 Mar 2005
Yale University Press
398 pages: 210 x 140mm
Sales territories:

"[A] magnificently learned, deeply felt and surprisingly pellucid set of essays."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

"A delight to read. It is written as history ought to be, especially for nonspecialist readers."—Richard A. Kauffman, Christian Century

In this eloquent introduction to early Christian thought, eminent religious historian Robert Louis Wilken examines the tradition that such figures as St. Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and others set in place. These early thinkers constructed a new intellectual and spiritual world, Wilken shows, and they can still be heard as living voices in the modern world.

In chapters on topics including early Christian worship, Christian poetry and the spiritual life, the Trinity, Christ, the Bible, and icons, Wilken shows that the energy and vitality of early Christianity arose from within the life of the Church. While early Christian thinkers drew on the philosophical and rhetorical traditions of the ancient world, it was the versatile vocabulary of the Bible that loosened their tongues and minds and allowed them to construct the world anew, intellectually and spiritually. These thinkers were not seeking to invent a world of ideas, Wilken shows, but rather to win the hearts of men and women and to change their lives.

Early Christian thinkers set in place a foundation that has endured. Their writings are an irreplaceable inheritance, and Wilken shows that they can still be heard as living voices within contemporary culture.

Robert Louis Wilken is William R. Kenan Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia. His previous books include The Land Called Holy.

[A] magnificently learned, deeply felt and surprisingly pellucid set of essays. Anyone who approaches The Spirit of Early Christian Thought with a welcoming spirit and patient attention will learn from it. Certainly, an attentive reader of Wilken, whether believer or nonbeliever, will be touched anew by his survey of Christian intellectual life."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

"The book is a compelling invitation to enter more deeply into the contemplative hearts of the early Church Fathers."—Kay Kettenhofen, Cistercian Studies Quarterly

"An interpretation of early Christian thought for the general reader. . . . A good general introduction to the writings of Christian antiquity, this is appropriate for both public and academic collections."—Library Journal

"We recommend (The Spirit of Early Christian Thought) as outstanding. . . . Any Christian concerned that the traditional Christian faith and its consequent Way of Life is often disparaged as 'irrelevant' and 'refuses to face philosophical and social criticism' will find this book a gold mine."—Doxa: A Quarterly Review Serving the Orthodox Church

"An elegant and learned survey of patristic spirituality, written by a distinguished American scholar. . . . This is a lovely book, and much to be commended. It will be appreciated by scholars for its subtlety and sensitivity of judgement, but could be easily read by anyone wanting an insight into early Christianity, into the faithfulness and integrity of those who have gone before us."—Dr. Peter Forster, Church Times

"Students will find cause to be grateful to the author for its scope, and scholars will similarly be indebted to him for its richness: the book includes theological, historical, and cultural observations about the patristic era that are generally reliable and regularly supported by choice anecdotes drawn from the primary material."—A.M.C. Casiday, Journal of Theological Studies

"This book is an elegant introduction to the Fathers of the Church. Giants such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine and Maximus the Confessor move gracefully through its pages, teaching us how the Church lives by the Word of God, which itself lives in the Church, proclaiming the wonderful deeds of God to all the world."—Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Fordham University

"By turns scholarly, contemplative, and argumentative, this is an exposition in which the early Christian writers speak for themselves—and to us."—Jaroslav Pelikan, author of The Christian Tradition

"Robert Wilken delivers exactly what his title promises: not a history, but a display of how the ancient church's mind worked. An accessible and delightful read, backed by immense scholarship."—Robert W. Jenson, Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton N.J.

"This book is the welcome fruit of long study by a scholar of the first rank. To be sure, scholars will profit from the book, but the real beneficiaries will be thoughtful readers who want to understand what the early Christian church was all about."—Rowan Greer, Professor Emeritus of Anglican Studies, Yale University

"Robert Wilken offers here a rich and nuanced interpretation of the Christian faith as seen through the eyes of its most formative exponents—the theologians, bishops, poets, and hymn writers of the early church. Written with clarity and conviction, this book is a window onto the landscape of the Christian soul."—Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and executive editor of Christianity Today