Within decades of the establishment of the church Christian leaders faced a dilemma. Many had responded positively to the gospel message, but the church could not be sure of the converts’ theological orthodoxy. To ensure the integrity of a convert’s decision churches developed a two-stage process of incorporation that proved successful for centuries. The first stage of “catechesis” (instruction in theology and Christian living) and the catechumenate (the formal structure in which this prebaptismal teaching was given) preceded baptism. The second stage followed baptism, a period of “mystagogy” focused on the significance of baptism and the eucharist with implications for the participant’s life in the Christian community. Today catechesis has revived in many Christian traditions with a wealth of historical documents to guide the practice. Until recently, however, the period of mystagogy, has not received similar attention.
The works of Ambrose of Milan, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, and Theodore of Mopsuestia provide the primary source material for the study of mystagogy. Unfortunately Theodore’s works are fragmentary, Chrysostom’s are predominantly moral, and Cyril’s are exclusively mystagogical (with no comparative reference frame), leaving the works of Ambrose as the best source for this study. Satterlee, assistant professor of homiletics at the Lutheran School of Theology (Chicago), has focused on these materials for his dissertation at the University of Notre Dame. Satterlee surveys Ambrose’s life, preaching role, audience, liturgical context, use of Scripture, sermonic structure, and delivery. He concludes by offering suggestions for the successful recovery of this sermonic form in order to complete successfully what was begun in the catechumenate.
Satterlee draws attention to Ambrose’s hermeneutics and mystagogical teaching strategies, noting their correspondence to that of other early bishops. Of greatest interest for modern readers is the patristic teaching on the significance of baptism. Apparently catechumens were told little or nothing of the actions to be carried out in their baptism nor of the eucharist immediately following. Fragrant oils were rubbed on the baptismal candidates as they stood in the water and as incense burned around them. Then they were each given a white robe and were served communion for the first time. In the following days they were instituted in the meaning of their participation in the ordinances.
Satterlee’s work is an excellent addition to historical studies on the practice of corporate discipleship and the preaching method in the early church. Satterlee’s work is noteworthy for its unique contribution to patristics and homiletics. It should also stimulate significant discussion over the process of spiritual pedagogy as the church seeks to develop more effective ministries for the twenty-first century.
About the Contributors
Dr. Ralston brings a rich pastoral background to his classroom, having served as an associate pastor and pastor in Ontario and as a director of adult education in the United States. Dr. Ralston is an active member in the North American Academy of Liturgy and the Evangelical Homiletics Society. His research in New Testament manuscripts and worship has taken him into a wide variety of settings and produced numerous scholarly articles. His teaching interests include preaching, worship, and spirituality. His research interests include New Testament manuscripts, liturgical theology and history, the history and practice of Christian spirituality, and spiritual direction. To relax he teaches as a Master Scuba Diver Trainer with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors and enjoys exploring sunken ships and underwater sites throughout the world.