The Early Church

Written by Henry Chadwick

(Penguin Books, 1993)

Reviewed by Colin Kerr


When I think of great introductions to Early Christianity, none is most accessible and reliable than the first volume of the Pelican History of the Church than Chadwick’s. I think I first read this when I was perhaps 16, when not even a serious Christian. I went back to it over the years and was never disappointed. Few modern historians of the Church have left a greater impact on the subject. He died just six years ago. His brother, Owen, is also a significant Church historian.

There are a million ways to introduce the Early Church, many of these  just as contentious, debatable, slanted, and subjective as the next.

What do you even chose as subject headings? What figures do you chose to talk about? And, seeing that you only have 300 pages to work with, who and what do you leave out? If you think retelling the history of something so vast and multi-faceted as the Church is a simple task, you have no idea what you are talking about. But a historian can be judged by the manner in which he divides up his subject matter. Among the focuses of his chapters we find, one devoted to the Jewish and Roman Imperial backgrounds, a chapter devoted to Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, one on Clement and Origen, one of Constantine, one on Arianism, and the papacy, for example. You might get the impression that this is an elitist approach to history, as these are all devoted to rulers and thinkers, and yet he also has chapters on Early Christian worship and on asceticism.

It is an excellent place to begin. Penguin has been publishing it since the 60s.


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