The Beautiful Feast of Life

The authors of Saving Paradise, How Christianity Traded Love of the World for Crucifixion and Empire declare that worship enables people to experience a world of ethical grace.  

Two thousand years of Christian life and work! How could anyone grasp even the broad outline of this history, let alone the vast detail? Or discern patterns of development and understand the motivations of the people whose life energies are displayed in this panorama of life? Yet this is what Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker venture to do in their book Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of the World for Crucifixion and Empire (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008).

They have organized the vast body of lived experience, as well as physical artifacts and written documents, around the tension between two motifs in the religious tradition flowing from Jesus of Nazareth. One theme is life in this world, which already is paradise. The other theme is death in this world in order to enter paradise, which exists only in heaven.

The book began as a pilgrimage in which the authors sought to solve a puzzle: Why was the crucifixion largely absent from Christian art, architecture, and iconography for the first thousand years of church history? Their pilgrimage took them to a great many places where the art of the first millennium could be viewed: easily accessed places like Rome and Constantinople, but also to some of the remotest locations where Christianity came in early times and flourished enough to build and adorn churches and monasteries, many of them long since abandoned. They visited museums to study Christian art and canvassed the church’s literature, especially the theology of Eastern writers and the poetic writings of people in East and West.

At first, these studies only confirmed their supposition; indeed the crucifixion was essentially absent from the church’s worship, devotion, art, and theology for the first thousand years of church history. Then came the second phase of their work, which was to discern the organizing motifs that had, in fact, characterized the life of Christians all of those centuries. One day, the realization came to one of the pilgrims and soon thereafter the other agreed. Instead of crucifixion and death, the church for a thousand years focused attention upon paradise and life.

The image was material and immediate, referring to the world in which people already lived, a world in which beauty, abundance, equality, joy, and other delights were enjoyed—sometimes fleetingly and in hope more than reality—despite the harsher aspects of life. It also referred to a transcendent realm in which the delights of life right now were intensified and fulfilled while the problems and shortcomings of immediate experience were overcome and set aside forever. Read more. . . . Beautiful Feast of Life

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