A Discussion on “The Spirit of Early Christian Thought” by Robert L. Wilken Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC


            For Robert L. Wilken, the book ‘depicts the pattern of Christian thinking as it took shape in the formative years of the Church’s history’ (Wilken). Specifically, the book was written for every reader

            Through this book, the author wishes to convey his thoughts and ideas as fruits of his learning. It offers a special message to its readers by bringing to mind the works of remarkable teachers of the early church. Wilken, a professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia, conveys that these same teachers are “still our teachers today”.

            What drove the author to write this book was his attraction with the magnitude of early Christian thoughts that went beyond the contrite. Instead of writing a sequel to his 1984 book entitled The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Wilken showed the consideration of each of those measures.

About the Book

            Every chapter of the book takes up an extensive argument drawn through a prolific and fine analysis of selected authors. Wilken takes us to the works of Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, Tertullian, Basil, among others. He will also lead us to the works of Origen of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor and Augustine.

            This is a written illustration of early Christian thinking rather than about the early Christian life. The catch phrase of the book is the word ‘spirit’ which is rightly incorporated in the title. Wilken successfully discusses the five main viewpoints of early Christian thought in a language easily understood by all readers of his work. First, Wilken presented that patristic thought is not guided by reckless considerations but is based in the story of Jesus and in the veneration and prayer of the church. Wilken’s great work in Greco-Roman literature is evident in this book as he captures the uniqueness of the Christian claims with regard to the crucified and the resurrected Jesus, the unprecedented Christian story as found in the Bible and the embodied personality of all ancient Christian treatise.

            Second, Wilken illustrates how profoundly  all patristic speaking and writing was wrapped up in the Scripture. He reveals to us readers that the Scripture is an ever-present and alive element. The third viewpoint

the writer presented was his intense argument for the knowledgeable characteristic of the patristic

writers. The same writers who bravely claimed that faith and love were essential ways of knowing reality as created by God.

            On his fourth treatise, Wilken shows the profoundly spiritual telos of patristic thought. Its debatable and remorseful significance were to guard the existence of salvation, meaning, a shield of the change of the human person by God’s own life. Its exhortation is to bring about the that such change or transformation is real in the moral predilection and ways of believers. It must be understood that Christian learning is actually seeking the face of God (Wilken).

            The fifth standpoint Wilken wishes to convey in his book is that this same motivation extends beyond the expansive tradition through the Christian assumption and translation of poetry, politics and the art.

            This book generally reviews what early Christians thought about their own religion, sentiments, its ethics and its religious ardor. Simply put, Wilken says of the book, “it is the purpose of this book to depict the pattern of Christian thinking as it took shape in the formative centuries of the church’s history” (xiv).

            Adopting the thematic approach, the book is composed of twelve (12) chapters organized into five sections. Admirably, the book shows a sweeping goal of how ancient Christian thought develops into a common notion. Wilken wishes to point out the unparalleled Christian thinking vis-à-vis with Greek and Roman philosophies. One of the outstanding phrase of quote from the book that is worth mentioning is the following: “The distinctive marks of early Christian thinking can be set down in a few sentences. Christians reasoned from the history of Israel and of Jesus Christ, from the experience of Christian worship, and from the Holy Scriptures (and early interpretations of the Scriptures), that is to say, from history, from ritual, and from text. Christian thinking is anchored in the church’s life, sustained by such devotional practices as the daily recitation of the psalms, and nurtured by the liturgy, in particular, the regular celebration of the Eucharist. Theory was not an end in itself, and concepts and abstractions were always put at the service of a deeper immersion in the res, the thing itself, the mystery of Christ and of the practice of the Christian life. The goal was not only understanding but love” (xvii-xviii).


            The book comes through in demonstrating the uniqueness of the early Christian thought. Wilken is mostly concerned with illustrating the intimate consistency and natural ideal of early Christian thinking.

            Many statements in the Christian world, even today, are prone to various disagreements from different areas. Expectedly, there will be sectors who will disagree to one or more statements found in this book. Theological discussions are likely to receive disagreements one way or the other.

            To sum it up, Wilken’s vivid description makes the patristic writers enchanting. reading his book will make us wish that they were still our teachers even to this day. To realize this, it requires more than just an appreciation. It is important that we examine how those patristic feelings, how that spirit of early Christian thought, will be literally applied on the penchants and usage of theologians today.

            We appreciate Wilken’s fervent and affectionate transmission of their teachings. Not only are these teachers needed in this time and age for their theological legacy, we shall be forever amazed with their living examples of how to settle disputes or difference and to live productively before God free from doubts and uncertainties.

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