Educating People of Faith: Exploring the History of Jewish and Christian Communities

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Educating People of Faith: Exploring the History of Jewish and Christian Communities. Edited by John Van Engen. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2004. Pp. xiv, 352. $30.00 paperback.)

A half-century ago Christopher Dawson lamented how the study of Christianity had commonly centered on institutional and doctrinal developments, ignoring the ways Christianity had received embodiment in everyday life. Since that time social history has opened up many quotidian practices earlier slighted. John Van Engen, the editor of the present volume, insists in a substantial opening essay that what is now needed is the pursuit of the intellectual and the social together, and this book richly contributes to the study of lived religious practices in shaping Jewish and Christian faith. In it Van Engen introdvices the reader to some of the central historiographic issues, and then fifteen scholars consider the period from antiquity to the seventeenth century.

The first essay, Robert Goldenberg's lucid "Religious Formation in Ancient Judaism," takes up one of Van Engen's themes, the variety of practices within a "single" religious tradition, showing that Jewish leaders affirmed various ways of living out the Torah. Robert Louis Wilken's "Christian Formation in the Early Church" artfully articulates the theology or meaning of early Christian practices, and rightfully concludes (p. 62): "What gave Christian formation its power and tenacity was that it was carried out within the context of a coherent theological framework. . . . People knew why they did what they did." John C. Cavadini devotes a well-informed essay to explaining the process by which Augustine's most difficult thought was adapted, both by himself and by later generations, so that all, particularly those who lacked an elite education, might understand. Augustine wished dialogue, a search shared with hearer or reader, to be common to discourse with both learned and unlearned; but Caesarius of Aries and Alcuin, true simplifiers, thought conveying long-established conclusions sufficient. Blake Leyerle takes up early Christian monastic formation. Leyerle's arresting focus is "orality," the way in which fasting was linked to "eating" Scripture. We are in a world in which sin is appetitiveness, and food may be a symbol of almost anything illicitly desired.

Stanley Samuel Harakas treats "Faith Formation in Byzantium," surveying formal education, worship, and the moral and spiritual life from late antiquity to the fifteenth century. …