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Examines the beginning of the Christian movement during the first centuries AD, and the explosive force of its expansion throughout the Roman world.

304 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1967

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About the author

Henry Chadwick

64 books24 followers
Henry Chadwick KBE (23 June 1920 – 17 June 2008) was a British academic and Church of England priest. A leading historian of the early church, Chadwick was appointed Regius Professor at both the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and was the first person in four centuries to have headed a college at both universities.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 100 reviews
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,791 followers
October 2, 2014
This is the first volume of the penguin history of the church and not the beginning of a history of Christianity.

Implicit in this book is the idea that orthodoxy has always existed. This is a problem and a grave weakness. In the absence of a creed, a canon of agreed genuine holy books there is only tradition which Chadwick believes was unitary. In this Chadwick doesn't escape his professional background, and presumably his faith, as a Church of England Priest. It is accepted that apostolic succession was an actual occurrence and by implication all the apostles were of one mind. The reader may suspect that the reality was considerably more messy.

Early Christianity for Chadwick is not a wide field full of people adapting popular and occasionally written traditions about Jesus, increasingly ignorant of his Jewish background in the context of the religious and philosophical environment of the Mediterranean world but rather the doughty defence of Orthodoxy against the wrong-headed even before Orthodoxy ever existed.

In this Chadwick sets the tone for the entire series which isn't the history of the Church but a history of a Church. If you're a Coptic Christian there's nothing for you here, except finding out that you are not Orthodox.

I read the revised edition, I'm not sure if the 1967 text was revised, the only alteration mentioned is that the suggested reading was updated.

I would have liked more on the emergence of a biblical canon and more of a sense of what texts (and of what quality) different figures and movements in Christian history were drawing from - but again this may well be constrained by the nature of the surviving source material.
Profile Image for David Sarkies.
1,780 reviews301 followers
December 25, 2014
A fairly one sided look at the early western church
4 March 2013

The problem with the time period that Chadwick is writing about here is that the main source that we rely upon is Eusebius, and many people are somewhat concerned about his objectively in relation to the church prior to it becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. It is not that we do not have many primary sources, we have quite a lot, but most of them deal with how one should conduct themselves as a Christian, or how a church should operate. Eusebius, outside of the New Testament, is really the first person who sat down to write a history of the church.
Eusebius was a Roman bishop who pretty much came to fame after Constantine 'converted' to Christianity, though the reasons behind his conversion are dubious at best. Some suggest that the reason he waited until his dying breath to become baptised was because of the belief that one could lose salvation if one was baptised too early. However the other idea (and one that I tend to hold) was that Constantine's conversion was more of a political decision rather than a personal spiritual decision. As the story goes, he had a dream before a major battle where he was told that he would conquer by the Cross, so he had all of his men paint a cross on their shields and go into battle.

Constantine the Great

Actually, Constantine didn't go into battle, he ended up letting the battle come to him, so as it turned out, his victory was not some spiritual intervention (like some in the Bible) but a rather clever strategy. Basically the armies were standing on the opposite ends of a bridge, and Constantine remained where he was while his enemy (a rival claimant to the imperial throne) crossed the bridge and was slaughtered.
The reason for making Christianity the state religion was, once again, not some spiritual decision but rather a pragmatic one. Rome had been struggling with multiple claimants to the throne for decades and now Constantine had risen to become the sole emperor. One of the best ways to stamp your rule onto an empire is through the use of religion. The traditional Roman religions were eclectic at best, with no one particular god holding sway. Basically people worshipped how they say best. What Christianity offered was consistency, namely one God and one set of rules to follow. Therefore, the idea was to get rid of the multitude of gods and personal morality to replace it with a single God with a single set of rules.
Eusebius formed part of the council of Nicea, which was the council set up after Constantine decreed that Christianity would be the sole religion of the empire, and worked to lay out a strict, consistent, foundation. This included bringing the Bible together as a consistent book. The Bible that we have now was basically determined by vote from this particular council. Mind you, I do not have a problem with the content of our modern Bible, or with its teachings, however I do have a problem with people's interpretation of its teachings.
This is an interesting, second source account of the early church, and I also suspect that Chadwick uses more sources than just Eusebius in writing this. I wouldn't necessarily refer people to Eusebius though, because he tends to waffle on a lot using a lot of theological writing. He is typical of what one would expect from a Christian author writing a Christian history, and no doubt writing something that is revisionist as well.
Profile Image for Kathryn Mattern.
Author 1 book8 followers
March 18, 2012
This was required reading when I was studying theology at GTU in the early 1980's. It opened a whole new door for me onto the christian tradition. I had not realized it was so fragmented from day one. Very interesting! As I read and learned, I realized I was especially drawn to the Alexandrian tradition, which believed that the purpose of Christ's life was to teach 'deification' to his followers, ie how to become a god-man like himself. This was exactly what I was searching for in christianity after my earlier forays into Indian spirituality, but when I asked for direction in learning more about ORigen and Clement of Alexandria, I was told by my scholastic advisor that 'we aren't interested in them.' I didn't understand then, the Antiochean emphasis within Catholicism and really all mainstream Christianity in the West. I enjoyed Chadwick's book, learned a lot, and was happy to 'graduate' to Peter Brown who covers the same territory but with a much less biased perspective, more historical and capable of giving everyone their due without the need for judgement of any kind. This book is more 'towing the party line.'
Profile Image for Barnaby Thieme.
504 reviews228 followers
August 16, 2012
Chadwick's history of the early church is widely regarded as the standard work on the subject, and it's easy to see why. It's a dense, dry read, jostling with facts and ideas about the development of Christianity between the ministry of Jesus and the Iconoclasm Controversy in the Early Middle Ages that marks the sundering of the Eastern and Western Churches.

Chadwick explores the complex interplay of social, political, and doctrinal forces that worked together to drive the history of the church forward. It's not easy reading and I wouldn't recommend it as a place to start. It greatly benefits from some familiarity with the historical context, particularly the late Roman Empire, and familiarity with the core disputes of early theology, such as the early Trinitarian controversies and the conflict between Catholic and Gnostic forms of Christianity.

By and large, the facts are presented without much context of big-picture-building. I was frustrated to find a serviceable presentation of the big picture only in the final pages, in the book's conclusion - it would have been helpful for me if his broad interpretation had been integrated into the story as he was telling it. I would recommend that most readers start with the conclusion, since it's not exactly going to give anything away, and possibly even refer back to it periodically throughout the read.

The book evidences several ignominious flaws, which, although commonplace in Christian literature, are no less tedious for it. Women receive little consideration, for example. One might think that not a single woman lived in all of Christendom between Monica and Hildegard of Bingen, reading this book. While the roots of monasticism are considered at length, the origins of the orders of nuns receive not a single word.

It probably goes without saying that extra-canonical views are generally treated unsympathetically, to say nothing of so-called "pagans." In the opinion of this reader, it is high time for that imprecise polemical term to be rejected by academic literature.

Despite all that, Chadwick does an admirable job in cooly surveying the various forces at work, and is often judicious in recognizing a meaningless political spat in theological guise for what it is. Armed with a general familiarity of the topic, any reader will certainly come away enriched.
Profile Image for David Scarratt.
26 reviews3 followers
September 16, 2011
This classic is a bit old-school now: the orthodox meta-narrative is a high road from which to look down on the impotently raging tides of heresy. Some will find that reassuring; some will find it frustrating. I tend towards the latter, mostly because I believe it was all a bit more complicated than Chadwick has scope to describe. There are also some questions concerning the philosophy of history lurking in the undergrowth.

Nevertheless, the path is easy. The prose is smooth and refined, and mostly clearly signed. There are occasional discontinuities, including implicit first mentions -- that is, mentions of people who haven't appeared yet in the story but that already presuppose the reader's familiarity with them -- that can confuse the newcomer. A tendency to thematise makes this unavoidable, I suspect, and outweighs this minor cost with the benefit of conceptual cohesion. At any rate, the particular newcomers I know seemed to think so.

In short, a decent read, especially as a first stroll into this territory, but perhaps best accompanied or followed by a more up-to-date account that does not gloss over the uncertainties surrounding the period.
Profile Image for Kenneth.
1,006 reviews42 followers
June 21, 2020
I recommend this book to anyone who is curious about the history of the Christian Church in its early centuries - from the end of the New Testament period to about 600 AD. It covers the early expansion of Christianity in the Roman Empire, how the controversies with the Gnostics spurred the development of doctrine and the canon of the New Testament, the effects of persecution, the effects of the Emperor Constantine's conversion, and the controversies that resulted in the early Ecumenical Councils. Also the growth of the Papacy and the growing differences between the eastern and western churches, and the rise of monasticism. And more.
Profile Image for Lee Irons.
72 reviews26 followers
December 29, 2018
This is one of the best books on the early church. Chronologically, it ranges from the beginning to around the time of Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604). This period of church history is crucial, because, as Chadwick states, “most of the main issues then faced by the church in its formative period have remained virtually permanent questions in Christian history – questions which receive an answer but are then reiterated in a modified shape in each age” (p. 285). The main questions Chadwick sees are these: the question of the continuity and discontinuity between the church and Israel (the role of the law; the status of the Old Testament); questions of authority (determining the canon of the New Testament; the rule of faith; and the role of bishops); theological questions of the nature of God (the Arian controversy), the person of Christ (the Nestorian controversy), and salvation (the Pelagian controversy); and the perennial questions of the relationship between church and society (persecution and martyrdom; church-state relations after the conversion of Constantine; ascetism and monasticism).
Profile Image for Josh Worden.
36 reviews1 follower
October 28, 2022
I thought this book was about church services beginning before 9am, but it was really about church history in the 2-4th centuries.

JK that's what I expected. Anyways, the book was fine.
Profile Image for Duncan Jones.
87 reviews
December 17, 2015
Mildly interesting but I found it slow going. The author presupposes a lot of knowledge and throws around a lot of concepts without defining all of them clearly. But the conclusion is excellent. You could probably read the conclusion, look up the concepts you don't understand on Wikipedia and skip the rest of the book.

TL;DR summary: In the early church various different factions interpreted bits of the religious writings differently and then spent decades arguing about who was right about something that no-one could possibly know the answer to. Oh and on occasion emperors got involved and people's heads fell off.
36 reviews
August 27, 2008
Learned quite a lot, but it was a bit on the slow side. Had no idea how much diversity there was in the early years of the church, and how much the early christians really hated other christians who believed slightly different things than themselves.
Profile Image for Mike.
32 reviews
March 5, 2011
I feel Professor Chadwick did a remarkable job of cramming so much history into 290 pages. It is a book that needs to be read with pencil in hand.
Profile Image for JR Snow.
346 reviews19 followers
June 11, 2022
Great introduction to the Early church. Chadwick is old-school, i.e. he recognizes that the early church self-identified itself as possessing an "Orthodoxy" that it was to guard, and not merely a confusion of differing local beliefs that was strong-armed into singularity by the State. Thus, he takes seriously the Apostolic writings, avoiding a sort of snobbish cynicism that one finds in more liberal quarters (Bauer Thesis).

I'm especially grateful for the last few chapters, where he takes a more case-study approach to different aspects of Church History (like the papacy, then another one on worship, etc.) that is helpful to have in one coherent narrative. Although I'm sure this volume is dated, it's still an enjoyable summary. The volume on the Reformation is the star of this series, but this one (the first of seven) shouldn't be overlooked.

Profile Image for Luke Schmeltzer .
149 reviews1 follower
December 23, 2021
Chadwick sets out a history of the ancient church in chronological and thematic chapters, covering main character, concepts, and events of the early Christian era. It's a concise book on a broad and complex subject, so it does what it intends to. A few of his own theological assumptions and progressive scholarship made its way into narrative, some of which I disagree with exegetically and other which have been disproven (the late authorship of John's Gospel by a later community, for example). Overall, it was enjoyable and useful in conjunction with some other works on the subject.
Profile Image for Aaron Crofut.
355 reviews34 followers
October 8, 2019
A decent overview of early Christianity. Christian history is relatively new to me, but I'm not sure a "good" history of the whole church could ever be written. 2,000 years is just such an incredible length of time and Christianity touches so many facets of life. As is, though, this is a good introduction and well-written.
Profile Image for Dave Herman.
55 reviews3 followers
April 1, 2021
Points for conciseness and comprehensiveness. Perhaps this isn't a fault of the intent of the book, but it seems to want to cover so much of history that it doesn't cover its historical figures with much depth. I recommend it for a general overview of the history it covers, but not to get to know the history makers.
1,249 reviews8 followers
December 14, 2020
This book is written by a respected historian, yet it is readable. It is "the story of emergent Christianity from the Apostolic age to the dividing of the ways between the Greek East and the Latin West." If I were to instruct someone about to read this book, I would urge them to read the conclusion first.
Profile Image for Daniel Silliman.
229 reviews21 followers
May 5, 2022
Chadwick's church histories read like excellent introductory lectures. Clean. Clear. Compelling. Quick paced. Really great overviews, giving you a good sense of the breadth and depth of the subject. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Grace.
242 reviews9 followers
October 15, 2018
Lively. Full of controversy. The persons are personalities, which can be hard to pull off in history this historical.
Profile Image for cole.
29 reviews4 followers
November 19, 2007
Chadwick's account of the earliest years and struggles of the Christian church is both readable and informative. probably why it was published by Penguin books. The history in general is difficult to take in as so much happens in such a short time and so much hinges on single syllables. you will still be confused just what the deal with homoousias and homoiousias is, but you will atleast recognize the terms.

chadwick also does a stellar job bringing out the extent to which the eastern churches dominated the story of early Christian development. it is stunning to think that the earliest centers of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, etc. have been gone from the Christian story for nearly 1400 years.
Profile Image for Ryan Hodson.
1 review4 followers
June 29, 2014
An insightful yet edifying history of the first six (approximately) centuries of the Christian church. Chadwick is a Christian but writes as a fair historian. I find that as I look back in the past, I am much more confident about the ultimate triumph of the church as she faces new and dangerous challenges ahead.
Profile Image for Patrick.
563 reviews
September 4, 2014
I thought this is was a very good read on how Christianity gradually became organized to fight off enemies from within and without. I especially liked the competing ideals of Christians in the pre-doctrinal Christianity.

The main issue facing the early Christian church is whether to break with completely with the Old Testament or centralize it as the main canonical source equal to the New Testament. Ultimately, the Pauline view prevailed which saw the Old Testament through the eyes of Jesus Christ. With the destruction of the Jewish Christian community and the death of St. Paul and Peter, the Church began to organize itself into a hierarchy and began writing the New Testament book in order to "standardize" Christianity. Everything with a moral bent was seen in the gospel a fulfillment of the moral potentiality of man as the creation of God. In an age in which saw Rome disintegrated, the world-renouncing monks became important transmitters of culture and education (Greek&Latin) and the Roman Catholic Church became the only effective instrument of European unity.


The Jewish Christians believed that Jesus the Messiah was the fulfillment of everything that proceeded it whereas current Christian biblical readings see the Old Testament through the interpretation of Jesus Christ eyes.

The Jewish tribe believed that God gave them the exclusive right to be a priestly nation and thus refrained from assimilation into society. The Greco-Roman world who considered assimilation as a cornerstone of their conquest of other lands looked askance @ the Jewish tribe that refused to assimilate and held steadfast to their Laws handed to them by Moses in Mt. Sinai. Jews could not eat with gentiles. When Israel fell into Roman hands, the Jewish diaspora began but they kept their own uniqueness apart from the Gentiles. There were many Gentiles who were attracted by Jewish monotheism, the purity of Jewish morality, and by the antiquity of their sacred books. Judaism stood for chastity and stable family life; and among themselves they practiced social justice and giving back to the poor in their community. Judaism was a religion with a strong adherence to the Bible and the reconstruction of the Old Testament firmly based on Mosaic Law occurred only after the Babylonian exile (which fits into the narrative of how Joshua destroyed all the inhabitants of Jericho rather than the probable reality of Israelites and Canaanites gradually assimilating to each others cultures). After the era of the prophets was over, the scribes and the "lawyers" began to interpret the Biblical Laws according to what they saw fit.

The Gospel according to Matthew sought to bring in line Jesus Christ as the culmination of Jewish prophesy that preceded it. The Jewish congregants were split between the Pharisees who were "the party most anxious to preserve the distinctive religious and theocratic character of Jewish life...; they were strict in their observance not only of the Mosaic law but also of the scribal tradition of interpreting the law (no wonder God chose Paul as his disciple b/c he could write for posterity and would shape Christian theology b/c of his training as a Pharisee); the Sadducees who were the keepers of the temple of God only kept the Laws of Moses and rejected the scribal interpretations as unimportant; the Essences which resembled the early Church in their monastic approach to religion of sharing all their money among themselves and keeping a strict vow of celibacy among themselves. They rejected the temple of Jerusalem and they kept steadfast the issue of ceremonial purity.

Christians first gained adherents among Jews who were tired Pharisees over insistence of the Law forgetting the Spirit of the Law was for. The first main issue for the early Church was whether to let Gentiles in without first becoming Jewish. The Council at Jerusalem declared that JC came down to break down barriers b/w fellow man but preserved the Jewish ethic of no premarital sex.

Besides being a scribe and translator into Greek who could write effectively on how he wanted to shape the church, the Lord chose Paul for his missionary zeal that initially was against Christians but later he showed equal zeal in defending Christianity. For Paul, faith in Christ alone justifies one as Christian not any good works. Even though that is true, I believe the fruit of ones faith should be seen in the good works he does (James). It was Paul who laid the foundation of Catholicism since he believed that all Christians are united by their faith in Christ. But the Pauline doctrine of faith justifies a Christian was taken to the extreme in that they began to reject Jewish Christians as heretics simply b/c they chose to observe Mosaic Law.

While early Christian church lived in peace with the state, Nero made Christians the unpopular scapegoat to be persecuted which set a precedent. Christians multiplied even reaching towards the upper classes and were punished b/c they would not worship the emperor as gods and did not assimilate their religion with the Roman religion. There were Montanists who actively provoked the Roman government to make them martyrs while Gnosticism compromised saying that it does not matter who one prays to externally as long as one believes in Christ internally. Chadwick closes the chapter with saying that "the sporadic nature of the persecutions...and the fact that the government in Rome did not take Christianity seriously, gave the Church breathing space to expand and to deal with critical internal problems."


The early Christians centered their service around the taking in of the eucharist and withholding it only if one has done a moral sin. To be Christian is to be one in Christ, regardless of race, class, or education. Gnostic Christians were a group of divergent Christians which did not subscribe to Church orthodoxy and thus the Church saw them as its enemy b/c they challenged the Church's authority on earth. They believed in a divine spark within each one of us that through prayer and rejection of the material world, they will be able awaken the Divine Spark within. They believed that Jesus Christ was not truly man since anything associated with the flesh is evil. They also believed that they were the only carriers of the truth and was thus predestined to be superior to other people.

The church organized towards the teachings of the Bishops as successors to the apostles and thus carried the weight of God. The birth of the biblical New Testament came into being with the challenge of heretical thought. Another weapon against heresy is the recitation of the apostles creed. The church organized itself around the priests/bishops and his sidekick the deacon who had lots of administrative responsibilities and could say the liturgy too. The bishop maintained a status of primus para pares over the other presbytrs. Since the Church considered itself a universal order, they prefered uniformity to the early Christians more entrepreneurial musings. So once the profession of Faith, the Gospel, and the organization was set, the age of Apostolic revelation was over.


Causes of Success of the Early Christian Church:

1) close-knit structure and coherence of the Christians as a social group bound together by the Holy Spirit within and reinforced by persecution from the outside world. Early Christians had to conquer prejudice and misinformation. Stoicism had a common bond with Christianity in that both "taught that happiness is achieved by the suppression of desire for everything that one cannot both get and keep;" but while Stoicism taught that the suppression of earthly desire can be best done by an individual's self-respect, Christianity taught the suppression of earthly desire can be best accomplished by the feeling the grace of God and his love for us.

2) Christian Charity as an act of God's love was the single largest recruiting tool which they had in their arsenal to attract converts. The Church treasury was targeted for social relief efforts not adornments of Bishop residences that were looked down upon by early Christian members. In an era in which government did not provide social welfare, the Christian Church provided the much needed social welfare for the poor and the disenfranchised.

3) Christianity attracted women esp. Upper class women with the guarantee that in Jesus Christ men and women were equal serving different roles but equal nonetheless. For married women, Christianity provided the safeguard against infidelity by their men. Slaves were also attracted to Christianity b/c according to their Christian teachings they were equal to their masters before the eyes of God. But Christianity did not preach against the emancipation of slave as property since that would go against state law merely stating that it would be considered "good works" to do so; thus establishing the separation of Church and State early in Christianity. Whereas the state did not recognize marriage b/w slaves, the church did and sanctioned such unions.

4) Christianity encouraged responsibility of individual moral choice which is a precursor of the Western value of individual rights


Orthodox Jews were the once who questioned Christianity first preferring the concreteness of Mosaic Law and the lineage to Abraham so the insistence of Christians through Jesus Christ through his redemptive death saving the world of its sins and Mosaic law was necessary only as a means to order a society. Whereas the Christian ethic places individual faith as once own responsibility, orthodox Jews believe one is simply born into the Jewish faith. The early Church was a religious revolution devoid of any political ideology and disregards people in power in favor of saving souls. The Church held that they are the true Church by the propagation of the faith through sheer numbers of converts despite occasional persecution. Christians believe that the unification of Rome under the aegis of Roman Empire came @ the same time as the advent of Christianity because it was Christianities destiny to spread throughout the Roman Empire (hence the Roman Catholic Church) then beyond. Despite the grandiose dreams of its leaders, early Christian's consciously aimed @ the common people, and the ideals of simplicity and humility were never far from the goals of propagating the faith. In a world where the poor were left to their own defenses, Christian's treated the poor with dignity and respect.


B/c the early Gnostic Christian's used philosophy to explain their faith, philosophy was seen as the enemy of faith... With the coming of Justin with his philosophy background, he defended that some Greek philosophers before Christ got it right and are equal to the Hebrew prophets in being blessed by the Holy Spirit by insight that culminated in Jesus Christ. His chief example to this claim is Plato's insight "that the soul has a special kinship to God, that the soul has a special kinship to God, that man is responsible for his actions, and that in the world come there is judgment and justice". Justin differentiates God transcendent as the Father and God imminent as the son. So Justin the Martyr contribution to Christianity is to use Greek philosophy as a way to explain Christianity and to incorporate the great wisdoms of the past into Christian thought.

Irenaeus of Lyons shaped Christian theology to become stable and coherent. He preached the fall of man was done to quench his pride and to teach him by discipline and experience; thus he believes that the history of salvation is a progressive education. The purpose of our existence is the making of character by the master of difficulties and temptations. In response to Gnostic battles against orthodoxy, Irenaeus in the 2nd century AD sought to exclude certain widely read biblical accounts in favor of the Gospel and other orthodox works of God. Irenaeus believed that their was only one monolithic Christian belief which expressed itself in the Holy Roman Catholic Church and any deviation from the orthodox teachings were considered heresy.

Iranaeus discovered the concept of the trinity. Justin states that Jesus Christ birth of the virgin Mary is different from other gods birth by the lack of divine paternity since his birth was conceived by the Holy Spirit which his power on earth. Tertullian was the one who coined the thought that God existed in "one substance consisting in 3 persons". Tertullian had an argumentative personality and liked to defend the purist minority against the "compromisers" in the Catholic church.


Clement wrote about the etiquette of good Christians. He had a positive attitude of the God's mercy and wonder in His creation. He used philosophy to bolster Christianities claims. He said that the Gnostic avocation of love and freedom is nonsense without rules of conduct. He opposed Gnosism thinking that the world is pure evil since he thinks God created seeds in everything that is good including pre-Christian philosophy. He rejected the fact that the call to marriage was somehow lesser than the call to celibacy. He was pro-wealth in that he stated that it did not matter if whether one had wealth but rather how the money is used. He thought that the Christian soul always hunger for the knowledge of God and never stops because it wants to know more about Him.


He had a "sterner austerity, a steely determination of the will to renounce
not merely all that is evil but also natural goods if they are an obstacle to the attainment of higher ends." He had a strict wall b/w the sacred and the profane (today's fundamentalists which thinks if something is not for God then one can put in the trash thus any Pagan literature is to be burned). For Origen, the only source of revelation was the Bible while all the other writings were heathen writing. To counter the writings of the Gnostic, Origen thought that God created the world so that man could learn to love him more fully. From Origen, we get the idea that life on earth will pass away and only heavenly life is eternal. The reason God gave us this imperfect world to live in is so the process of redemption is slow and gradual; the atonement is ongoing and since God respects our free will the process of learning and restoration is an ongoing and painful process. Christ is all things to all people but we understand Him based on the stage of faith (it is like a good book with differing levels of meaning based on what stage of life you are in at the present). For Origen, all revelation is conditioned by the capacity of the recipient. He rightly observes that the Bible though true on earth is not the absolute truth in heaven b/c we do not have the great all-knowing power that God has. For Origen, freedom is an inalienable possession of natural beings, and the divine love treats each individual with sovereign respect.

Origen thought the Gospel authors have different accounts of what happened in JC life b/c "the prime purpose of scripture is to convey spiritual truth and that the narrative of historical events is secondary to this." He believed that reading of the Bible has different levels of meaning. The soul within the body of scripture was the important thing. He believed that reading the scripture can bring one to immortal glory through learning and when we imbibe scripture then we as human beings no longer need petition prayer b/c we become one with God and thank Him for everything that comes our way.

Origen developed the idea that through Jesus Christ man can change b/c he thought that freedom in God meant the possibility of change, of moral conversion, of spontaneity and creativity, and of critical detachment towards accepted conventions and tradition. Origen was the one who converted young noble by the name of Gregory the Great. The monastic orders were inspired by Origen's mystical thinking of being one with God and the purity that it would take to reach that position. Unlike the orthodox view that the trinity is different names for the same being, Origen believed the Son was sent as a bridge b/w the Father and humanity by teaching us to pray to the Father.

It used to be that all bishops were equal to each other only in 300AD did the Bishop of Rome reign supreme using Peter as the excuse to be primo inter pares.

With the rise of Constantine to the thrown of Rome, the lines between Church and State blurred. It turns out Constantine worshiped the sun-god and later changed his position to Christianity. It turns out that December 25 is the birthday of the Sun-god which we now know as Christmas day. Even now we go to church on "Sun day" which Constantine made into secular law as it was already the day Christians worshiped b/c it was the day in which Christ resurrected. Though Constantine favored laws in which Christian teaching lay prominently in such as protection for the dispossessed.

B/c of the disagreements between the different bishops in the East, Constantine convened the Council in Nicea where the Bishops all agreed that the Jesus Christ was consubstantial with the Father. But whereas the East continued to have city of equals in their Bishops, the West had the Pope as the pre-eminent head of the Latin Church.

With the advent of Constantine marrying the Church with the State, matters of doctrine intensified and thus heretical matters became matters of state to prosecute. The split between East and West came b/c the Eastern church resented the fact that Rome became the head of the Church while Rome thought the Eastern half had heretical beliefs due to language translation of believing God had 3 distinct sides and the Son is like the Father instead of being consubstantial into 1 God. Behind the theological/doctrinaire issues, laid the fact that the West wanted to impose its will on the Greek churches by making canonical law.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
18 reviews
December 6, 2018
This is an excellent history of the early church, a scholarly walk through of how the church evolved over the first six centuries of her existence. Two reasons that I didn't rate it higher: first, it's as much text book as it is a pleasure read; and second, the author assumed more historical understanding than I have. In short, for a more accomplished historian, I am fairly certain that it would rate higher.

In spite of those challenges, I still found the book to be fascinating. It's really a crazy story: a ragtag band of 11 not-very-accomplished followers of some itinerant preacher/miracle worker started a movement that not only spread through the whole world, but has persisted for longer than any other institution. The history of the church's first centuries is as unlikely as her beginning. In the face of merciless persecutions and martyrdoms, countless internal disputes and attacks over doctrinal issues, an ever-changing church/state dynamic, and the very human challenges faced by imperfect church leaders, somehow the church found a way to continue to serve God and to do his work. As the church again faces major challenges today, I found this history to be a comforting reference point.
Profile Image for John.
594 reviews19 followers
September 20, 2021
This is not a bad book covering the first 500 or so years of the early Church, it's just written in a way that makes it less accessible although maybe useful if you study a specific topic within this time. I found it too jumpy in time, and covering too much of the church politics naming names and quarrels as if the reader has full controll of the issue. Even if the beliefs of say Origen is once mentioned, it does not mean that the reader gets it every time his name is mentioned unless he wants to go back to check how it applies in this new context. So, I would say that quite some pre-required knowledge is needed, and if one wants to dig deeper a slow read is required. The chapter on Augustine is definitely the best, but then again, Chadwick wrote "Augustine: A Very Short Introduction" so he should be able to write it better. I wish that maybe more of the book would have followed the topical approach to the last chapter that which is about worship and art.
Profile Image for Arthur O'dell.
132 reviews1 follower
December 2, 2017
Yes, it is fifty years old, which means it is somewhat outdated (although not nearly as much as some people claim).

Yes, there is a lot that is left out. It’s a 290 page introduction, not a comphrehensive history of the early church (though, if you go deeper into the field, you’ll be surprised by how much is covered here).

Yes, it is scholarly. The study of early Christianity is a scholarly pursuit. Get over it and learn to use Google. Or at least read a general history of the Roman Empire and the world of Late Antiquity first.

Yes, some think the writing style is dry. They are wrong.

This is the classic, gold-standard, introduction to the early church. It’s still the standard assigned text on the subject despite all the shortcomings mentioned above. And with good reason.

I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the subject.
Profile Image for Andrew Weitzel.
196 reviews3 followers
October 16, 2018
No idea how Christianity survived when the most pedantic and pointless semantic disagreements had every denomination calling the others heretics. All sorts of weirdos were running around back then: Arians, Donatists, 100 different flavors of Gnostics, Nestorians, Circumcellions, Carpocratians, converted Platonists and Stoics.. the list goes on. It was a wild and untamed time of religious growth starting from Paul's mission to the Gentiles, until the western Catholics and eastern Orthodox managed to crush them all under the suffocating weight of church bureaucracy. That's the period where both this book, and my interest in Christian history, ends. #1 in this series is definitely worth the read. Not sure I'll be bothering with the rest.
Profile Image for JennanneJ.
888 reviews28 followers
April 18, 2019
I would recommend reading the Conclusion first - it gives a very concise overview of the era - before diving into the text. My struggle was a lack of familiarity with the era, so when belief systems and people were named and then popped up here and there, I just could not keep anyone straight. It covers a good amount of territory as an overview, but there was a point about 3/4 of the way through where factions fought and argued against other factions - and I couldn't even figure out what they were fighting about and who was who.

So, once I do some more reading, and get a bit more familiarity with the time, this might later be a more valuable book. At least is was a start of delving into early Christian/church history!
March 2, 2023
A decent first primer, but beyond the first chapter, its purview is limited to Latin West and Greek East, not covering, for instance, distinct developments in the Ethiopian, Syrian, and Indian churches which I was hoping I would learn more about. Chadwick’s writing also doesn’t have much of a flow, particularly in the later chapters. They just kind of start, dump some historical data, and end. That undersells it’s readability, though. It was otherwise rather accessible, even if it left me wanting something a bit broader and perhaps more academic.
Profile Image for John Dobbs.
147 reviews2 followers
August 1, 2017
This was a text book for a class I am taking. I definitely had a need to study this, it was something I didn't know much about. So, since I was basically reading about much of this for the first time I was fascinated by the information contained in this book. Doing some side reading along the way I could tell how Chadwick was able to condense 600 years or so of early church history into this paperback. It was fast paced and I thought very easy to comprehend. I really enjoyed reading this.
23 reviews
September 22, 2020
Good, but dry. Most of the reviews I had read said something similar. They were right. Read this after listening through an iTunes U church history course. There is a ton of good and interesting content here. I know Chadwick had to paint with broad strokes in a number of places to keep the book at its length. I would certainly never call this a page turner though. I had to push myself to keep going. I’m glad I did.
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