success stories

Posted March 17, 2004

Book: The Beginnings of the Church
Author: Frederick J. Cwiekowski
Paulist Press, New York, pp. 222

An excerpt from the Jacket:

The Beginnings of the Church is a brief and marvelously readable summary of the dramatic shifts that have taken place in the way scholars understand the first generations of the Christian church. It traces the story of the church from its origins in the ministry of Jesus to the end of the New Testament period.

The author reviews the ministry of Jesus, the Resurrection and the experience of the Spirit and how these events formed the mission of the early church. He then discusses growth and development in the ancient church, the death of the apostles, the fall of Jerusalem, the entrance of the Gentiles into the church, and the gradual separation of the church from Judaism.

Ecumenical in its scope, The Beginnings of the Church is a valuable guide for church historians, seminarians and priests. [and we may add, the laity]

An excerpt from the Book:

In the course of the first century the Christian church moved from its Jewish Christian beginnings to become a new and distinct religion, predominantly Gentile, seeking to find a place in the Greco-Roman world. The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts stand out among the New Testament writings in their effort to situate Christianity in the broader context of the world of the Roman Empire. In the following centuries Christianity became the faith of Europe and of the Byzantine East.

This transition of the church from its Jewish milieu to the Hellenistic and European world marks the first epochal change in the church. Christians generally and Roman Catholics in particular may now be entering another transition which rivals in significance the shift that took place in the first century. The late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner advanced the thesis that Christians are now passing into the third great epoch of the church’s history. The first period, though very brief, was that of Jewish Christianity. The second was the period of the church as the religion of Hellenism and of European culture and civilization. And the third period which we are now entering is the period of the world church.

In what has generally come to be recognized as a key interpretive essay on Vatican II, Rahner says that the council was in a rudimentary way the Roman Catholic Church’s first official self-actualization asa world church. This is seen, in part, in the worldwide episcopate — a novelty in the history of the Catholic Church — which made up the council. The acceptance of the vernacular in the liturgy and the council’s concern for the entire family of humankind are further indications which, Rahner maintains, support his thesis. The council’s desire to respect regional diversity in the church and to relate to other Christian churches and to other religions are added signs of this shift.

Rahner’s thesis — and specifically the parallel between the early transition from a Jewish Christianity to a Gentile church and the transition now from a church of Europe (and of countries heavily influenced by Europe) to a burgeoning world church — has been adopted by others. Walbert Buhlmann points to demographic factors which in the year 2000 will make Christianity (and Catholicism even more so) a church in which more than two-thirds of its members will come from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. He suggests that the transition the church now faces finds it closest counterpart in the church of the first century. We do not know what exactly this will mean, though it will inevitably involve the inculturation mentioned in the previous reflection. It will also include development, the struggle for unity and diversity, and likely the tension that is inevitable in so significant a transition.

Table of Contents:

1. A new understanding

2. The world of Jesus and the early church

3. The public ministry of Jesus

4. The first Christian communities

5. The churches in the letters of St. Paul

6. Turning point

7. Transition and consolidation

8. The church at the turn of the century

9. The beginnings of the church — today

Suggested further reading