Okay, my title is a bit oversimplified. But the truth is this: If you wish to study Church history and need to find the basic salient facts quickly, there is no better place to look than the Oxford Dictionary. The entries are extremely concise, but sources and other references are provided for possible future research. While the Dictionary is certainly dominated by Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox scholars (because the church history field is dominated by these denominations), the third edition is more ecumenical than past editions. I attend a Methodist seminary and the professors highly suggested that if we buy any book, we buy this one.
Whenever I have a church question I come to this dictionary. As a seminary student I have used the dictionary in every class, even Bible classes (many Biblical books and theological terms have entries). When professors' lectures become muddled, the textbooks do not explain the material clearly, or a parishioner has a tricky question about the Church, the Oxford Dictionary will come through. Virtually every topic in early and later Church history, and Christian thought has an entry. While the price might be a bit steep, for seminarians, scholars, pastors/priests, and church history buffs, this is the essential one-volume set. Also, at the very end is a convenient list of popes and anti-popes.
As is not surprising, considering the publishing source, the "Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church" is the foremost single-volume reference work of its kind. Indispensible for clergy, seminarians, and academics, this book is valuable and accessible for the layman as well. Regardless of whether you are Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant; regardless of whether you are liberal, conservative, progressive or revisionist; if you take any serious interest in the whys and wherefores of Christianity -- you need this book on your shelf.
This volume is non-denominational and non-polemic. It does not seek to convince, but rather to inform. And it accomplishes its task with impressive thoroughness. Even if you already have an earlier edition, strongly consider this purchase.
'The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church', edited by the late F.L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, is perhaps the authoritative, one-volume encyclopedia of information on Christianity. With over 480 contributors, from a myriad of denominational backgrounds, this book has a completeness that is unrivalled. Scholars from Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and other denominations, as well as Jewish and secular authorities from all over the world, have written or contributed to articles that reflect as best possible an unbiased and authoritative compilation of history, theology, liturgy, scriptural study, art, biographies, denominational and calendrical organisation, and inter-religious attitudes.
The current edition, published in 1997, is the third edition of the ODCC to appear since its was first issued in 1957. It has an unrivalled reputation since first being published by Oxford don and cleric F.L. Cross. After his death, Dr. E.A. Livingstone took the helm to oversee production of the current volume.
There is increased coverage of the Eastern Churches, certain issues in moral theology, and developments stemming from the Second Vatican Council. Numerous new entries have been added and the extensive bibliographies have been brought up to date. Readers are provided with over 6,000 authoritative cross-referenced entries covering all aspects of the subject.
The book is over 1750 pages in length, very much the ready reference rather than the narrative sort, but many of the longer articles provide depth and detail, and articles generally include references for further research at the conclusion.
Topical entries include:
Discussion of theological topics from the earliest days of creeds and heresies to current topics on Christology, ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and other topics Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.
The early Church Fathers are covered in detail, particularly in creedal development. Likewise, recent scholarship on Nag Hammadi writings, newer Augustinian sermon discoveries, new scholarship on Gnosticism, and established work on early church history are included in the articles.
Churches and Denominations
Beliefs and organisation of the major denominations are covered, as well as lesser-known and smaller denominations such as the Amish, Shakers, Old Catholics (my own denomination); as well as particular national structures and variants on the Christian scene.
Church Calendar and Organisation
This includes feast days, saints days, calender issues (such as the date of Easter), sacramental and liturgical systems, rites, church and canon law, and discussion of religious orders.
An entry on each book of the Bible, including apocryphal and deutero-canonical scriptures, as well as entries on major Biblical figures are included along with major schools of thought on scriptural interpretation and study.
Saints, popes, reformers, church leaders, mystics, heretics, kings and emperors, theologians, philosophers, artists, musicians and poets are included among the many people with an impact on Christianity.
These entries include ecumenical dialogues, ethics of procreation, contraception and abortion issues, theology of religions and different religions, articles on Black Churches, C.S. Lewis, and the Holiness Movement.
I find this an almost indispensable reference book. Priced at suggested retail of [retail price], it is unfortunately out of the reach of most of those who need it most -- seminary students. But it belongs on the shelf of anyone who has intention of being scholarly in their approach to Christianity.
on February 28, 2000
As a PhD candidate at the Boston College Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry, I have to say that this volume is indispensable for anyone involved in religious education, catechetics, preaching or teaching religious history or theology. There is no other source so comprehensive or wide in its approach. A truly fantastic resource.
on December 30, 1999
I am a Postulant to the Deaconate in the Episcopal (Anglican) Church. As a student, this resource is without equal. Excellent information with Bibliographic information included in each citation. Excellent overall resource for anyone engaged in formal study of the Christian Church.
on May 27, 2000
This is an excelent tool for research and information. I find that when I look up one topic, I am reading the references and what comes before and after what I originally wanted to know. It's accurate, brief and easy to read. It's a must have book for serious students of theology and history.
I am an Episcopal Deacon and Hospital Chaplain. I also teach in our School for the Diaconate. I would be lost without this book nearby at home and at work.
on June 7, 1999
Filled with historical facts, the dictionary provides brief sketches of significant people and events in the history of the church. There is a strong bias toward Catholic/Anglican history, but anyone interested in the history of the Christian Church will find it useful. The articles are well cross-referenced, but the editor assumes the readers has an understanding of major church events. As a pastor, I use the material for quick reference in preaching and teaching preparation.
on November 25, 2010
As is the case with so many other books which have undergone revision in more or less the manner of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, it is simple-minded to assume that a new edition renders the prior ones obsolete. Works like this (or, for another stunning example in another field, the various editions of the Grove dictionary of music) are of collaborative authorship, which makes older editions valuable for the writing of the authorities who have contributed to such works over the years and from one edition to another. I can assure one that there is "much gold to mine" in those old editions! Articles which have been dropped from one edition to another (with the result, for some topics that there is even a gap in coverage in later editions) frequently retain their value, as giving divergent and worthy accounts of the same phenomena. In fact, some of the articles in previous editions of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church are superior to the articles which appeared in later editions.
The fact that there has been a welcome broadening of interest on the part of the editors beyond the once just-a-bit too highly favoured Anglican, Presbyterian, and Catholic Christian domain, to cover other streams of Christianity more fully than in the past, is commendable, but can leave some aspects and byways (e.g., biography) of those same once highly favoured traditions less fully covered than in previous editions.
If the reader can afford it, he ought to obtain all of the editions of this work. If cannot have them for his personal collection, he assuredly should consult all editions of this ecclesiastical dictionary in libraries. (One hopes that librarians, especially those working with collections in academic and research libraries, have the sense NOT to weed such editions from their collections, as, alas, younger and less learnèd librarians all too frequently tend to do, more than their bibligraphically savvier and more astute predecessors of earlier generations would have done in similar cases.) Certainly, the first and second editions of this cyclopaedic work have many gems in them that complement in value, or surpass in worth, articles that have appeared later in this dictionary. Just the differences in points of view, taste, denominational orientation or partisan loyalties, emphasis, etc., count for much. Of course, the reverse also is true, i.e. that a new article quite surpasses what has gone before, but that simply is not what always happens, on every topic, in a work such as this.
Scholarship and the life of the mind never have been simple, have they?
on April 8, 2005
Indispensable for many areas of Theological research - Church history, Dogmatic overviews, biographies, editions, and so many many other things.
A masterpiece! If I could afford it, I would give everybody who press the "yes" button by "was this review helpful to you?" a copy! :-)
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church is without question a de-facto standard text for study in medieval history, church history, or any of the myriad of related topics which fall along such themes. A massive, comprehensive volume that has been put through three major revision editions over some 50 years, the book represents a modern day "summa" that more than admirably fulfills its purpose as a research and reference text. Entries in the dictionary are comprehensive to the point that one wonders why the word "dictionary" rather than "encyclopedia" was chosen for its title, but that oddity is of little concern to us. Looking up a term in the text is just the start of an exploration of the rich and detailed information that the volume contains.
For example, let's say we wish to study scholasticism. In looking up the term, we don't just find a definition of the term as we might expect with a typical dictionary, but we instead find a detailed, expansive description that presents the historical context of scholasticism, its use in the medieval university, the pivotal roles of Abelard and Anselm in scholasticism's development, its connection with the medieval investigation of the notion of "universals," and even its roots in the writings of Porphyry's discussions of "genus" and "species" in the 3rd century AD. For each of the key terms that arise in the "scholasticism" entry, we are pointed also to each of their own specific entries within the dictionary so that we can further explore the topic to any desired level. In the specific case of scholasticism here, we end up with a comprehensive introduction of the term, learn its meaning and history, explore its implications for education, and even its philosophical underpinnings (including objections), and more. We are also given a listing of additional key references should we wish to pursue our studies in additional publications.
The best way for you to see the level of detail that these entries provide is to use the "look inside this book" link (under the listing, above) and read through a few sample entries. I have little doubt you'll be as impressed as I.
The text does not limit itself to conceptual entries. There is wide coverage of personages, philosophical positions, historical items, theological issues, church history, church liturgy, and more. The current incarnation of the text has resulted in an extended collaboration of hundreds of scholars, teachers, historians, and researchers to expand the coverage far beyond its original 1957 incarnation. The most surprising thing about the text is that it doesn't cost three times what it does. How to improve it? Well, the only thing I can come up with is that it would certainly be nice to have the book also released in electronic format, so that we can search by term, print selected entries, or copy selected references together for future study. Nevertheless, the book as it stands today easily takes its place among the premier reference works of the domain. Highly recommended.