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The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God
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The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  314 ratings  ·  39 reviews
In this eloquent introduction to early Christian thought, eminent religious historian Robert Louis Wilken examines the tradition that such figures as St. Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and others set in place. These early thinkers constructed a new intellectual and spiritual world, Wilken shows, and they can still be heard as living voices in the modern world.In chapters on ...more
Paperback, 398 pages
Published March 11th 2005 by Yale University Press (first published 2003)
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Jan 04, 2008 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sarah by: Dr. Steven K Harmon
Shelves: theology
This was a book which I had to read for an early theology class in Divinity School. It was far and away my favorite book for that semester.

Wilkin presents an incredible amount of information about the church fathers in the relatively short book, but in such a way that it all is relevant and interesting. This would be a book to anyone interested not only in the early church but in early philosophy.

John David
Anyone who has ever tried to dip their toes into the waters of medieval theology can quickly be overwhelmed by its complexities and occasional rank obscurantism. Wilken, much to his credit, knows his subjects so well that he can distill their most important ideas in historical context (especially important as this book covers a period where much of the known world begins as Roman and pagan and ends several centuries later, when both the Empire and its paganism were gone) and explain how they wer ...more
"Evangelical Christians tend not to be familiar with the Early Church. While there are many reasons for this (not least as a result of the “no creed but the Bible” movements of the 19th century—see Nathan Hatch for more on that), there are many more reasons we should seek to correct this lack in our spiritual lives. If you have been meaning to do just that (and you should be), The Spirit of Early Christian Thought by Robert Louis Wilken is unfortunately not the place to start.
With all of tha
This book is fabulous, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. The author, Robert Wilken, considers the history of theology as it developed in the early church, & its relationship with thinkers of Judaism, Greece & Rome, Wilkin warns us though not to be overly preoccupied with intellectual ideas. The Gospel, after all, does not intend to make us smart, but to transform our hearts, minds, & our very lives.

Early Christianity appealed to history, reason, ritual, experience, & most of al
William Poe
I suppose if you are a devout Christian who wants confirmation of the idealized beliefs you accept, this will be a comforting book. As a helpful exercise in understanding the many ways early Christians viewed their faith, this is of no value. Some believed that the God of the Hebrew Bible was evil and Christ came to provide an alternatve. Some felt that the house of Israel were still the chosen ones and that Gentiles should be excluded. But this book only surveys the views of people who, out of ...more
Ruth Sophia
Pleasantly surprised - on my reread list!

I bought this book years ago because it was required for a church history class. Honestly, I wasn't excited about reading it (and I love reading!). I don't know why, but I thought it would be overly academic and stuffy. Wrong! Clear, concise, and highly readable. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I thought I'd be selling this book after my class to try and make a few dollars, but this one definitely stays in my book collection. More than that, it'
An engaging, readable, and compelling exploration of Patristic theology. I especially enjoyed Wilken's defense of early Christian exegesis and his emphasis on how Scripture shaped the church's philosophical understanding more than the other way around. The chapters on Christology and Love were especially good, and I enjoyed his treatment of Maximus the Confessor. Excellent book and perfectly accessible for non-specialists. I can imagine this giving shape to a really excellent Sunday school class ...more
Robert Louis Wilkin’s The Spirit of Christian Thought is one of the best, most informative books I’ve read this year. Wilkin provides a fascinating account of Christianity’s early centuries, one that encompasses great historical figures, such as Augustine, Origen, Basil, and Maximus the Confessor, but also topics such as the Trinity, early Christian poetry, Icons (and the battle over them), the importance of Scripture, and the necessity of a Christian community (a people of God). In particular, ...more
This is a really interesting book, and the topical divisions are very well done. Some fathers appear more often than others, which is fine as a giant like Augustine should, though I might have preferred a very uneven skew toward the very early fathers and away from the 8th century, which is I believe the latest that Wilken goes in his discussion - I'm afraid some of those later passages had my protestant eyes glazing over, though I'm perfectly willing to admit that fault is in the reader and not ...more
The subtitle says it all: "Seeking the Face of God." This perfectly captures the spirit of early Christian thought. Don't be intimated; this isn't some dry history book, but rather a theology book in historical context. Wilken does a superb job of presenting the development of doctrines, disciplines and other practices. Each chapter presents some early controversy or practice and how it was resolved or developed in the early Church. If you want a book that provides a list of dates and events, do ...more
An excellent overview of Patristic thought, clearly written and accessible.
Tyson Guthrie
Excellent book. Inevitably every historical survey invites criticism from axe-grinders whose pet historical figures received little or inaccurate treatment. For example, if a reader were a Gregory of Nazianzus scholar, they might find Wilken's designation of Prudentius as "the first Christian poet" inaccurate--even offensive. Such a reader would likely find their own offense at this too personal and petty to make it known publicly. Such a reader would almost definitely vent their frustrations th ...more
K.A. Tomasovich
Fantastic book on historical Christianity and ethics. I think Wilken is retired now, but his work is still timely and he's influenced a whole new generation of historians including his former student, David Bently Hart. I wish I had have had him for a professor myself, but I did get one of his students, Dr. Bellinger, who now teaches ethics and also writes on religion and violence.
This was the most interesting reading in my class, The Ancient Church (well, excepting Augustine's Confessions). It doesn't just record history but topically moves through the priorities, beliefs, and focuses of the early church fathers. Wilken writes in a manner that draws you in and fluidly enough that the quotations of the early church fathers are easily understandable, many moving. It is not reading that I would recommend to anyone not already interested in the subject, though.
Ryan Harbry
This is now one of my favorite books. I must admit, 50 pages before I was finished I was already claiming it to be one of the best I've read. It paints a vivid picture of the intellectual life of the early church fathers; who I now hold much admiration for. Some of the words leaped off the pages of this book and went straight into my mind and heart. Robert Louis Wilken has been added into my trusted circle of authors who I will read again and again.
Of the several books on early Christian thought I read for a seminary class, and this was far and away the best. Wilken manages to make a history of Christian doctrine read like a novel of suspense - which is is. This book also makes the church fathers come alive and seem like passionate, spiritual, worshipful figures, rather than dry dusty thinkers. Fabulous, fabulous book. And not just for seminary students! This book deserves a wide audience.
I really loved reading this book such a boost to my own Faith. It shows that the challenges that we face today seem nothing in comparison to the challenges of the early Church and the boldness of the Fathers of the Church in finding ways to combine the classical world that they had come to know and the bible of the Catholic Church which they had come to embrace...Augustine, Basil, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor among others.
Monica Ghaly
The book offers a comprehensive explanation of the teachings of the early fathers, however, most of them were quite similar in background. My only criticism is the lack of diversity between the thinkers included in the book. Their shared life experience of Roman and Greek philosophical education serve to make them less relatable, to me at least. I wish that the ideas of those who were self- educated or the ideas of women had been included.
Scott Barber
An excellent look at the spirit behind early Christian thinking, which for the ordinary evangelical will certainly challenge and inspire. Wilken writes well about a subject which he evidences an intimate over. Early Church thought is a subject often abused by those who want to put their own face on the Fathers, and Wilkens, here, provides a valuable remedy to such abuses in an honest portrayal of how these men thought.
John Hanscom
One of the best books of Christian thought I have read in a long time, telling not only what early thinkers said, but also the context in which it was said. I was especially impressed with his idea that the idea of the Trinity came before the doctrine of the Trinity, as, with this and other ideas, critics have argued Christians made up the ideas in the 4th and 5th Century.
Excellent book for understanding what early Christians thought and believed. It's a very readable treatment of some important themes and doctrines in the early church (post-NT times). Although not touched upon in this book, it's quite interesting to see where the Reformation thinkers agreed and disagreed with the early church Fathers.
I hadn't realized how important intellect was to many early Christians, Some beautiful arguments here and some old words made new sense to me in their light. "Seek his face always" was a saying in part of the early church. When Im not busy being a dickhead, and remember that, it really changes perspective.
Robert Clay
Wilken is a respected and expert scholar, and he seems to be thoroughly orthodox. This book focuses greatly upon the positively central place which the Scriptures occupied in the life of the early church, both for the Fathers and the greater body.
Exactly what the title says it is. Wilken demonstrates the differences in Hellenism and the development of the early Fathers' theological framework. It is a pretty interesting work for those interested in the early history of the church.
Reamrkably well written and engaging prose. This is the finest introduction to the thought of the Fathers that I have come across. It will be edifying to both the student/scholar of theology as well as the curious novice.
Wilken's prose mimics his description of how the church fathers "did" Christian thought: combining a rigorous intellectual approach with devotional expression. Both stimulating and uplifting.
I don't have much to compare this to (and it's been years now since I read it) but it was absorbing, well-reasoned, and challenging. Worth the effort.
Sep 07, 2013 Jeremy marked it as to-read
David Lyle Jeffrey references this book here:
An excellent survey of Early Christian thought. Deeper than just an overview by far. Loved it!
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