November 25, 2005

The Early Church, by Henry Chadwick

A couple of years ago, due to controversies raging within the Episcopal Church, I became interested in learning more about the history of the Early Church, and especially the period from Christ's resurrection up to Constantine. This book was recommended to me, and it quickly migrated to my car.

The thing about history books is that they are very often dry; and the material takes some pondering, or it doesn't really sink in. At that time I was regularly stopping for breakfast on my way to work, and I had the habit of keeping a book in the car to read while I ate. And Chadwick's book became that book. Then, of course, I was put on a diet and started eating breakfast at home every week; and I only got to Chadwick's book on the rare occasions when I went out to lunch by myself. Eventually I finished it.

My considered opinion? It's OK, but it wasn't the best book for my purposes. In addition to getting the basic historical details, I was also interested in tracing the thread of orthodoxy from its earliest days, through the various controversies and heresies and schools of thought. Chadwick covers all this, naturally, but he doesn't seem all that interested in the theological details, and I frequently found his descriptions to be rather opaque. Nor, as he describes the various disagreements, does he give any indication of which point of view eventually won out. On top of all this, he writes as though the truth or falsehood of any of the claims is irrelevant; or, rather, as though they are all equally false compared to the historical truth he's attempting to describe. This is a common attitude among historians, but as a Christian attempting to discover more about the early days of my faith I found it uncongenial.

All that said, Chadwick's better when dealing with the non-theological details, and I intend to keep the book around for reference.

Posted by Will Duquette at November 25, 2005 07:29 AM