The Social Origins of Christian Architecture. Volume I: Building God's House in the Roman World: Architectural Adaptation among Pagans, Jews and Christians; Volume II: Texts

By Vivian, Tim | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

The Social Origins of Christian Architecture. Volume I: Building God's House in the Roman World: Architectural Adaptation among Pagans, Jews and Christians; Volume II: Texts


Vivian, Tim, Anglican Theological Review


The Social Origins of Christian Architecture. Volume I: Building God's House in the Roman World: Architectural Adaptation Among Pagans, Jews and Christians; Volume II: Texts and Monuments for the Christian Domus Ecclesiae and Its Environment. By L Michael White. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press, 1990 (vol. 1), 197 (vol. 2). xi + 211 pp. (vol.1); xi + 524 pp. (vol. 2). $30.00 each (paper).

When teaching the history or theology of Early Christianity, I ask students to imagine themselves as Christians walking through the forum of any Roman city in the third century: imagine the monumental buildings, the temples dEdicated to Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Syrian gods, the baths, the theaters, the statues. Now imagine how dwarfed, how outnumbered, the Christians must have felt, architecturally, and probably psychologically, psychically. Now, with such books as these two impressive volumes bv L. Michael White, we can more securely imagine the Christians of the late Roman Empire at home in their churches, their own sacred spaces.

These two volumes, "more than fifteen years in the making" (2.ix), grew out of the author's Ph.D. dissertation at Yale. Volume I is a study of "the development of the place of assembly and church building" of the early Christians which, the author believes, offers "one of the best ways to see the historical development of Christianity" (1.4). Volume II provides a "collectiOn of texts, architectural sites, inscriptions, and papyri" (2.x) that supports the study in volume I . The two volumes together offer "a more comprehensive analysis of the beginnings of Christian development in church building-the progression from house church meetings to basilical architecture" (1.9). To White's credit, his study in Volume I is not narrowly architectural but is, rather, "a social history that depends on the most careful recoistructive possible of the evidence (both archaeological and literary) in its historical context , (1.9).

Prospective readers should take seriously the subtitle of Volume I: after a chapter examining the history of the subject (ch. 2), the author provides a chapter (clo. 3) on how groups "adapted private domestic structures for public religious or collegial use" (1. …

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