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The Early Church

(The Penguin History of the Church #1)

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,566 ratings  ·  84 reviews
Examines the beginning of the Christian movement during the first centuries AD, and the explosive force of its expansion throughout the Roman world.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published 1967 by Penguin
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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Start your review of The Early Church (The Pelican History of the Church, #1)
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 succ
David Sarkies
May 04, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in Church History
Recommended to David by: Tim Earl
Shelves: history
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 ch
Barnaby Thieme
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
David Scarratt
Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
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 most
Kathryn Mattern
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 a ...more
Lee Irons
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2013
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 ar ...more
Duncan Jones
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 somet
Aug 27, 2008 rated it it was ok
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.
Feb 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school, history
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.
David Withun
Jun 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Aaron Crofut
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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. ...more
Sharon Zink
Dec 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 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. ...more
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Lively. Full of controversy. The persons are personalities, which can be hard to pull off in history this historical.
Sep 23, 2007 rated it really liked it
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 d
Ryan Hodson
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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.
Aug 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Adam Curtis
Dec 05, 2018 rated it liked it
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
Arthur O'dell
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 th
Andrew Weitzel
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christianity
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 we ...more
John Dobbs
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: church-history
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. ...more
Jordan Terrell
Sep 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is an in-depth history of the Catholic Church, the beginning and the split between the Roman and the Orthodox Church. The book is documented by research materials and supporting documents. Not only does it goes through the history Catholic Church, but also the history of what was going on during that time. It’s an interesting read, but difficult if you’re not a history-phile. But even us who were poor students in history can get something from it.
Kristen Reid
Dec 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book took a topic in which I'm super interested and made it very boring. I think I've been spoiled lately by reading history books that are both stuffed with facts and a pleasant read.

As far as content goes, it continues to baffle me how obsessed early Christians were with whether God was one thing or three things rather than helping people. I suppose I just committed a great heresy in this Goodreads review.
Matt Pelto
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: church-history
A good summary of early Christian History (30-~600 AD). While it can be dry at times, and is sometimes not easy to follow, it is overall a very helpful volume for understanding the early church. The topical presentation of information can make forming a mental timeline difficult, but it really makes you see the progress or development of a practice or doctrine.
Apr 16, 2020 rated it liked it
2.5 stars
This book is full of information and I learned a lot. However, it was also the most dry book I’ve ever read. It was painfully boring at times not because of the content but because of the way it was delivered. The book was also quite disorganized and had no diagrams, maps, pictures, which were very needed.
Chadwick provides a solid introduction to the early Church, discussing church councils, debates in theology, early heresies, and the relationship between "church and state." As is common in introductory texts, he has a tendency to oversimplify some issues. ...more
Justin Evans
Nov 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-etc
Solid, though now a bit dated. Chadwick writes well enough, but tried to cram a bit too much in, I think. Many of stories (well-chosen stories!) are very difficult to follow, even if you already know them quite well.
Billie Pritchett
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Finished in late January. You couldn't access for a better, mostly neutral historical resource on the formation of Christianity as an institution, from its earliest times to the end of the eleventh century. ...more
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good primer on early Church history.
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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.

Other books in the series

The Penguin History of the Church (7 books)
  • Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (The Penguin History of the Church, #2)
  • The Reformation (The Penguin History of the Church, #3)
  • The Church and the Age of Reason, 1648-1789 (The Penguin History of the Church, #4)
  • The Church in an Age of Revolution (The Penguin History of the Church. #5)
  • A History of Christian Missions (The Penguin History of the Church, #6)
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