Dix, Gregory. The Shape of the Liturgy. 2nd ed. London:Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005 (republished from 1945 original edition).
Chapter 6, “The Pre-Nicene Background of the Liturgy.” pp. 141-155
Dix opens this chapter with a telling reminder. “We have said that despite its extreme structural simplicity there was no ideal of squalor or poverty about the pre-Nicene celebration of the eucharist” (Dix 2005, 141). The worship was treated with dignity. Churches had substantial furnishings and works of art. Yet the structure of the worship itself was quite simple. On pp. 142-144 Dix creates a parallel version which would make sense to the English person of his time. It is all simple but dignified. At the same time Dix emphasizes that to be a Christian was to be at least potentially liable to the death penalty through the third century. Despite all the opposition, Roman penalties notwithstanding, Dix says the Romans never attempted to refute Christian beliefs. “The persecutors were not concerned to produce sincere believers in the deity either of the emperor or of the Olympian gods, but to put an end to the illegal meetings of the christian ecclesia . . . there was no parallel attempt by a counter-propaganda to discredit christian beliefs or to defend pagan ones” (Dix 2005, 147). Not until the persecution under Diocletian (303-13) were there propogandic attempts to refute Christians (Dix 2005, 148). Worship remained a capital offense. Attempts by Christians to explain their faith were relatively rare. When they happened, such as in Justin’s First Apology they were ineffective at changing public opinion (Dix 2005, 150).
At issue is the centrality of gathering for worship, and particularly the eucharist. “It was a burning faith in the vital importance of the eucharist action as such, its importance to God and to the church and to a man’s own soul, for this world and for the next, which made the christians cling to the rite of the eucharist against all odds” (Dix 2005, 151).