By Veselin Kesich SVS Press, 206 pages, $18.00.
The author's theological clarity parallels that of our current pope. Kesich offers a sturdy foundation of theology and history, unlike most contemporary scholars. He counters current arguments that depict St. Paul as a woman-hater and the earliest Christians as believing in different theologies.
Because of the turmoil in Church and wider society since the 1960s, we need clarity more than anything else. First, clarity regarding the ancient heresy of gnosticism, since secular academics paint the gnostics as victims of Christian violence and as honouring women and other outcasts.
Formation and Struggles has none of that romanticizing, instead simply and clearly explaining why gnosticism was heretical. Among other things, gnostics misused the Bible: they “'pluck words and sayings and parables from here and there and wish to adopt these words of God to their fables,' making every effort to deceive the inexperienced.”
Second, clarity regarding divisions in the early church. Kesich, unlike most contemporary scholars, emphasizes the almost miraculous ability of Christians in the first two Christian centuries to stay united. Jewish Christians – with their dietary, marital, and health obligations – and gentile Christians made up the two main groups.
These two groups, Kesich writes, united behind their main missionary goals and identical theology concerning Christ's human and divine natures: “It was a bilingual church, praying and worshiping in two languages, Aramaic and Greek. This diversity helped the community to articulate its distinct christological beliefs. The church never existed without creedal statements.”
This last sentence leads to the third piece of clarity. The church never strayed from its mission, and existed from the beginning with core beliefs.
Fourth, Kesich brings clarity to the muddled scholarly debate concerning Christianity's relationship to ancient Greek, Roman, or Egyptian “mystery religions.” These religions had secret initiation practices and dealt with, among other things, people's concerns over fertility and disease.
Current scholars suggest that Christianity was just another mystery religion, since many of these religions had similar rites and beliefs as Christianity, such as a divine being who rises after 3 days. Formation and Struggles sets the record straight by showing how these mystery religions did not originally have similar rites and beliefs, but developed them in their competition with Christianity.
As well, he notes that “The church never lived in a vacuum. The disciples of Christ entered the world to exorcise and transform it. In their mission they used recognizable means of communication.” He also writes that Paul and the churches he established had nothing to do with these mystery religions.
Lastly, Kesich clarifies early Jewish-Christian relations, showing how bitter words in the New Testament pointed at Jews were actually part of an inner-Jewish squabble, with the Jewish Christians taking the heat from the synagogue and temple establishment. Strong words typified inner-Jewish debate.