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The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries [Paperback]

By Wayne A. Meeks (Author)
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Item description for The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries by Wayne A. Meeks...

By the time Christianity became a political and cultural force in the Roman Empire, it had come to embody a new moral vision. This wise and eloquent book describes the formative years--from the crucifixion of Jesus to the end of the second century of the common era--when Christian beliefs and practices shaped their unique moral order.

Publishers Description
By the time Christianity became a political and cultural force in the Roman Empire, it had come to embody a new moral vision. This wise and eloquent book describes the formative years-from the crucifixion of Jesus to the end of the second century of the common era-when Christian beliefs and practices shaped their unique moral order. Wayne A. Meeks examines the surviving documents from Christianity's beginnings (some of which became the New Testament) and shows that they are largely concerned with the way converts to the movement should behave. Meeks finds that for these Christians, the formation of morals means the formation of community; the documents are addressed not to individuals but to groups, and they have among their primary aims the maintenance and growth of these groups. Meeks paints a picture of the process of socialization that produced the early forms of Christian morality, discussing many factors that made the Christians feel that they were a single and "chosen" people. He describes, for example, the impact of conversion; the rapid spread of Christian household cult-associations in the cities of the Roman Empire; the language of Christian moral discourse as revealed in letters, testaments, and "moral stories"; the rituals, meetings, and institutionalization of charity; the Christians' feelings about celibacy, sex, and gender roles; and their sense of the end-time and final judgment. In each of these areas Meeks seeks to determine what is distinctive about the Christian viewpoint and what is similar to the moral components of Greco-Roman or Jewish thought.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Yale University Press
Pages   285
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.24" Width: 6.13" Height: 0.79"
Weight:   0.9 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 27, 1995
Publisher   Yale University Press
Edition  Revised  
ISBN  0300065132  
ISBN13  9780300065138  

Availability  141 units.
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More About Wayne A. Meeks

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Wayne A. Meeks is the Woolsey Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. He is also the author of The Origins of Christian Morality and In Search of the Early Christians, both published by Yale University Press.

Wayne A. Meeks has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Library of Early Christianity
  2. Sources for Biblical Study

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries?

Why do we do what we do?  May 26, 2003
Wayne Meeks presented a brilliant work on the development of the earliest Christian communities during the apostolic and post-apostolic period, as Christianity took root in the ancient city setting of the Roman Empire, in his work `The First Urban Christians' (my review will be coming soon!). In this, the follow-up volume, `The Origins of Christian Morality' explores the deepening development of community and identity of these early Christians as they worked to remain a faithful remnant in a sometimes-hostile world. Meeks is the Woolsey Professor of Biblical Studies at Yale University, with a great deal of scholarly experience that he brings to the questions of the origins of Christian morality.

In this book, Meeks has presented `an ecology of moral notions'. This is not a guidebook to state in unambiguous terms questions of present-day moral questions. For reasons explained early, Meeks avoids that kind of question because the question can usually be framed by parameters that pre-suppose the answer.

Also, Meeks avoids the term `New Testament ethics' for some particular reasons. Firstly, the early church did not have a New Testament -- the collection of writings we have come to accept as the New Testament had not been collected and recognised as a single body of writings during the first, second and third centuries after the time of Christ, the time during which Christian views of morality were being formed.

Morality is also discussed, rather than ethics, because ethics tends to be a second-order reflection on morality. This is not what was occurring generally or primarily at this time.

In a unique feature, Meeks gives a brief summary, an almost Cliff-notes-lite, of each of the chapters in his Introduction. He traces his development chapter by chapter, highlighting each main point and its connection to the overall theme of the origins of Christian morality as well as the progression through sociology, politics, philosophy, and theology. Meeks admits to being less than systematic in approach, yet this is reflective of the subject. Christian morality did not evolve in a coherent and orderly fashion. It continues to be polyphonic to this day, with varying degrees of acceptance and intolerance by individuals and communities in the name of a 'purer' morality.

`Obviously there can be no community and no tradition if everything is permitted ('All things are lawful, but not all things build up'), and therefore there can be no community without some degree of coercion. Yet unity coerced is unstable ('For why is my freedom judged by a conscience not mine?')'

Unlike today, early Christianity was primarily a religion of converts. Today, most Christians of most denominations are born into the community of people and of thought. This was untrue in the time of the apostles, and continued to be untrue for several hundred years, even after Christianity became the religion of the establishment. Conversion was usually a social act, something done in public, and something that would have public consequences.

How the public Christian world-view intersects and coincides with the outside (some might say, secular) world has always been a problem, from these earliest times to the present (Augustine works with the idea, but only briefly, in his massive description of the City of God centuries after the period Meeks, investigates; H. Richard Niebuhr was still wrestling with the problem in the twentieth century).

There is a tendency to continue ancient heresies today without realising they are such. In his chapter `Loving and Hating the World', Meeks investigates some of the gnostic divisions (the material world is evil inherently, once declared a heresy but which continues to pop up in practical theology of various Catholic and Protestant thinkers). In the following chapter, `The Language of Obligation', Meeks presents lists of vices and virtues, commands, actions, and the way in which these concepts are dealt with, in the attribution of authority (or lack thereof) and the desirability/requirement of deliberate practice. Meeks states that no list is present as exhaustive in the positive or the negative -- even the sum total leaves important things out on both listing of virtue and vice. There is no definitive list for all early Christians. This made formulating a way of discovering right belief and practice all the more important.

In the chapter `History, Pluralism and Morality', Meeks outlines particular theses toward understanding the original concepts of Christian morality:

Thesis 1 -- Making morals and making community are one, dialectical process.
Thesis 2 -- A Christian moral community must be grounded in the past
Thesis 3 -- The church's rootage in Israel is a privileged dimension of its past.
Thesis 4 -- Faithfulness ought not be confused with nostalgia.
Thesis 5 -- Christian ethics must be polyphonic.
Thesis 6 -- Moral confidence, not moral certainty, is what we require.
Thesis 7 -- God tends to surprise.

There is no definitive ending to this book -- just as Christian belief and practice has continued to evolve, so to is it impossible to come to a definitive statement about all-encompassing Christian normative standards at any given point even near the beginnings of the religion, and particularly before the canon of the scriptures have been determined.

Perhaps Meeks' Theses 6 and 7 are the most important for us today. The determination of moral confidence with the understanding that God continues to act in our lives and in our world can both reassure and comfort us in the knowledge of God's love and protection, as well as the recognition that in a world in which people have been given freedom of action, God's own freedom can occasionally (or perhaps even frequently) surprise us.

Feels like a book on mystery religion, not morality  Sep 16, 2002
I read this cover to cover a few months ago. It felt like a highly interesting book about the Christian mystery-religion, rather than a study of morality. Don't pass this book by thinking it's about the narrow topic of morality. I'm only somewhat interested in the topic of the origins of Christian morality, but I didn't feel like this book was about morality.

Meeks' style of approach is not at all devotional, but rather, is an engaging and straightforward type of scholarship portraying the early mystic form of Christianity including social aspects.


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