The Psalms for Christians:
In the West until the
Reformation, and in the East
We turn back now to the Christian communities, to trace their use of the Psalms. I deal in this chapter with the use of the Psalms in the early church, in the Western church until the time of the Reformation (the beginning of the sixteenth century), and in the Eastern church. Thus we are dealing with a span of time almost as long as that covered in our survey of Judaism in chapter 9, and it will be clear that the life of Christian communities manifested almost as much variety as we have glimpsed in Jewish communities.
Because the story of the spread of the Christian faith is well known to presentday readers, I shall not devote much space to the matter.
The Christian churches that produced the books of the New Testament in the second half of the first century were small, Greek-speaking communities scattered across the cities of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, reaching as far as Rome. In the course of the second and third centuries the faith spread, but at best the Christian faith lived outside legal recognition and during several periods was actively persecuted. When the Roman emperor Constantine suddenly allowed the Christian faith to be a legal religion of the Roman Empire (312 C.E.), Christian communities were Greek-speaking in the eastern Mediterranean and (to some extent) in Gaul, and Latin-speaking in Italy, North Africa, southern Spain, and Roman Britain. The faith had also spread into Syriac-speaking areas of Mesopotamia and among the Armenian people (north of Mesopotamia, toward the Caucasus Mountains), but for purposes of this chapter we must confine ourselves to the Greek- and Latinspeaking churches.
Constantine rebuilt the ancient city of Byzantium and named it after himself, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul); in 330 he transferred the imperial capital from Rome to Constantinople. Constantinople would understand itself to be the capital of the Roman Empire until it fell to the Turks (in 1453), but, in a real sense, from 330 until the fall of Rome to the Germanic general Odoacer (476) the western Roman Empire (speaking Latin) and the eastern Roman Empire (speaking Greek) were two separate entities, and the two cities continued as twin centers of Christian authority, in the West and in the East, through the Middle Ages.