Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 21, 2002
Christian survival vividly drawn
A Pinch of Incense, AD 70 to 250, From the Fall of Jerusalem to the Decian Persecution. The Christians, vol. 2edited by Ted Byfield. Christian Millennial History Project, Edmonton. 281 pp.
Review by GLEN ARGAN
"Clearly, there was deep hunger for something else, a way out of the pain of despair and oppression, and just as clearly the Christians offered it."
A Pinch of Incense is almost as much a tale of the almost unimaginable degeneracy of the emperors and their families as it is of the Christians themselves. But the two are connected: "In place of the noble virtues of the old Roman republic, a general moral squalor had become a tedious way of life for the populace.
Adultery, prostitution, idolatry, self-seeking and uncaring cruelty were the order of the day. . . . Clearly, there was deep hunger for something else, a way out of the pain of despair and oppression, and just as clearly the Christians offered it. They worshipped a God who, they said, had breached the chasm separating the human from the divine" (pp. 266-67).
It was martyrdom that led many to see the goodness and integrity of the Christians, if not the truth which they spoke.
A Pinch of Incense also deals with the first attempts to give some intellectual structure to Christianity. St. Polycarp, Tertullian, Origen, St. Irenaeus and St. Justin Martyr - all the early Christian intellectuals - are present, warts and all.
This is but volume two of what is slated to be a 20-volume history of Christianity, written by journalists with academics in the background to keep the story accurate and complete. The series is intended to appeal to Christians of all denominations.
In fact, Catholics may well decide that having an accurate history of the past 2,000 years will show the continuity of Christian belief, the central role of the Church in validly interpreting Scripture and the importance of the Church in separating orthodoxy from charlatanism.
A Pinch of Incense is lavishly illustrated with original artwork and its writing is accessible to many who would struggle with more scholarly tomes. It - and the larger project of which it is a part - are telling the important story of our faith, the story that needs to be passed on from generation to generation.
(A Pinch of Incense is not available at bookstores. It is available by phoning 1-800-853-5402 or on the Internet at www.christianhistoryproject.com.)
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