Ancient and Medieval Christianity

rs119, Summer/Fall 2003
Prof. Telford Work

A course syllabus is not "a binding contract between professor and student,
but a professor's aspiration for how he profoundly wishes the semester will turn out."
Michael C. Tinkler


This course explores historical contours of the Church of Jesus Christ in its first fifteen centuries. We examine Christian traditions in their many social contexts to gain a fuller appreciation of what most Christians confess as "one holy catholic apostolic Church." The course intends its participants:


Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform, IVP, 1999 or
William C. Placher, A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction, Westminster, 1983.
Olson's book is a readable introductory guide to the history of Christian theology. He will initiate you into the discipline of historical theology and provide some of the content that will bring other readings into proper context. Placher's book is more in-depth and a little more difficult.

Hubert Cunliffe-Jones, ed., A History of Christian Doctrine (T&T Clark, 2000).
A terrific primer on developments in Christian theology east and west over the centuries.

Optional texts of Christian history, for context. I have starred texts deserving of special consideration:

Brian Moynahan, The Faith: A History of Christianity, Doubleday, 2002. degree of difficulty:
Any one-volume history of a tradition a world wide and two thousand years long has to be selective. Moynahan's long tour of twenty centuries of Christian tradition selects judiciously, thematically, and honestly. It is well written, interesting, and historically responsible. Its attention to social and political history complements the more doctrinal focus of our other texts. It also makes sobering reading alongside the usually upbeat theological reading, because much of his history of the faith is a history of failures to be faithful. Moynahan is a historically interested journalist from the United Kingdom.

*Richard Harries & Hrney Mayr-Harting, ed., Christianity: Two Thousand Years, Oxford, 2001.
This is one hot little volume of historical commentary, compiled from lectures on the history of Christianity delivered in Oxford at the turn of the millennium. If you are already familiar with the basics, these will add fresh perspective and help you make some very cool connections.

*Elizabeth A. Livingstone, ed., Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, 2000.
The unabridged Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church () is an indispensable resource for students of history who want brief descriptions of the major people, places, movements, and events of Christianity. This abridged version is a lot less expensive. If the proper names in this course leave your head spinning, think about investing in this resource.

Robert E. Van Voorst, Readings in Christianity, Second Edition, Wadsworth, 2001.
In history, there is no substitute for reading texts from the players themselves. The dead come alive and speak anew, from one world into another that is both foreign and familiar. Van Voorst's anthology of readings in Christian history has been recently expanded to incorporate both voices long silent, and new contributors from the recent past. In this text they tell the teachings of churches seeking fidelity to the faith "believed always, everywhere, by all."

Alister McGrath, Historical Theology: an introduction to the History of Christian Thought, Blackwell, 1998.
Another introduction to the history of doctrine that centers on the teachings of the Church rather than its social contexts.

At least three of the following, for analysis and discussion. Extra points if you read more!

*Keith Hopkins, A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity, Plume, 2001.
This fun introduction to Christianity's original world "breaks out of the customary restraints of academic scholarship to conjure up what it was like to live in the world in which Christianity competed with Judaism and a whole pantheon of gods and goddesses" (Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times).

Henry Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition: Studies in Justin, Clement, and Origen, Clarendon, 1984 or
Hans Urs von Balthasar, ed., Origen: Spirit and Fire: A Thematic Anthology of His Writings, CUA, 1987 or
*Robert Payne, The Holy Fire: The Story of the Early Centuries of the Christian Church in the Near East, St. Vladimir's, 1980.
Chadwick, one of the truly distinguished Protestant Church historians of the twentieth century, narrates the early struggle of Christian thinkers to come to grips with the classical intellectual tradition of antiquity. Balthasar, one of the Catholic Church's best twentieth century theologians, introduces the thought of one of the most influential, most maligned thinkers in the early Christian tradition. Payne offers short, winsome biographies of ten pivotal figures in eastern Orthodox (and also western) Christianity. I want to teach a seminar on Origen someday, and these will both be places to start.

Frances M. Young, The Making of the Creeds, Trinity, 1991 or
*T.F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, T&T Clark, 1995.
Young offers a lucid introduction into the early Church by concentrating on the Apostles' and Nicene creeds, unrivalled as confessions of faith. She also concentrates on the historical contexts behind the making of these confessions. On the other hand, Torrance offers a dense, penetrating, crystal-clear historical and theological narrative that shows the patristic way of thinking about God.

*John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1878 edition.
Newman started out Anglican and anti-Roman, and ended up Roman Catholic. This masterpiece of the nineteenth century Oxford movement is also a masterpiece of Christian historical thinking. Newman faces the problem of a Christian tradition whose teaching has changed over time, despite its own claims that it always represents an unchanging gospel. His solution is widely embraced to this day, both accounting for changes in the "universal" tradition of Christian confession and explaining why rival theologies such as Arianism have faltered.

Manlio Simonetti, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Chuch, T&T Clark, 1994 and/or
*Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis Vol. I: The Four Senses of Scripture, Eerdmans, 1998.
The most common expression of early theology is early biblical interpretation. Both of these examinations introduce the rich world of ancient and medieval biblical interpretation. De Lubac was a leader of the Catholic liturgical renewal movement in the twentieth century.

The Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom and
St. Germanus of Constantinople, On the Divine Liturgy, St. Vladimir's, 1984.

Christian life centers in Christian worship. There can hardly be a better introduction to the medieval Christian way of living than an exposure to the medieval Christian way of worshipping. Since we are usually looking at western (Roman) Christian traditions in this course, here you will jump across the Bosphorus to Constantinople to see how church services have worked in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The text of this worship service has remained basically unchanged for over a thousand years. St. Germanus' authoritative commentary dates from the eighth century. Paul Meyendorff's commentary dates from the 1980s. (Here is a modern Byzantine-rite Catholic interpretation of the service.)

*Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, California, 1969.
Brown's biography of Augustine is a masterpiece and a classic. Brown brings to life fourth-century North Africa, Augustine's mother and acquaintances, the Christian movements and thinkers of the day, and of course the man at the center of all the action, with startling depth and beauty. You should read this book simply to learn how well some people can write. (You certainly won't learn that from me.) While it has recently been revised and reissued, either edition will be adequate.

Augustine, Confessions (books I-IX).
Augustine, bishop of Hippo in northern Africa at the turn of the fifth century, so deeply affected Christian thought and life in the West that this is more than an introduction to Christian history and doctrine; it is an introduction to us. In writing an autobiography in the form of a prayer, Augustine taught Western Christians how to narrate their own lives. More than anyone before, he personalized Christian history. Confessions represents above all the sense of classical and medieval Catholicism, but it is so influential in Protestantism that Augustine will probably sound to you more like an evangelical than a Catholic.

*Augustine, City of God (book 1 chapters P-3, 33-36; bk 2 chs 2-3, 21, 29; bk 3 chs 1, 31; bk 4 chs 3-4, 11-12, 27-28; bk 5 chs P-1, 2, 8-11, 15-17, 20, 21, 24; bk 6 ch 1; bk 7 chs P, 6, 29-31; bk 8 chs 1, 4; bk 10 chs 1-3, 6-7, 19-20, 32; bk 11 ch 1; bk 11 chs 9, 10, 11, 19; bk 12 chs 1-2, 8, 23, 28 [last paragraph]; bk 13 chs 13-15; bk 14 chs 1, 6, 11-16, 26, 28; bk 15 chs 1-2, 4-7, 17, 21; bk 16 chs 10, 17, 42, 43; bk 17 ch 16; bk 18 chs 1-2, 22, 41, 51; bk 19 chs 4-7, 12-13, 17, 21, 24, 26; bk 22 chs 1, 24, 29-30).
Don't be intimidated by its size; we are only reading about 10% of this text. Instead, be excited. As Confessions tells the Christian history of Augustine himself, The City of God Against the Pagans tells the Christian history of the whole world, pulling together the histories of all other peoples into its epic. Its ideas and figures captivated the imaginations of ages. City of God is the epitaph of Roman antiquity, the blueprint for the medieval world, the Oedipal father-text for the modern world that eventually prevailed over the Middle Ages – and maybe even the roadmap "back" to postmodernity.

*John M. Rist, Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized. Cambridge, 1994.
In this surprisingly compact volume, Rist does what seems impossible: He organizes Augustine's contributions to philosophy and theology, and describes the Christian transformations of Greco-Roman thought that Augustine (usually) achieved. His topics constitute one more indicator of the depth and breadth of Augustinianism's range: Language and signification; faith and reason; soul, body, and personhood; love, will, and virtue in human (and divine) action; social and political life; marriage and sexuality; and divine power, predestination, and providence.

Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Doubleday, 1995.
Cahill writes wonderfully here about "the untold story of Ireland's heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medieval Europe." Irish Christianity synthesized classical antiquity and Augustine's theological vision, founding a new civilization that would dominate in Europe right up to the Reformation a thousand years later. Irish scholarship is not just a fitting subject for historians, but a far-reaching project of remembering and creating Christian history.

Lyn Rodley, Byzantine Art and Architecture: An Introduction, Cambridge, 1996.
Christians of all traditions remember the past architecturally and graphically, not just verbally. This introduction to the visual world of Eastern Orthodoxy is a primer in the Christian tradition that is most proud of its visuals.

David Knowles, Evolution of Medieval Thought, Addison-Wesley, 1989 or
David Burrell, Knowing the Unknowable God: Ibn-Sina, Maimonides, Aquinas, Notre Dame, 1987
*Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? Notre Dame, 1988 (preface and chapters 1-11 and 18-20).

Late medieval scholastic theology was an enormous crossroads where Islamic theology, rabbinic philosophy, revived Aristotelianism, and mature Catholic Augustinianism met and battled each other to make sense of the world. Knowles, Burrell, and MacIntyre chronicle the exchanges that have produced, among other things, the theological tradition even Protestants take for granted.

*Carol Lee Flinders, Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics, Harper, 1993.
Flinders has put her doctorate in literature to work writing a bestselling vegetarian cookbook (Laurel's Kitchen). Now she offers a reflection on seven medieval women mystics. Since we are studying the Church's ways of remembering along with the things the Church remembers, Flinders' project shows us not only the vibrant western mystical tradition and the prominence of women mystical writers (some of them monastic leaders in their own right), but how that tradition comes alive again today, particularly in liberal American Christianity.

H. McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, Paulist, 1980 or
Marjorie Reeves, Joachim of Fiore and the Prophetic Future, Sutton, 1999
Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, Oxford, 1990.
"In case of rapture, this monastery will be unattended." Okay, not quite. But many moderns have no idea how important "apocalyptic history" was in the Middle Ages, particularly in the work and legacy of Joachim of Fiore. Joachim in particular influenced the Church's remembrance of its past, present, and future not only in the Middle Ages, but through the Reformation. (It had particularly dramatic consequences for the thought of Martin Luther.)

RECOMMENDED LINKS (compiled in part by Katharine Brown, a Westmont colleague): This is the "Christian Classics Ethereal Library;" it has an extensive collection of primary source material. Short articles to clarify just about anything you might wonder about in church history or theology. General links. Hypertext encyclopedia of early church history. Provides links to documents from early church history available on the Internet. Internet theology resources; this page provides links to a number of early, medieval, and reformation primary sources; also a few from the Eastern Church. The Medieval Sourcebook. Excellent primary sources MLA stylebook APA stylebook