Yale University Press, $29.95, 368 pp.
In the introductory pages of this fine book, Robert L. Wilken tells us that it is time to bid farewell to Adolf Von Harnack’s once influential thesis that Christianity, to its detriment, slowly became Hellenized by absorbing too much Greek thought. One still hears Harnack’s laments in critics’ complaints today about the classical formulations of Trinitarian or Christological doctrine. By contrast, Wilken argues that Christian thought developed from its intense and unwavering attention to the witness of the Bible. In that sense, Greek thought was Christianized and not vice versa.
That attention to the Word of God took several forms: steady meditation, performance of the Word in common worship, and works of evangelization and charity. Indeed, one must see the Bible in relation to the sacramental life of the church, to preaching, and to the defense of the faith. The ways in which the revealed Word was-and is-performed are quite varied, so it is gratifying that this book finds space to consider, among other things, the development of Christian poetry (in an excellent chapter on Prudentius) and the evolution of the icon.