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Reviewed by:
  • Oxford History of Christian Worship
  • Michael P. Foley
Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, editors Oxford History of Christian WorshipNew York: Oxford University Press, 2006 Pp. xvi + 916. $55.00.

The Oxford History of Christian Worship, or OHCW, is one of Oxford University Press's latest offerings in their popular historical series. Like its sister books, this volume combines attractive illustrations and informative insets with serious scholarship and a practical (in this case, pastoral) aim. Like the series as a whole, which consists of a vast hodgepodge of topics ranging from Byzantium to Indian Business, the work covers a fair amount of ground in its twenty plus chapters, from German Lutheranism to African inculturation, from the Reformed tradition in Korea to Catholicism in "Hispanic America." In keeping with the scope of this journal, however, I will largely confine myself to the volume's first four chapters, which roughly deal with the early Christian period. [End Page 108]

Readers interested exclusively in patristics may safely pass over Geoffrey Wainwright's first chapter, which attempts to provide a theological frame for twenty centuries of Christian worship but which sheds little light on the early church's (or churches') self-understanding of the matter. It is the second chapter by Maxwell E. Johnson that introduces us to "The Apostolic Tradition." The title, Johnson explains, is a provocation, for not only are scholars less confident that the early third-century Roman Apostolic Tradition attributed to Hippolytus is Roman or written by him or from the early third century, but their belief in a primordial uniformity in Christian worship has been supplanted by the study of several "multilinear" traditions. Recognizing this plurality corrects several missteps in previous scholarship, such as the contention that the early church baptized all of its catechumens on Easter or that the earliest celebrations of the Eucharist were immediately derived from the Jewish Passover, synagogue, and temple (these being either more varied or more inscrutable than previously acknowledged). Johnson's essay is in large part an admonition for caution as one sifts through the different testimonies in Christian antiquity. Nevertheless, he does not believe that this diversity and ambiguity indicate "liturgical or doctrinal relativism" (36), nor do his frequent qualifications keep the reader from learning much about the pre-Nicene period, such as the early Christians' beliefs about the Eucharist either as a sacrifice or as the body and blood of their Lord.

John F. Baldovin's "The Empire Baptized" continues in the same vein, advising interpretive restraint at every turn and dispelling myths of a liturgically spartan pre-Constantinian past. Baldovin focuses his attention, however, on the convergence of liturgical practices in the fourth century and the subsequent emergence of the major rites of historic apostolic Christianity. After surveying sacred architecture (which began before the peace of Constantine), he follows the ordering of Johnson's chapter and devotes separate sections to initiation, the Eucharist, daily prayer (the Liturgy of the Hours), and the church calendar; he also includes (in contradistinction to Johnson) shorter treatments on penance, anointing of the sick, burial rites, weddings, and ordination. Baldovin's erudition is apparent, and his own interpretations of liturgical development are, with few exceptions, theologically nimble. His essay is also strengthened by long citations of primary sources that give the reader greater access to the thought of early Christian authors.

The fourth chapter, written by Christine Chaillot, concerns the Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian Churches, formerly known in the west as the Monophysites and Nestorians respectively. Because of a dearth of ancient documentation, Chaillot focuses on contemporary belief and practice though she incorporates historical data as often as she can. Appended to this essay is a separate excursus by Lucas Van Rompay on the remarkable Maronites of Lebanon, the only eastern church never to have been in schism from the Roman See.

Not all of the volume, however, shows the same dispassionate and incisive luster as the opening chapters. Some of the work on medieval and Counter-Reformation liturgy, though informative, is marred by an internecine zeal to influence the direction of contemporary Catholic liturgy and Eucharistic doctrine that ultimately fails to come to grips with scholastic and Renaissance theology...


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