With the recent resurgence of interest in the historic churches, histories of the early Church have attracted a greater audience. While this development is surely welcome, there is a growing tendency to quote (or misquote) the Church Fathers to support one's own theological position. There have also been works of Church history where the sole purpose appears to be "spinning" historical facts in order to validate theological presuppositions. Such polemical volumes are generally aimed at a large audience and so are often written in a popular style. More impartial works are often comprehensive tomes poorly suited to those seeking an introduction to the patristic era.
Henry Chadwick's The Early Church goes a long way in solving this problem. Written as part of Penguin's History of the Church series, this excellent work is a great place for those with an interest in early Church history to begin their investigations. Chadwick arranges the sections thematically rather than chronologically - allowing a clearer focus for the reader - and masterfully covers all the major currents in the patristic era without leaving his audience adrift in a sea of minutiae. Beginners to the subject of Church history may find it useful to read the book, digest the information, and then reread it, as they will be better prepared to see how the various theological and political currents interacted in the development of Christian orthodoxy.
Those who approach the topic with a theological axe to grind will not find solace in this book. Chadwick is nothing if not an honest historian and both sides in the Protestant/Roman Catholic apologetics wars may feel a bit uncomfortable at times. The centrality of the Eucharistic liturgy as the defining act of Christian worship from the Church's inception, the implementation of the episcopacy as the main defense against heresy, and the long and arduous process of arriving at a canon attack much of the contemporary Protestant ethos. On the other hand, Roman Catholic believers will feel a little uneasy at the scant evidence for anything resembling the modern papacy. Indeed, after reading Chadwick's work, the reader may come to the realization that many battle lines drawn between the two sides would have seemed alien territory to early Christians with an entirely different set of cultural presuppositions.
Although there are certainly more comprehensive works, one would be hard pressed to find a better introductory volume on the early Church than this one. For its clarity, thoroughness, and impartiality, The Early Church is the best place to start any study of this period.
on October 26, 2000
Chadwick has written an engaging, readable introduction to an era that is difficult to distill. There are many cross-cutting trends (from a chronological point of view) and Chadwick does a nice job of maintaining narrative coherence. If you are interested enough to be looking at this page, you will probably find the book captivating. And the coverage is very good, focusing both on theological developments and socio-political developments surrounding the milieu of the early Christian church. So this stands as a very profitable introduction.
One specific drawback is that the "filioque" controversy, whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or from the Father and the Son, is glossed over without the attention it deserves. This is one of the major doctrinal disputes to this day between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, and was critically important at the time covered in this book (especially since the subtitle claims the book will take you down to the parting of ways between East and West). One general drawback is that the internecine theological squabbles aren't really placed in their proper context with respect to everday church life. They wind up seeming much more important to the laity than they probably really were.
Two caveats, not necessarily drawbacks: it's best to know a little something about the Roman empire, like the broad outlines of its history. Chadwick doesn't assume that you are an expert, but this book comes in at just under 300 pages -- an achievement -- and the sacrifice is that the whole historical environment can't be treated in depth. Also, it's important to have some working knowledge, like one gets from living in the West, of the culture of the church. This book may be hard to read (though still not unprofitable) for a Muslim or Buddhist who has never been to a Catholic mass -- some of the context will be missing. But again, Chadwick can't treat everything in 300 pages so it's not so much a fault as something to keep in mind.
The Early Church, Editorial Digest:
Henry Chadwick's Story of Emergent Christianity is an early contribution to the Oxford History of the Church. This first fairly slim book is one of the best concise introductions to the early church available in a single volume. It is delightful to read and engaging to study. He has produced a masterpiece, covering every aspect of the life of the early church. Professor Chadwick's conclusions are novel, but not tendentious, trying to be unbiased as possible to the historical evidence. The book is perfect for getting an overall view of the early church without going into too much detail, and in this respect his footnotes do not disappoint us.
The Early Church, Content:
Drawing on recent historical research, Professor Henry Chadwick shows how Christianity had its roots in a synthesis of contemporary ideas and beliefs, and analyses the causes of its persecution under Diocletian, the fanaticism of its martyrs and its bitter internal controversies. The conversion of Constantine and the edict of Theodosius meant that the church had to reconcile its spiritual duties with a new, worldly role as an establishment for better government throughout the empire, and Professor Chadwick completes his history by demonstrating how this conflict of responsibilities led to the emergence of the two pillars of Christianity the monastic movement, and bishoprics.
Description in Consensus:
Marked by an originality both of scope and narrative, this book is a brilliant introduction, that provides a full and enjoyable narrative history of the first centuries of the Christian Church, an account of the history of the early Church, particularly in the East. Henry Chadwick's examines how Christianity changed the Roman empire Mediterranean society. His brisk exposition of early debates in their historical context is masterful and entertaining. It is a tour de force by a great scholar.
Chadwick's easy style conceals the author's great learning and enthusiasm for his subject. This book will remain a standard among the works on the history of early Christianity for the foreseeable future. Professor Chadwick has the gift for being able to pinpoint significant, as well as sometimes unfamiliar aspects of the life of the church.Those readers familiar with Professor Chadwick's works will recognize that each sentence of his writings is based on his scholarship of intensive study of original documents, exhaustive reading of secondary sources in different languages, and long experience in teaching and lecturing. If you begin your study of the ancient church with Professor Chadwick's book you will set off on the right foot that will have laid a good foundation for later detailed study.
About the Author:
Henry Chadwick, Emeritus Regius Professor of Divinity, Cambridge University. His other books include Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition: Studies in Justin, Clement, and Origen, Origen: Contra Celsum, Augustine: A Very Short Introduction, and his last great work The Church in Ancient Society.
on February 25, 2002
Chadwick provides his readers with a thorough historical account of the early Christian church. He begins with the Jewish context into which the church was born, tells how the church grew and developed in the ensuing centuries, and takes the reader all the way to the Germanic invasions and their aftermath. The book is written in Chadwick's usual scholarly style, and has gained a wide reputation as an excellent source for the student or the layman who wishes to find out more about the early church.
His unromantic approach is one of Chadwick's strongest points, and is quite clear from the way he deals with, for instance, the conversion of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea in chapter 8. Constantine's conversion is not portrayed as spectacular and immediate as we find in certain history books. Rather, we see a military strategist who initially did not quite know the difference between Christianity and the 'Unconquered Sun', the deity to whom the Roman senate attributed Constantine's legendary victory over the troops of Maxentius at the Milvian bridge in 312, but one who nevertheless gravitated from solar monotheism to Christianity.
In my view Chadwick has done the church an immense favour by writing this book. The book has been reprinted many times, and it is widely used and referred to as a reliable source on the early church. The book does not read quite as easy as some modern works on church history, and this might be due to the fact that it was written in 1967, before the concept of 'user-friendliness' were popularised. The paragraphs are sometimes long (a single paragraph would often be longer than an entire page), and one wonders if the time has not perhaps arrived for a newer and easier to read version, edited to compensate for the collective attention deficiency disorder of the culture we live in. By doing so the book might be accessible to a much wider audience.
Henry Chadwick is one of the foremost scholars of Church History. His style is clear and his presentation solid. This book concisely covers the beginnings of the Church from the time of the apostles to around 600 AD, covering the "Patristic" or Church Father period.
Basically Henry covers one of the most interesting and fruitful periods in Church history. He covers both historical details and the theology and philosophies of various church fathers. The controversies of the early Church, from the Proto-Charismatic Montanism to the later Arian-Nicene struggle over the doctrine of the Trinity, are represented accurately. The struggles are almost exciting.
Overall this book will give the reader a basic introduction into the history of the early Christian Church. For the more advanced student, this particular work by Chadwick might seem too basic, but that is its purpose. This book will be a new experience for some, as it was for me when I first read it. Certain issues considered "fundamentals" to many Christians today, such as biblical inerrancy, were not even really discussed in the early Church. Although, certain Biblical issues such as Canonization (choosing which texts would be a part of the Bible) were hot issues. As a scholar of Church history and a Christian, I use this book often and recommend its use to others.
on January 1, 2006
This is a very good introductory book on the early Christian church. It covers the development of church doctrine and shows how Orthodoxy emerged as Christianity established itself as a legitimate religion. Chadwick's knowledge of his subject is vast yet he did not get into long diatribes on any one subject. The pace of the book is steady yet the reader feels well informed upon finishing it.
Chadwick shows how the church responded to gnostic writings and how the more conservative elements came to give validation to those scriptures they believed canonical. Gnosticism was perhaps the greatest threat ever to face the early church and once it was subdued it became easier for the church to deal with future heretical teachings. Two other dogmas receive ample coverage in Chadwick's book, Arianism, and the Catholic/Donatist debates.
Chadwick also gives mini biographies of several key players fromboth the orthodox school as well as those deemed heretics. Tertullian, Marcion, Augustine, Origen, the early Popes, and even certain emperors are given enough coverage to show how their lives impacted the early church.
While Chadwick covers the church well, at times his book suffers a bit from political insufficiencies. The split of the Roman Empire into east and west is not fully explained, even from how it impacted the church's history. He only gives a few sentences on the barbarian sack of Rome in 410 and the removal of the political seat of government to Ravenna. Also there was a mutual distrust between the Roman church and its counterpart in Constantinople, but these issues are not elaborately explained. Persecutions are not detailed to a great extent.
But perhaps the intent of Chadwick was to provide enough background information to pique the reader to seek further knowledge. If that was the case then this book is remarkably successful.
It may not be the book of choice for college level survey courses, but this book works well in its specific niche and should remain popular for years to come.
on May 11, 2005
The Early Church, by Henry Chadwick is a good place to start if you are interested in early church history. He does an excellant job describing the issues that were affecting the development of the church from the apostolic age to around 500 a.d.
I do have mixed feelings about this book. You will find information that you probably have not seen elsewhere if you haven't read a book about church history. You will be introduced to Augustine, Cyril of Jerusalem, Hippolytus, and others that you may not even have heard about. The issues concerning the Council of Nicaea are discussed at length. You will see that the acceptance of the four gospels as canonical, no more, no less, was made very early in the history of the church.
On the other hand, I did find myself really wanting a glossary or something similar many times when I was reading the book. I'm still not sure, for example, exactly what a Monophysite is. I also have to admit that there were a few stretches in the book where I was just finishing a section just to finish it. Maybe it's the fault of the author, maybe church history is by nature not that interesting. Another way to say it is that some of the issues that arose in the church were detailed and legalistic, which is probably hard to write about in an engaging way.
All in all, this is a solid book. As a source of information, it is 4 star book. Based on style and readability, it's more of a 3 star book. Once you've read it, you will at least know what areas of church history you want to know more about, and you can read further on those subjects. Though I doubt this will ever be a best seller, it is a good place to start your study of church history.
on September 11, 2010
I found this book incredibly frustrating to read, and found myself wanting to hurl it against the wall many times. There are so many characters, places, and controversies discussed with so brief a mention that I was never able to form any kind of understanding of what the author was trying to convey. There is no introduction or preface to describe what the author is intending to do; he just launches into it without a description of what is to come.
The author starts using theological terms and never really defines what they mean. For example, he starts discussing the "Arian controversy" but never actually defines Arianism. In the index, Arianism is not mentioned. There is no glossary of terms either. I had to resort to a dictionary to look up many of the terms.
Dozens and dozens of characters are introduced without any discussion of who they were, when they lived, or what they believed in, only that they were "opposed" by some other individual or group for some unstated reason. Individuals get a brief mention, and then a hundred pages later they are mentioned again, and you the reader are supposed to remember and connect these two disparate passages. An irritating habit of the author is to make some insignificant side-comment about an individual which provides no useful contribution to the reader's understanding of that individual's beliefs or their relation to others.
Another problem is that are almost no quotes from the patristic fathers. There is brief discussion of the views of Origen, Tertuillian, and others, but the author's brief description of them left me wondering what they believed in.
The author often takes the view that the early church fathers were defending "orthodoxy" against the onslaught of heretics. Other authors have taken the opposing view that there was no orthodox belief at the time. Instead there were many competing beliefs, one of which was the "proto-orthodox" view which eventually won out and became the orthodox view. When reading the text, one never gains a sense of this latter viewpoint.
Like another reviewer mentioned, it is helpful to have some knowledge of ancient Mediterranean history, particularly Roman and Greek. There are no maps in the book, which would have been a significant aid.
Overall the book seems to assume that you already familiar with the early church doctrines and church history. I am currently reading J. Kelly's "Early Christian Doctrines" which seems to be a bit better organized and goes into more detail than Chadwick's book. I am not really hopeful that one can condense the early history of the church into a book that a mere mortal can hope to read and understand.
"Eusebius of Caesarea was tempted to see evidence of the power of Christianity in its social or worldly triumphs, expressed in ... or in the adherence of distinguished intellectuals like Origen. Towards such triumphalist assumptions a 20th-century Christian is likely to be cool and reserved." H. Chadwick
The book contents reflect the eminent patristic scholar and early Church historian approach to history implied in his book does evoke ecumenical impartiality and underlines that the early Church was most active in its eastern informed centers in Alexandria and Antioch. He advances his case, in first book quarter, from its Jewish background emerging from the Apostolic age to the foundation of the Roman Papacy. On his engaging account, the genuine historian advances from the earliest Church to the Gentile assembly (Ecclesia), and its encounter with the Roman Empire. He then explores the bonds of unity, and Gnostic diversity, elaborating on the Bible and forms of Ministry subjecting faith to order. The geographical expansion of the church is linked to early defense of faith as a cause of growth and success.
In the next three chapters the reader enjoys Chadwick's masterful expertise in patrology, encountering through Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, early controversies. He then ably interprets Third Century society, Pagan revival, persecutions and their consequences. Constantine and the first Council of Nicaea, are discussed within the serious Arian controversy and the conflict of Paganisam with Christianity, covering the Fourth Century and Church State and society in the first half of his essay.
Monasticism to Papacy:
In 'The ascetic movement' the author attempts to find reasons for the attitude of detachment by monastics after the virtual capture of society by the Church, and the rise to eminence of the Bishops in the Fourth century. He follows that with Chrysostom's tragedy, a consequence to the controversy about Origenism, and his advocates against aging Epiphanius fundamentalism. Meet with Diodore, Theodore, and Appolinaris to the Christological controversy between Alexandria and Antioch represented by Cyril and Nestorius, and its aftermath. The author then develops Latin Christianity, started by Augustine. He ends his study with theological issues, The Trinity, the Donatist schism, and Pelagian controversy. At the end he gives a fascinating condensed review of Worship in liturgy, daily office, and Church music. He gives a glimpse of Christian Art, with a brief account on icons and their veneration in the Byzantine Church.
Chadwick concise conclusion summarizes his findings on the apostolic church continuity with Israel, authority in second-century church, evolution of Christian doctrine in opposition to heretical thought, Christian penetration among the educated and elite, Christianity as religion of the empire, and ascetics withdrawal. He concludes with the rise of papacy by Gregory the great, and separation from Greek speaking churches.
This is what makes Chadwick's approach analytically reflective and more sound in his deductive interpretation than the famous first early Church Historian. Most of the reviews evaluated this comprehensive 'History of the Early Church' in general terms, or compared it with other available works, based on reconstruction of ecclesiastic events, and controversies. Without a concise 'Search Inside this Book,' prospective readers could not relate most reviewers evaluation with the book thematic treatment, author's methodology, or style.
on December 8, 2010
The late Henry Chadwick, a much-admired authority on early Christianity, may have set himself an impossible task: to write a concise, coherent history of an extraordinarily complex era.
If you are already comfortable with the subject, The Early Church might be for you. But for those new to early Christian studies, and that would certainly include myself, this is not the first book to read. The text is often scattershot and diffuse: too many trees, not enough forest. It's a frustrating read, and I have now read it twice--slowly. Time and again I found myself having to refer to additional sources to make sense of what I had just read. This is inappropriate for an introductory survey.
To enhance this book's usefulness and increase its potential audience, a second revised edition is needed. Adding a glossary would help us novices navigate the countless -isms and schisms, ancient personages, and geographical locations that clutter the book. Maps, timeline charts, a synopsis of each chapter, and a pronunciation guide would be helpful. The typeface is in desperate need of a facelift, too.
Despite the impressive credentials and reputation of the author, I cannot recommend The Early Church to a general audience. The book is crammed with information, but, again, the narrative is frequently confusing and too often reminiscent of dull encyclopedia articles. If more engaging books on early Christianity are available, I'd like to know about them.