The Oldest Christian Sermon -- By: Henry Hayman
BSac 42:168 (Oct 1885) p. 646
The Oldest Christian Sermon1
Distinguished authority has pronounced in favor of regarding the fragment known as the Second Epistle of Clemens Romanus in the light of a sermon; but its incomplete form must always leave its character in this respect open to doubt. The discourse to which I now refer, recorded in its entirety in the oldest Church Historian, comes to us with a clear certificate of its character in the occasion which drew it forth. We have it set in the circumstances of its origin. Those circumstances are of picturesque historical interest. It is a voice from the pulpit of faith victorious over persecution. It has no formal “text,” in the modern sense, on which it dilates. But it has the concluding “ascription,” stamped thus early, and as we know indelibly, on the homiletic exercises of the church. It is certainly the oldest Christian homily thus historically attested and extant entire — a composition, from this unique character attaching to it, of the highest interest, and of a date mounting up probably to 313 A.D., therefore Ante-Nicene. The fierce paroxysm of persecution had spent itself. The Master seemed to have rebuked the raging storm and men felt “a great calm,” marking an epoch in the history of the Church. The occasion was that of the re dedication of the metropolitan church of Tyre under Paulinus its bishop, a personal friend of the historian who records it, and who is with high probability supposed to have been the preacher; viz., Eusebius himself. The epoch is that of the peace restored to the Church after the fearful Diocletian persecution terminating in the death of Galerius; but it also included a truce
BSac 42:168 (Oct 1885) p. 647
to the intellectual restlessness which had marked the previous time, if we may rely upon a rather Obscure expression of the historian.2 With a description of the universal jubilee of the Christian world at such a newly-found respite, the portion of the Ecclesiastical History with which I have now to do opens. In the third chapter of his tenth book Eusebius describes the outburst of festive thanksgiving attending the celebration of services of rededication. Many church fabrics appear to have been destroyed in the persecution, and to have been, only now that peace seemed to be assured, replaced by new ones. So it was at Tyre, and thus the church rebuilt there in 313 A.D. represents one we know not how much older. We know Phoenicia, and Tyre in particular, as seats of early evangelization; see Acts 11:19; 21:3–4, and many presume that church fabrics existed there as soon ...
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