Early Christian Unity

Ephraim Radner points out in A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church that early Christian discussions of unity “were often framed precisely in terms of the activities that marked a common life together” (171).

Radner elaborates: “So Basil will speak of unity in terms of mutual correction and encouragement, of helping one another in one’s weaknesses, of sharing goods, or applying gifts to a common task, or upholding neighbors in the keeping of God’s commandments, and so on. To this kind of communal life, Basil writes, refer the scriptural texts speaking of the ‘one body with many members’ . . . . He uses words like ‘symphony’ and ‘joined speech’ ( harmalogia ) and applies the metaphors of building and the rest. These are temporally extended activities of common life that not only sustain but actually embody the character of ‘unity.’”

This is critical to remember because of the tendency to treat early church discussions of concordia and unitas “as if these marked metaphysical conditions that . . . translate into essences of being that admit of no historical variation.”

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