Living Life with the Early Church Fathers

In the first of the Lent Evenings, William Cooper Bailey gave a fascinating introduction to the world of the Early Church, and in particular, the guidance handed down to us from many authors of the first millennium.  These writings were designed to give encouragement and practical wisdom to Christians who were facing an uncomprehending or hostile environment.

Christianity was legalised at the Edict of Milan in 313AD when persecution abated.  The Christians became accepted and even mandatory for some government jobs, but new problems arose.

The Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire was subjected to suffocating hostility from Islam, and this led to the development of communities (the forerunners of monasteries) away from major towns, which Christians could however visit when they wanted for spiritual refreshment. These were not actually new – St Paul had gone to one in what is now Iraq shortly after he was converted, but from the fourth century onwards they became very popular.  Some notably in North Africa had over 1,000 people.

The Western Roman Empire focused on outreach and evangelisation both in new countries (including England) and elsewhere, at a time when the Roman Empire itself was collapsing – not least when the Rhine froze in the very cold winter of 406/7, and Rome could not hold the frontier.

A key focus was on guidance to Christians on how to live their life – including behaviour, prayer and fasting, and enduring persecution. The emphasis was on Community and Family– not “go it alone”.

Most of the legacy today from this early period, is based on the writings from many authors, whose words of practical guidance and encouragement echo strongly in the secular world today in this country.

In addition to an overview of the key events and authors of this early period, the evening highlighted the following:

  • The Venerable Bede, who lived on Tyneside from around 672-735. Although his histories are well known today, his main focus was on Bible Commentaries and Sermons (often on the Gospel of the day), and many textbooks on subjects from music to botany and mathematics, many of which were widely distributed at the time, and are still in print today (in English translation).
  • The Rule of Benedict – practical guidelines on living in a Christian Community, but applicable to many organisations, including families. They have been used as the basis for an effective Company in at least one Business School. It was strongly promoted by Charlemagne and is in everyday use in Anglican and many other Communities.

The evening was summarised in three handouts, which are available at the back of church or on request.

William Cooper Bailey

St. Bede the Venerable


The final two Lent talks are still to come – please contact to attend:

Tuesday 5 March: Mark Chapman on: Anglicanism in the Modern Era: On chamber pots, pith helmets and Butlins

Tuesday 12 March: Louisa Price on: St Luke’s 1824-2024: How a bench, hammer and minute book reveal the rich and colourful story of our parish