CH601 Ancient Church

Course Description 

A study of the developing theology, ecclesiology, piety, and worship of the Christian church from the close of the apostolic age to 450 A.D. Special attention will be given to primary sources. Fall semester. 2 credits.

Course Goals

—Academic Goals:

    • To enable the student to understand and discuss intelligently the institutional, theological, and social history of the church from c. 100 AD c. 450 AD.
    • The student “demonstrates understanding of the dogmatic (theological) development in the history of the church” (Source: WSC Student Learning Outcomes).

—Pastoral Goals:

    • To help the student gain a critical appreciation for the development of Christian theology, piety, and practice from c.100 AD to 450 AD.
    • The student “exhibits growing integrity, teachability/humility, perseverance, self-discipline” (Source: WSC Student Learning Outcomes).
    • The student “gives reasons for convictions rather than merely asserting them.” (Source:WSC Student Learning Outcomes).

Required Reading

NB: I do not usually discuss the background texts at length (Heath, Chadwick, Kelly, Brown) in class. The lectures assume that you have read them but you must read and master them in order to complete the course. Please do the readings in the order presented below. Reference will be made, in class, to the primary source texts.

  1. Gordon L. Heath, Doing Church History: A User-Friendly Introduction to Researching the History of Christianity
  2. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church
  3. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines.
  4. Early Christian Fathers
    1. Ad Diognetum (please print out this online text if you’re using this version)
    2. Didache
    3. Justin, First Apology
    4. Irenaeus, Against Heresies
  5. Christology of the Later Fathers
    1. Athanasius, On the Incarnation
    2. Gregory of Nazianzus, Letters on the Apollinarian Controversy
    3. Gregory of Nyssa, An Answer to Ablabius
    4. Documents (pp. 329ff.)
  6. Early Latin Theology.
    1. Tertullian, All
    2. Cyprian, Unity of the Catholic Church and Letter 33
  7. J. Pelikan and V. Hotchkiss, eds. Creeds and Confessions in the Christian Tradition(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 1.58–61, 75–99; 158–81 (Reference Room)
  8. Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo.
  9. Augustine, City of God, Books 1, 11–18, 20, 22.

Suggested Reading

    1. Irena Backus, The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West: From the Carolingians to the Maurists (Leiden: Brill, 1997), volume 2, part 3 (Renaissance, Reformation, Counter-Reformation).
    2. ——”Thomas Bradwardine (c. 1290–1349) and the Church Fathers” Studia patristic 28 (1993): 161–68.
    3. —— “The Bible and the Fathers according to Abraham Scultetus (1566–1624) and Andre Rivet (1571/73–1651): The Case of Basil of Caesarea” Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts 231 (1999).
    4. —— “Irenaeus, Calvin and Calvinist Orthodoxy: The Patristic Manual of Abraham Scultetus (1598)” Reformation and Renaissance Review 1 (1999): 41–53.
    5. —— “Calvin and the Greek Fathers” Continuity and Change (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 253–276.
    6. Moreschini, Claudio and Enrico Norelli. Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature: a Literary History. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005.
    7. Drobner, Hubertus R. The Fathers of the Church: a Comprehensive Introduction. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007.
    8. Holmes, Michael W. The Apostolic Fathers. Greek Texts and English Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.

Course Requirements:

Mid-term 35% (Lectures to that point and assigned reading (see below) The mid-term will be in the middle of the semester (week 7).

Final exam 35%

NB: A failing grade on the final exam means a failing grade for the course. The exam covers the lectures and assigned readings. Note: Students are expected to sit the final exam at the scheduled time. Please make your travel plans accordingly.

Reading 30%

The WSC catalogue requires attendance to class. Class conflict petitions will not ordinarily be approved for this course.

Anyone found to be using the computer in class inappropriately will face discipline.

Reading Schedule

Week Reading
1 Heath, all, Chadwick, ch’s 1-9
2 Chadwick, 10-18, Kelly, ch’s 1-4
3 Kelly, ch’s 5-10
4 Kelly, ch’s 11-17
5 Ad Diognetum, Didache, Justin’s 1st Apol
6 Pelikan/Hotchkiss (all), Irenaeus (all)
7 Mid-Term, Athanasius (all)
8 Nazianzus (all), Nyssa (all)
9 Documents (all), Tertullian (all)
10 Cyprian (all), Brown, chs 1-16
11 Brown, chs 17-36
12 Augustine, bks 1, 11-15
13 Augustine, bks 16-18, 20, 22


Students who take class notes by computer tend to create a large, detailed transcript but they also tend not to analyze the information they are receiving. They hear the lecture but it is more difficult to listen (i.e., to think about and interact with) what is being said. As a consequence, students find themselves with a large transcript with which they are not intimately familiar which can make the mid-term and final more difficult than necessary.

The student who takes notes by hand must synthesize and prioritize material in class. As a result, the student with handwritten notes has relatively less material to review before the exam. An informal survey of students with handwritten notes suggests that they felt better prepared for exams than they had with a large transcript.

The goal of the lectures is to provide a framework within which to interpret church history. Thus, it may be best to note, in bullet points, important themes and arguments and the most important details that illustrate the theme or support the interpretation being offered.

It is not wise to rely on the class notes of others or upon study group (e.g., Google Doc) answers. You will be most successful if you do your own work.

After an exam do not discuss your answers with others. It only causes needless anxiety.


Assertion of Intellectual Property Rights

The instructor holds the copyright to all course lectures and original course materials. This copyright extends to student notes and summaries that substantially reflect the lectures or original course materials. Course lectures and materials are made available for the personal use of students only and may not be recorded or otherwise distributed (including the publication of student notes or summaries on social media) in any way for commercial or non-commercial purposes without the express written permission of the instructor.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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