Worship in the Early Church: Recommended Resources

TWENTIETH CENTURY liturgical scholarship has searched for the origins of Christian worship.

The most recent conclusions are set forth by Paul F. Bradshaw in The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship (SPCK, 1992). Bradshaw challenges most current scholarship and argues that little can be known about early Christian worship. According to him, most documents describing early Christian worship are written later than assumed and have been reshaped by various layers of tradition.

However, the search for early Christian worship continues, concentrating on its Jewish roots. Three helpful recent works are: Carmine Di Sante, Jewish Prayer: The Origins of Christian Liturgy (Paulist, 1991); Eugene Fisher, The Jewish Roots of Christian Liturgy (Paulist, 1990); and Paul F. Bradshaw and Lawrence A. Hoffman,The Making of Jewish and Christian Worship (Notre Dame, 1991).

Special Topics

A number of books probe particular issues of worship in the early church. For example, the daily office [schedule of prayer] in cathedrals and monasteries is studied in Paul F. Bradshaw, Daily Prayer in the Early Church (Oxford, 1982).

The Eucharist of the early Christians is treated in Gregory Dix and Henry Chadwick, eds., The Treatise on the Apostolic Tradition of R. Hippolytus of Rome(Morehouse, 1992); and in Willy Rordorf, et al., The Eucharist of the Early Christians (Pueblo, 1978).

An excellent study in the Christian year is Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year (Pueblo, 1986).

An excellent resource of primary materials on evangelism and worship is Edward Jarnold, The Awe-lnspiring Rites of Initiation (Middlegreen, Slough: St. Paul, 1971). A helpful introduction to the relationship between worship and evangelism in the early church is Robert Webber, Liturgical Evangelism: Worship as Outreach and Nurture (Morehouse, 1986).

For an understanding of the place of the charisms, or spiritual gifts, in early Christian worship, see Ronald A. H. Kydd, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church(Hendrickson, 1984).

Music and the Arts

Those interested in music and the arts in worship will have to be content with books that contain a chapter or two on the subject but are not exhaustive treatments. For music, I suggest Don Hustad, Jubilate, 2nd ed. (Hope, 1993). For dance, see Ronald Gagne, Thomas Kane, and Robert VerEeckes, Introducing Dance in Christian Worship (Pastoral Press, 1984). For art, see Brother Axelrod—Seton Shanlay, Clip Art of the Christian World: Christian Art from Its Origins to the Fifteenth Century(Pueblo, 1990). And finally, for architecture of the early church, see Paul and Tesa Clowney, Exploring Churches (Eerdmans, 1982).

Primary Documents

For the primary documents of early Christian worship, I suggest Lucien Deiss, Springtime of the Liturgy (Liturgical Press, 1979) and the newly released book by James White, Documents of Christian Worship: Descriptive and Interpretive Sources (Westminster-John Knox, 1992). The best interpretation of these documents is Allen Cabaniss, Pattern in Early Christian Worship (Mercer, 1989).

By Robert E. Webber

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #37 in 1993]

Dr. Robert E. Webber is professor of theology at Wheaton (Illinois) College and editor of The Complete Library of Christian Worship (Abbott Martyn, 1993).
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