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Brief History of Christianity and Spirituality

Brief History of Christianity and Spirituality.

Witness unto death or martyrdom – The early Christians were killed because they would not renounce their faith and belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Son of Man and Son of God.

Spiritual disciplines – Could consist of solitude, sacrifice, penance, prayer, fasting, service and abstinence.

Mysticism– Visionaries who seek spiritual union with God. Often have visions, or inner or outer locutions.

(It is interesting to note that Syriac Christianity used feminine symbols for the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ is ‘feminine’. Feminine images for God were used. In the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures, God is seen as female. Mystics too referred to God as Mother.)

First Century Christianity – In the first century, public communal worship was basic to their spirituality. Basic elements of Christian worship were: prayer, psalms, scripture, reading, sermons, singing, (inherited from the synagogue) weekly meal of bread and wine (adaptation of the annual Jewish Passover). Worship became elaborate as time passed. Private prayer had given way to communal prayer. The first Christians were converted Jews. Later the Good News was preached to the Gentiles and many converted to Christianity.

Roots of Christianity – Christianity is rooted in the Hebrew and Jewish culture. Gentile Christianity in the  Roman Empire was misunderstood so for the first three centuries Christians were persecuted. By 313 A.D.Constantine declared Christianity a licit (legal) religion.  By the fifth century Christianity and its followers were no long persecuted.

Themes in Christian Spirituality in the first six centuries consisted of:

Sacraments- (Sacred signs) Baptism, Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Orders, Annointing of the Sick, Reconciliation, Confirmation,

Charisms – Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

The first and second century Church encouraged charismatic gifts (speaking in tongues, prophecy etc.) See Romans 12: 4-8 and Ephesians 4: 11-13. This has continued in the margins of our Church to the present.

There are seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:
  1. Wisdom
  2. Understanding
  3. Counsel
  4. Fortitude
  5. Knowledge
  6. Piety
  7. Fear of the Lord

There are twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit:

1.      Charity

2.     Joy

3.     Peace

4.     Patience

5.     Kindness

6.     Goodness

7.     Generosity

8.     Gentleness

9.     Faithfulness

10.   Modesty

11.   Self-control

12.   Chastity

History of Christianity

Private and Communal Prayer – Private prayer had its place but common prayer was central. Christian Spirituality in the early centuries was communal spirituality, originating in baptism (initiation into the community), rooted in the worship of God by the congregation, and nourished by weekly celebrations of the Last Supper. The early Christians lived a communal life of sharing. There was a despising of individual ownership. The good of the whole of the church was considered before self.

ASCETISM

In the early centuries of Christianity theologians such as Tertullian, Origen, and Ephrem agreed on the importance of ascetic practices. Christian spirituality for them meant a sharp break from the world, the flesh and the devil. The daily pleasures (music, hikes, etc.) of living were omitted from the spirituality of the time.

Asceticism was practiced as part of Christian Spirituality. This included:

Exercise of virtue/avoidance of sin

Denying self

Fasting

Giving alms (helping the poor)

Celibacy (abstinence)

Virginity

In order to determine if ascetic practices are healthy or unhealthy one must ask:

Does it affirm the goodness of creation?

Is it practiced to free a person for better service?

Is the grace of God replaced by human effort?

Is it self-punishment to atone for sin?

Is it effort to earn God’s love?

Eastern spirituality became extremely ascetic:

Anchorites and hermits thought up bizarre ways to demonstrate their contempt for comfort and the ways of the world. For example: Simon Stylites lived on top of a pillar.

They advocated life long virginity and despising of the flesh.

Africa was the scene of experiments in spiritual life that have shaped both the Western and Eastern traditions ever since. It was in Egypt that men and women first entered the desert to live out more fully the ascetic life they longed for, but the practice quickly spread to Asia and Europe. (Desert Fathers and Mothers)

Ascetic practices may have validity if they are not based on a rejection of our relationship to nature and a despising of God’s good gifts, such as our bodies and the world around us.  A legalistic asceticism leads to despising God’s grace in favor of personal merit. Jesus told us to love ourselves and others, which contradicts the self-flagellation practiced by ascetics.

MONASTICISM

Monasticism – Monks were holy men who devoted their lives to God. The began dwelling alone in hermitages, sometimes alone sometimes in community with other monks. Monks seek seclusion from the world in order to live fully for God. Monks are always male. They take vows often vows of chastity, obedience, poverty. Monastic life includes, labour, renouncing power and prayer.

STAGES OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

Origen named the spiritual life in three stages:

Moral – behavior

Natural – intellectual

Contemplative – spiritual union

Vagaries named them as practical, natural and theological.  Origen thought the goal of the spiritual life was stripping of the mind and pure consciousness of God without images or thoughts.

CELTIC TRADITION

In late three hundred to late four hundred A.D. the Celtic tradition supported an asceticism which was very strict i.e. praying in icy water.

BENEDICTINE SPIRITUALITY

In the years four to five hundred A.D. the Benedictine Order was founded. Benedict’s rule is brief and nonlegalistic. Life for Benedictines includes: solitude, silence, listening, prayer, labor, lectio divina,  (read, meditate, contemplate, pray,) balance, poverty, chastity, obedience, and community living.

MYSTICISM

Mysticism is a form of spirituality. Unity with God is its goal. Losing one’s identity in God. Some mystics were: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton etc.

In about 500 A.D. Dionysius the Areopagite, a Syrian monk renamed the three stages of the spiritual life as follows:

Purgative

Illuminative

Unitive

He is also known for his apophatic theology which is a theology beyond words or images – utter passivity on the part of the mystic leading to ecstasy of love – human fused with God. (contemplation)

The opposite of apophatic is kataphatic, which is an attempt to image God using emotions and imagination. (Meditation)

IN 1054 A.D. THE ROMAN CATHOLIC AND EASTERN ORTHODOXCHURCH SEPARATED.

MONASTICISM RENEWED

Bernard of Clairvaux 1090 – 1153 promoted a healthy regard for one’s worth.

MENDICANT ORDERS EMERGED (begging orders)

Dominicans

Franciscans

Carmelites

Augustinians

Begging was eventually abandoned as impractical. Studying and preaching became more valuable. (Prayer, preaching, service)

ACTIVE RELIGIOUS ORDERS COMBINED CONTEMPLATION AND SERVICE

THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY BROUGHT THE PROTESTANT AND CATHOLIC REFORMATION

The Council of Trent 1545 -1563:

Supported improving education for priests

Outlawing abusive bishops/bishops offices could no longer be sold

Defined Catholicism as distinct from Protestants

Catholics and Protestants rejected each other for four hundred year thereafter until Vatican II (1964) – doors opened to ecumenism. 

RELIGIOUS ORDERS WERE REFORMED AND FOUNDED

THE ENLIGHTENMENT OR RENAISSANCE (1700’S) PERIOD SAW GODAS DISTANT INTELLIGENT DESIGNER

VATICAN COUNCIL II

Universal call to holiness

The role of the laity in the church

Ecumenism

Mass in the vernacular

Church as the people of God