And You Welcomed Me

A Sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity

By Amy G. Oden Published
Paperback image ISBN: 9780687096718 $32.99 Buy
eBook image ISBN: 9781426730078 $32.99 Buy
This volume provides an anthology of about 40 primary source documents that describe the work of religious communities that took care of pilgrims and the sick in the late antique and early medieval world. The project identifies letters, diary accounts, instructions, sermons, travelogues, and community records and rules that give us a window into a world of early communities that saw it as their duty and their privilege to care for the sick, to safeguard the pilgrim, and to host the stranger. Each document is placed in historical, geographical, and social context as it contributes to an emerging picture of these communities. The volume addresses the motivations and practices of communities that risked extending hospitality. Why did these communities take great risks for the socially vulnerable? What stake did they have in pilgrims and the sick? What communal experiences supported and sustained both the communities and their audiences? How was hospitality cultivated?

Reviews

Reviewed by James Noland, pastor, Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, Vienna, Virginia
And You Welcomed Me: A Sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity by Amy Oden

Amy G. Oden’s And You Welcomed Me is subtitled “A Sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity,” but it offers much more than this modest description suggests. Along with readings from a wide variety of texts, carefully culled from the formative centuries of the faith, Oden’s intelligent commentaries and her wise ordering of this little known material constitute a subtle, but persuasive, argument, suggesting that the practice of hospitality is central to Christianity.

Oden presents an expansive view of hospitality. She understands hospitality as a “particular moral stance” which enables one to “enter another’s world.” At its heart, Christian hospitality is a form of metanoia or repentance, which connects the individual to a new form of community that is based on the insight that each human being bears the image of God. Hospitality is thus a form of worship, a way of honoring God by honoring those who bear God’s image. As such, it is an affirmative obligation, narrated in the stories of the Old Testament and displayed in the life and ministry of Jesus. In this context, Oden depicts the Eucharist as a vision of hospitality, a table fellowship that welcomes all of God’s children in a foretaste of heaven.

Oden has an impressive command of the literature, and she presents little know voices, such as that of Paula, a Roman matron who renounced her rank and privilege to live in poverty in the Holy Land, along side those that are more familiar, such as Augustine and Ambrose. This gives the work a texture of authenticity and makes for interesting reading.

Often the sources do not discuss hospitality per se; rather, they simply assume it as natural to Christianity. Allowing hospitality to emerge as a tacit presupposition of Christian identity makes her case all the more compelling. She also makes it clear that the distinction between “host and quest” is really quite fluid, because the early Christians understood themselves as sojourners whose true home was the heavenly Jerusalem. One is reminded here of Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon’s Resident Aliens.

And You Welcomed Me is not a “how to” book. It is really theology of an impressive sort, reminding readers of the riches of the Christian tradition. For a less challenging, more contemporary exploration of this topic, I would recommend Michele Hershberger’s A Christian View of Hospitality. But those who take the time to read the original material in Oden’s sourcebook will be richly rewarded.

About the Author

Amy G. Oden

Amy G. Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University and the author of In Her Words and And You Welcomed Me, both published by Abingdon Press.