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The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy.

Bradshaw, professor of liturgical studies at the University of Notre Dame, alerts the reader in his Preface to the fact that his study might be read as an extended annotated bibliography of both primary and secondary literature on early liturgy. Even if that alone were the yield of this book, it would repay careful reading, for B. here surveys the whole length and breadth of the field. But this study is far richer than a survey of scholarship.

Although B. deals with topics as diverse as method, written sources, Jewish origins, the Eucharist, Christian initiation, the liturgical year, and the daily office, I will concentrate on two of his most significant contributions.

The first is in the realm of method. After analyzing the scientifically biased evolutionary approach of Anton Baumstark, B. proposes ten principles for interpreting the evidence of early worship (e.g. the principle that "ancient church orders are not what they seem"). With the precision and confidence of a skilled surgeon, he employs the historical-critical method to prevent students of worship from making broad generalizations about the data and from relying on shopworn axioms and hypotheses that have acquired the aura of truth by constant repetition. The result of B.'s application of a hermeneutic of suspicion is that one can make very few claims about the nature of early Christian liturgy. In fact to attempt a narrative history of early liturgy (in the manner of Josef Jungmann or Gregory Dix) would seem to be folly. Yet, it seems to me, an attempt at a plausible reconstruction (albeit with proper methodological caution) must be made. In fairness to B., he clearly does not intend his book to be a narrative history but rather a kind of prolegomenon to such a history.

Another aspect of B.'s hermeneutic of suspicion can be seen in his penchant for finding "original variety" (a phrase he uses frequently) in the rites and texts of the earliest followers of Jesus. To be sure, modern scholarship (that of W. Bauer, H. Koester, J. G. Dunn, J. Reumann among others) has focussed on the variety to be found in the earliest stages of the Christian movement. But the desire to discern the origins of the Eucharist, e.g. in the preaching and activity of Jesus (even if not in explicit words or gestures), is not misguided.

B.'s second major contribution is in the area of Jewish liturgical studies. Here he compresses an extraordinary amount of contemporary scholarship, which is often obscure to Christians, into 29 pages. The great yield of this chapter, like the ten methodological principles, is to keep one from making facile judgements about Jewish worship at the time of Jesus, when the state of both the sources and the discipline of Jewish liturgiology do not warrant so doing. Here again I would caution that, although it is overambitious to claim a knowledge of the exact wording of the first-century Jewish grace after meals based on reconstructions from much later material, it is still possible to hypothesize what that very significant prayer (in terms of the development of eucharistic prayer) may have been like.

Given the comprehensive scope of this work and its usefulness as a guide to students and scholars alike, I wish that B. had included sections on ordination, a subject which he is eminently qualified to discuss, and on the development of the cult of the saints, a most important development in the evolution of the liturgical calendar. The book would clearly benefit from inclusion of these topics. Finally, by way of criticism, I would add that B.'s search for the origins of Christian worship is quite self-consciously devoid of theological judgments. In the final analysis, however, the volume of data gathered and analyzed in this work needs reflection, and the historian must participate in the search for theological criteria by which to judge it.

Anyone, however, who is interested in the nature and development of Christian worship or even in Christian origins in general must be grateful to B. for providing a vade mecum that will be valuable for a long time to come.
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Author:Baldovin, John F.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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