Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Early Church (The Pelican History of the Church, #1)” as Want to Read:
The Early Church (The Pelican History of the Church, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Early Church

(The Penguin History of the Church #1)

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,505 ratings  ·  76 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
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Early Church, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Early Church

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,505 ratings  ·  76 reviews

More filters
Sort order
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
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
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 ...more
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
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 ...more
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.
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
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
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 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.
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
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 ...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.
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.
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really a rather dense read, however once I got into it, Chadwick explores the early Church in depth - an excellent introductory book to not only the Church but the context and communities surrounding it.
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.
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.
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good primer on early Church history.
Kyle Grow
Factual list of ideas and events, but written very sporadically and hard to follow.
Joe Duke
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent survey of the Early Church period.
Phil Whittall
May 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
cahdwickHenry Chadwick was a fine historian and this accessible guide to The Early Church is a wonderful resource into the life, controversies and personalities of the first three hundred years of the church.

I enjoyed learning more about Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Athanasius, Clement, Cyprian, Tertullian, Augustine, Origen, Jerome and John Chysostom these great heroes of our faith who did so much to fight for truth in the church. I thought Chadwick did just enough to bring the characters to life
I bought Chadwick's _The Early Church_ along with Southern's _Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages_ to read some solid narratives of a favourite topic of mine, Church history. Though I am not done with Chadwick, I can say that so far it perfectly suits my purpose. It is elegantly written and very clear, especially given the very large geographical, chronological, and thematic scope of the work. Chadwick goes over elementary but essential points (first sentence of the book: ''The ...more
Edward C.
Jul 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: church-history
There are plenty of longish reviews of this work, so I'll keep my commentary short. I enjoyed this reverend historian's work quite a bit (Chadwick was an Anglican priest), but this book is NOT a primer. If you do not already have some background in Church history, you will get occasionally lost, as Chadwick is not concerned with introducing every character; he assumes prior knowledge. There are a few other places where I wish he'd have gone into more detail (I had to read the passage detailing ...more
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Augustine of Hippo: A Biography
  • The Reformation: A History
  • Early Christian Doctrines
  • The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine
  • Church History in Plain Language
  • How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor
  • An Instance of the Fingerpost
  • Early Christian Fathers (Library of Christian Classics)
  • The History of the Church
  • Drinking in America
  • Be Here Now
  • Called to the Ministry
  • All Tomorrow's Parties (Bridge, #3)
  • Zero History (Blue Ant, #3)
  • Johnny Mnemonic
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles (Illustrated Classic Editions)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • The Absolute Sandman, Volume One
See similar books…
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)
  • The Christian Church in the Cold War (The Penguin History of the Church. #7)
“Tertullian argued that the Bible is often difficult to interpret. Obscure passages must be interpreted by those which are plain.” 0 likes
“Celsus was the first known person to realize that this non-political, quietist, and pacifist community had it in its power to transform the social and political order of the empire.” 0 likes
More quotes…