- Christianity’s Quiet Success: The Eusebius Gallicanus Sermon Collection and the Power of the Church in Late Antique Gaul
Lisa Kaaren Bailey has written an important work. Setting aside the academic debate on authorship that has paralysed analysis of the Eusebius Gallicanus Sermon Collection – a collection of sermons from fifth- and sixth-century Gaul – Bailey has, instead, deftly placed this significant collection within its context of pastoral care. Functioning both as a preaching guide for local clergy and as devotional reading for their monastic and lay audiences, these sermons, drawn from a variety of patristic sources, set out a vision of local ‘Catholic’ Christian communities connected through consensus, harmony, and mutuality. In doing so, these sermons described and addressed the poignant, everyday concerns of Christians – ‘micro-Christians’ to paraphrase Peter Brown – at a time of significant transition in both Gaul and Western Europe: ‘why do we suffer?’; ‘why do the bad flourish?’; ‘what do we need to know to get to heaven?’
Building on the themes of community, education, sin, and lifestyle, Bailey draws a picture of a ‘Catholic’ Church integrating itself into local lives through a fraternal, almost monastic, approach to leadership. The sermons engage with their audience, encourage rather than chastise: sin is contextualized as a threat to the coherence and identity of community, and penance is emphasized via personal and active sorrow rather than almsgiving. Bailey skilfully contrasts this localized and relatively unstudied ‘service model’ of religious leadership with the more widely-studied ‘authoritarian’, ecclesiastical leadership as expressed by influential contemporaries and sermonizers such as Caesarius, bishop of Arles, who arguably chose to build community through a paternal vision of obedience and imposition.
The exploration of the distinctions between the local and pastoral vision of the ‘Catholic’ Church as emphasized by the Eusebius Gallicanus Sermon Collection, and the ecclesiastical and pastoral vision as emphasized by the authority of Caesarius of Arles has shone new light on the early Church. Bailey’s study reveals a remarkable, reciprocal local strategy aimed at encouraging the laity to be active participants in their own salvation, and, in doing so, being active in both the salvation of their own communities and their own spiritual [End Page 259] leaders. An important new viewpoint is the relative equality of the monastic and lay in this local vision – men and women simply expressing their faith in different ways.
In detailing distinct local pastoral strategies within the strategies advanced by episcopal authority, Bailey has revealed the need to reinterpret not only the role of the early Church in the community, but also the role of episcopal authority in managing these communities.