Top Five: Old Stuff
Howdy good reader. Another quick post on the top fives. This one is about ancient books. I thought about just how ancient I wanted to get on this and decided that I would put nothing on here later than the mid-to-late 1200s. So, the way I wanted to arrange them was not in my favorite order, but rather chronological order. Note that reading ancient works requires some real honest-to-goodness work in understanding style, context, genre etc. for these works. Taking the first book on the list out of context would make it seem awkward in many ways… But, it’s ok that these are somewhat complicated… they are still fantastic. Beyond these, there are many other books that are fantastic but, again, these are the ones that really helped me.
- The Dicache (author unknown) - This is considered by many to be one of the very earliest non-apostolic teachings that was accepted by a wide group of churches. The title just means “The Teaching.” It is a straightforward statement about how to do church. It has some weird stuff in it but also has some great evidence that the early church was not rigid in their forms of worship but were very sincere about the nature that the acts of worship conveyed. For example, there’s a great section about baptism. In modern English it might sound like this: You must baptize people in running water—it’s the best for immersion. However, if you can’t find any running water, immerse them in still water. That’s better. If you can’t find enough water to immerse them, cover them with water as much as possible and if you live in the desert and there simply is no water… pour a cup of water over them.” In any case, what you see is church leaders dealing with the same basic phenomenae that church leaders worldwide have to deal with: people, sin, culture, the nature of the Gospel and how to act all of that out…
- The Confessions of Saint Patrick and Letter To the Soldiers of Coroticus by St. Patrick - As I mentioned in my post on St. Patrick, this gem is a stunning work from a man whose life and work just amaze me. My favorite part about this is the syntax of Patrick. See how many Bible references you can count. Plus, it’s free on the internet! The Letter to the Soldiers is a great prophetic word…
- The Confessions by John Cassian - Cassian was one of the first monastics to try to think systematically about the nature of the simple, ascetic, communal and devoted way of life. When he was writing there was a wide spectrum of practice and belief and extremes weren’t just accepted, people were diving in the deep end of wacko-ville’s pool. Cassian brought thought and order and explanation to what a disciplined and focused life for Christ could do. Careful, his time frame makes some of what he has to say a bit hard to follow. But, if you have the willingness to slog through, it can be worth it.
- The Rule by St. Benedict - Benedict is (in my opinion) an even greater force than Cassian. Whereas Cassian examined a lot of issues, Benedict had that Roman genius for administration. His “rule” (think “rhythm” instead of “law”) was designed to allow for the normal elements of being a human. There were times for work, for rest, for memorization (esp for the illiterate), for farming, for building, for singing for preaching etc. What was significant about this book was that it helped normal people find a pathway to devote themselves to the monastic life without having to be some kind of super-saint. He gave them a format to live a devoted life. When his rule was copied and sent to other monasteries, the Benedictine movement was born and they were the forefront of those who Christianized Europe! Wow.
- The Rule of St. Ignatius by Ignatius of Loyola - I like Ignatius for two main reasons. The first is that he was a soldier before he was a priest. He understood the nature of battle and tactics. He also deeply understood the value and process of training. The second thing I like about him has to do with his issue of surrendering both consolations and desolations. A more modern way to understand this is to allow God to carry the burden for the things that provoke, wound, worry and hurt you. Those things that desolate us can take our entire focus in life and Ignatius shows people how to surrender those. BUT, wisely he also shows how to surrender our consolations. In my own terminology, it’s the way that we surrender any kind of sensual idol that gets in the way of fully following Jesus. Loyola’s legacy of founding the greatest single missionary force (in my opinion) for Christianity until the 19th C. also indicates that much of what he said is productive and not just provocative.
This is enough for now but keep reading. Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you need to talk.