The Illumined Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of the Ancient Christians by Frederica Mathewes-Green

The Illumined Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of the Ancient Christians by Frederica Mathewes-GreenSummary: Short explanation of historic Orthodoxy’s understanding of Christianity.

Real life often gets in the road of, or impacts my reading. I am a stay at home Dad, so I often have my reading interrupted by toddlers. I listened to a lot of audiobook with somewhat partial attention while I supervise my children at the park. Last Thursday, I listened to all of this short book while having a crown put in. I thought I had an old filling come out. And wasn’t really prepared to hear that it was the tooth that was cracked (right next to a filling). So on and off over a 3.5 hour period, I listened to this 2 hour audiobook. It isn’t really possible to listen to an audiobook (at least with the headphones I had) while they were drilling my tooth.

But I immediately thought of James KA Smith’s thoughts on the importance of bodily practice as I listened to the opening chapter. Mathewes-Green described part of the historic importance of Orthodoxy as taking seriously the body.

I have read or listened to several books by Mathewes-Green about Orthodoxy. Her background as a Protestant before converting to Orthodoxy makes her an important link to helping Protestants like myself understand an important, but culturally different, stream of Christianity.

Like Thomas Oden, Mathewes-Green, makes the argument that the historic practices of the church should be the root of our modern practices of faith. While Oden mostly attempted to bring modern Protestantism an awareness of historic theology and practice, Mathewes-Green actually moved into a stream that still practices a liturgy that is largely unchanged from early centuries.

I really do appreciate hearing about this bias toward ancient Christianity. I think it is important. But I also have not been convinced that our Christianity should be still be practicing a largely ancient liturgy as Orthodoxy is. I think the ancient theology and practice should be biased, but that we need the ability to culturally reinterpret that liturgical imagery when necessary. The bias should be ancient, but not fixed.

What I have not been sufficiently introduced to is how Orthodox understand the changes of early generations of Christians. There was an enormous amount of change in the early generations of the church. Early church didn’t really have scripture as we now understand it, they didn’t have organized churches as happened within a couple of generations. The concept of clergy and bishops significantly changed. Immediate baptism changing to a long waiting period before being baptized is a huge change, not to mention the addition of infant baptism relatively early. The excellent book, The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Early Church by Franz Dunzl details how much cultural changes within the church were driving the theological language of the church.

But even with some very significant questions that I don’t really have answered (and haven’t spent a lot of time exploring), I find these short books by Orthodox writers about their stream of Christianity to be very helpful, although often leaving me with more questions than answers.

The Illumined Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of the Ancient Christians by Frederica Mathewes-Green Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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