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§ 59. Places of Common Worship.


R. Hospinianus: De Templis, etc. Tig. 1603. And in his Opera, Genev. 1681.

Fabricius: De Templis vett. Christ. Helmst. 1704.

Muratori (R.C.): De primis Christianorum Ecclesiis. Arezzo, 1770.

Hübsch: Altchristliche Kirchen. Karlsruh, 1860.

Jos. Mullooly: St. Clement and his Basilica in Rome. Rome, 2nd ed. 1873.

De Vogüé: Architecture civile et relig. du Ie au Vlle siècle. Paris, 1877, 2 vols.

The numerous works on church architecture (by Fergusson, Brown, Bunsen, Kugler, Kinkel, Kreuser, Schnaase, Lübke, Voillet-le-Duc, De Vogüé etc.) usually begin with the basilicas of the Constantinian age, which are described in vol. III. 541 sqq.


The Christian worship, as might be expected from the humble condition of the church in this period of persecution, was very simple, strongly contrasting with the pomp of the Greek and Roman communion; yet by no means puritanic. We perceive here, as well as in organization and doctrine, the gradual and sure approach of the Nicene age, especially in the ritualistic solemnity of the baptismal service, and the mystical character of the eucharistic sacrifice.

Let us glance first at the places of public worship. Until about the close of the second century the Christians held their worship mostly in private houses, or in desert places, at the graves of martyrs, and in the crypts of the catacombs. This arose from their poverty, their oppressed and outlawed condition, their love of silence and solitude, and their aversion to all heathen art. The apologists frequently assert, that their brethren had neither temples nor altars (in the pagan sense of these words), and that their worship was spiritual and independent of place and ritual. Heathens, like Celsus, cast this up to them as a reproach; but Origen admirably replied: The humanity of Christ is the highest temple and the most beautiful image of God, and true Christians are living statues of the Holy Spirit, with which no Jupiter of Phidias can compare. Justin Martyr said to the Roman prefect: The Christians assemble wherever it is convenient, because their God is not, like the gods of the heathen, inclosed in space, but is invisibly present everywhere. Clement of Alexandria refutes the superstition, that religion is bound to any building.

In private houses the room best suited for worship and for the love-feast was the oblong dining-hall, the triclinium, which was never wanting in a convenient Greek or Roman dwelling, and which often had a semicircular niche, like the choir290290    Chorus, βῆμα. The two are sometimes identified, sometimes distinguished, the bema being the sanctuary proper for the celebration of the holy mysteries, the choir the remaining part of the chancel for the clergy; while the nave was for the laity.90 in the later churches. An elevated seat291291    Ἄμβων, suggestus, pulpitum.91 was used for reading the Scriptures and preaching, and a simple tables292292    Τράπεζα, mensa sacra; also ara, altare.92 for the holy communion. Similar arrangements were made also in the catacombs, which sometimes have the form of a subterranean church.

The first traces of special houses of worship293293    Ἐκκλησία, ἐκκλησιαστήριον, κυριακά, οἶκος θεοῦ,, ecclesia, dominica, domus Dei, templum. The names for a church building in the Teutonic and Slavonic languages (Kirche, Church, Kerk, Kyrka, Tserkoff, etc.) are derived from the Greek κυριακή, κυριακόν, (belonging to the Lord, the Lord’s house), through the medium of the Gothic; the names in the Romanic languages (Chiesa, Igreja, Eglise, etc.) from the Latin ecclesia, although this is also from the Greek, and meant originally assembly (either a local congregation, or the whole body of Christians). Churches erected specially in honor of martyrs were called martyria, memoriae, tropaea, tituli.93 occur in Tertullian, who speaks of going to church,294294    In ecclcsima, in domum Dei venire94 and in his contemporary, Clement of Alexandria, who mentions the double meaning of the word εκκλησία.295295    Τόπος,andἂθροισμα τῶν ἐκλεκτῶν95 About the year 230, Alexander Severus granted the Christians the right to a place in Rome against the protest of the tavern-keepers, because the worship of God in any form was better than tavern-keeping. After the middle of the third century the building of churches began in great earnest, as the Christians enjoyed over forty years of repose (260–303), and multiplied so fast that, according to Eusebius, more spacious places of devotion became everywhere necessary. The Diocletian persecution began (in 303,) with the destruction of the magnificent church at Nicomedia, which, according to Lactantius, even towered above the neighboring imperial palace.296296    De Mort. Persec. c. 12. The Chronicle of Edessa (in Assem. Bibl Orient. XI. 397) mentions the destruction of Christian temples a.d. 292.96 Rome is supposed to have had, as early as the beginning of the fourth century, more than forty churches. But of the form and arrangement of them we have no account. With Constantine the Great begins the era of church architecture, and its first style is the Basilica. The emperor himself set the example, and built magnificent churches in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Constantinople, which, however, have undergone many changes. His contemporary, the historian Eusebius, gives us the first account of a church edifice which Paulinus built in Tyre between a.d. 313 and 322.297297    Hist. Ecel. X. 4. Eusebius also describes, in rhetorical exaggeration and looseness, the churches built by Constantine in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Constantinople (Vita Const. 1. III. 50; IV. 58, 59). See De Vogüe, Eglises de la terre-sainte, Hübsch, l.c., , -tnd Smith & Cheetliam, I. 368 sqq.97 It included a large portico (πρὸπυλον) a quadrangular atrium (αἴθριον) surrounded by ranges of columns; a fountain in the centre of the atrium for the customary washing of hands and feet before entering the church; interior porticoes; the nave or central space (βασίλειος οἶκος) with galleries above the aisles, and covered by a roof of cedar of Lebanon; and the most holy altar (ἅγιον ἁγίων θυσιαστήριον). Eusebius mentions also the thrones (θρόνοι) for the bishops and presbyters, and benches or seats. The church was surrounded by halls and inclosed by a wall, which can still be traced. Fragments of five granite columns of this building are among the ruins of Tyre.

The description of a church in the Apostolic Constitutions,298298    II. 57, ed. Ueltzen, p. 66 sqq.98 implies that the clergy occupy the space at the cast end of the church (in the choir), and the people the nave, but mentions no barrier between them. Such a barrier, however, existed as early as the fourth century, when the laity were forbidden to enter the enclosure of the altar.



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