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Church History
 You're here » Christian Books Index » Books » Church History » The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art

The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art

Author: Paul Corby Finney
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       This study challenges a popular shibboleth, namely that Christianity came into the world as an essentially iconophobic form of religiosity, one that was opposed on principle to the use of visual images in religious contexts. It is argued here that this view misrepresents the evidence as we have it (consisting of both literary and archaeological fragments) - furthermore this misrepresentation is conscious and deliberate, designed to serve the interests of modern (and not so modern) confessional points of view. The picture presented here is of a religious minority, pre-Constantinian Christians, wrestling at the moment of their birth with questions of self-identity and seeking to submit themselves and their beliefs to open and public scrutiny. Only gradually over the course of the second century did Christians manage to formulate a definition of themselves as a distinct and separate religious culture. They began to draw visible boundaries and commenced the complicated process of endowing their communities with the marks of ethnic and cultural distinction. One of the key elements in this long and rather drawn-out process was the community control and acquisition of real property. This gave the new religionists a mechanism for separating themselves from their non-Christian friends and enemies. It also provided Christians an opportunity to experiment with their own self-definition as a materially defined religious culture. The earliest of their forays into material self-definition seem to have come around A.D. 200 in the form of painting and perhaps pottery - relief sculpture came later at the mid-third century, and Christian buildings first began to take shape under the Tetrarchy. As argued here, the well-known and much-discussed absence of Christian art before A.D. 200 is not to be explained as the consequence of anti-image ideology, but instead should be viewed as the necessary correlate of a religious minority which had not yet attained the status of a materially

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