The Journal of Theological Studies 2005 56(2):655-658; doi:10.1093/jts/fli169
From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries. By PETER LAMPE.
Pp. xviii + 525. London: T. & T. Clark (a Continuum imprint), 2003. ISBN 0 567 080501. N.p
AT last the long-awaited English translation of the second edition of Die stadtrömischen Christen in den ersten beiden Jahrhunderten (WUNT 18; Tübingen, 1989) has arrived! To read reviews of the first two German editions is to be met with commendations at every turn. This review will be no exception. “From Paul to Valentinus” is a breathtaking achievement that has already become a classic and will repay careful attention for decades to come from researchers of early Roman Christianity or those seeking a model for writing a social history for other centres of ancient Christianity. It is a book that demands much from its readers. Lampe's arguments are densely formulated, punctuated by lengthy digressions, continued in footnotes; sometimes the material is presented too clumsily by seriatim listings of information weighing in favour of or against a particular argument. In this regard the study continues to reveal its origin as a doctoral dissertation (University of Bern, 1983, under the direction of Ulrich Luz). Such stylistic considerations notwithstanding, however, the scholarly world owes a debt of gratitude to Lampe for presenting so thoroughly and rigorously the primary literature, archaeological data, and epigraphic material relating to ancient Roman Christianity, as well as distilling such a vast secondary literature on ancient Roman Christianity. Lampe shrewdly and expertly argues for his reconstruction of a socially diverse, theologically variegated Roman Christianity, non-centralized until the later second century, and bearing the marks of its domestic origins amongst the urban poor even as it progressively moved through the latter part of the second century into more élite circles.
Accounting for the arrival of Christianity in Rome via Puteoli from the east (p. 10), and the separation of nascent Christianities from Judaism as a consequence of the Claudian Edict (pp. 11–16), Lampe determines that Christianity took root and expanded primarily amongst the urban poor housed in the neighbourhoods of Trastevere and the area around the Porta Capena. This he sustains by noticing correlations of evidence which point to these areas from surviving local tradition, Christian burial sites, Jewish neighbourhoods, concentrations of tituli churches, and literary references to Christian businesses (pp. 19–66). Alongside these poor were also marginally higher-status people inhabiting the poorer areas of the Aventine valley and Mars Field. These topographical conclusions are then fleshed out more fully by reference to literary and archaeological evidence, the latter with reference to modifications of the tomb of St Peter and the fact that Christians were evidently not in a position financially to assure the grave would not be affected by pagan renovations surrounding it. Again the picture is predominantly one of the urban poor. That there was a degree of social stratification is attested by the dispute over right use of riches in The Shepherd of Hermas and evidence of higher-status Christians entering the community at the of the second century, with women Christians playing especially important roles of patronage (pp. 67–150). This conclusion is further supported by close analysis of prosopographical evidence contained in New Testament references and second-century literature (pp. 151–355). Especially significant is that prosopographical evidence shows a disproportionate number of names of Greek origin—representative of the disenfranchised immigrant population from which Christianity won the majority of its adeherents. As one progresses through the second into the third century increasingly higher-status profiles emerge, especially female ones, so that just at the time more philosophical (Justin) and esoteric (Valentinus) versions of Christianity appear we find evidence of Christians drawn from more élite circles. Particularly informative, though rather more hypothetical than Lampe seems prepared to admit, is the discussion of arguably Valentinian burial inscriptions discovered along the Via Latina, amidst the ruins of a Hadrianic period villa. 'This inscription probably hung in the suburban villa of a wealthy Valentinian man or woman', Lampe hastens to conclude (p. 310), making a rather enduring spring from a singular swallow. Still, this reconstruction, if the argument tends towards the circular, accords with the attraction of probably higher-status educated women sympathetic to Valentinian theology, like Flora (p. 296). Marcion similarly reflects a growth of Christianity amongst the wealthier. The argument, however, that capricious emperors demanding service for their military machines from imperial shipowners like Marcion, especially to battle against the Jewish uprising at the time of Trajan, furnish the imperial social context for the generation of Marcion's ideas of a warlike demiurge demanding obedience (pp. 246–9), while intriguing, seems rather too speculative if not reductive.
The picture that finally emerges from Lampe's analysis of surviving evidence is one he names 'the fractionation of Roman Christianity' (pp. 357–408). Not until the second half of the second century, under Anicetus, do we find compelling evidence for a monarchical episcopacy, and when it emerges, it is to manage relief shipments to dispersed Christians as well as social aid for the Roman poor (pp. 403–4). Before this period Roman Christians were 'fractionated' amongst dispersed house/tenement churches, each presided over by its own presbyter–bishop. This accounts for the evidence of social and theological diversity in second-century Roman Christianity, evidence of a degree of tolerance of theologically disparate groups without a single authority to regulate belief and practice, and the relatively late appearance of unambiguous representation of a single bishop over Rome. In reconstructing that picture of a series of domestic Christianities developing into a monarchical episcopacy Lampe problematically looks for support from the evidence of Traditio apostolica as testimony to mid-second century Roman Christianity under Hippolytus. The Roman provenance of this document, the dating of the multiple strands of tradition the document represents, even the identity of the Hippolytus with which the text is associated are topics of lively debate which Lampe completely ignores. He assumes what requires careful argumentation, and it is surely an exaggeration to write (p. 127, n. 1), 'Today this writing [Traditio apostolica] is, for the most part, acknowledged as original'. Nevertheless, he offers a compelling account of the development of a centralized and hierarchical authority-structure developing out of the social situation of a Roman church seeking to aid urban poor who from its earliest days comprised the majority of its members. This account of Roman fractionation attests to the versality and thoughtfulness of Lampe's social-historical reconstructions. He resists preserving the development of theology and spirituality free from societal considerations; on the other hand, he refuses to reduce them to epiphenomena of sociological conditions. Rather he insists upon a reciprocal interplay of the theological and the sociological and seeks models of communal formation that insist upon a dynamic dialectical formation. This is ably demonstrated, for example, in his account of Hermas offering through the forgiveness of post-baptismal sin and the limiting of wealthy Christians to one business a means of reintegrating higher-status Christians into the church and offering their wealth as a means of community-building, as opposed to a rigorist balkanization of rich and poor by refusing a second repentance. Here, the argument would have been strengthened had Lampe engaged the analysis of Carolyn Osiek (The Shepherd of Hermas [Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999]), a regrettable absence from an otherwise thorough bibliography (pp. 437–74). Since this work is so encyclopedic and detailed in its engagement with secondary studies, it is disappointing that there is no author index, especially because it will be the standard reference work on ancient Roman Christianity for the foreseeable future.
H. O. Maier
Vancouver, British Columbia