On Monday afternoon, author, professor and priest Paul Bradshaw connected ancient religious practices to present-day worship.
Bradshaw, emeritus professor of liturgy at the University of Notre Dame and now a visiting professor at Yale, spoke to an audience of over 50 in the Institute of Sacred Music’s Great Hall. Bradshaw’s, whose lecture focused on Christian beliefs and worship practices from nearly two millennia ago, discussed a number of common misconceptions surrounding the history of Christian prayer. He spoke as part of the Liturgy Symposium, an annual ISM lecture series that brings three to four guest lecturers to speak on worship practices in different Christian communities.
“[Bradshaw] is widely regarded as one of the most careful, exacting historical scholars, and we’re very lucky we were able to lure him here,” said ISM director Martin Dean.
Focusing on Christian worship practices in the first three centuries A.D., Bradshaw sought to disprove incorrect perceptions of such practices that scholars in the past have espoused. Among the incorrect perceptions, he said, was that all early Christians lived in single-religion households — some Christian women living in the Middle East, in fact, had non-Christian husbands.
Bradshaw also spoke at length on the early relationship between Judaism and Christianity, refuting the notion that many Christian customs evolved from early Jewish prayers and mealtime traditions. He also rejected that the Jewish grace traditionally said at meals was also used by early Christians, citing new knowledge that a number of different forms of grace were in use as early as the first century.
“Modern scholars impose their own presuppositions into the text,” Bradshaw said. “Christian prayers have resemblance to predecessors only in the broadest of terms — we need to stop looking between Jewish prayers [and those of Christians].”
In addition to countering misconceptions of early Christianity, Bradshaw also discussed various elements of early Christian worship, such as practicing the Eucharist tradition and caring for the needy. He highlighted that in addition to inviting their friends and family to their homes for meals, many Christians would also allow the poor to eat with them. As a result of this practice, Bradshaw noted, the concepts of charity and the Eucharist tradition became intertwined. He said it was believed that if Christians ate together without including the needy in their meal, they were disobeying their religious principles.
Audience members interviewed said they were pleased with Bradshaw’s breadth and depth of discussion.
Greg Stark DIV ’17 said he found the lecture interesting but noted that he would have liked to have learned more about the diversity of early Christian worship practices as well as about the role of visual arts in early Christianity.
Lisa Erdeljon DIV ’17 said that as a potential Episcopalian priest, she specifically enjoyed hearing how the Eucharist evolved to what it is today.
Bradshaw is an honorary canon of the Diocese of Northern Indiana, Priest-Vicar Emeritus of Westminster Abbey and a consultant to the Church of England Liturgical Commission.