Early Church History

BA (Hons) in Theology - Year 1
COURSE UNIT 233 8233


The unit begins with an overview of the first five centuries of Christianity.  In subsequent sessions, the developing mission, worship and ministry of the early church are covered in detail.  Attention is given to the theological, social, political and cultural factors which influenced religious developments.  The relationship between tradition and the rule of faith is evaluated. The Christian response to Gnosticism is considered, as are other ways the church defined and defended the gospel.  The persecution of the church and the reasons why this persecution was ultimately unsuccessful are evaluated.  Important movements within the life of the church which receive attention include Montanism and Donatism.  The unit includes sessions on developments which took place after the ‘conversion’ of Constantine in 312, with a particular focus on Monasticism and the churches of the Middle East, Africa and Asia.  Throughout the unit, students are encouraged to discuss the contemporary implications and relevance of the history being studied.


To consider major features of the wider life and mission of the early church and to reflect on contemporary issues in the light of these historical developments.


Category of outcome

By the end of this unit students should be able to:

Knowledge and understanding

·      Display knowledge of the life and development of Christianity in the first five centuries and beyond

·      reflect on significant practices in the life of the early church

Intellectual skills

·      Understand how theological, social, political and cultural factors influenced religious movements

Practical and Transferable skills; Personal qualities

·      Analyse primary and secondary sources and communicate this analysis effectively

·      Locate, analyse and utilise information


Assessment task


Weighting within unit




2000 words




·         233:

·         8233:

A quiz in class

An essay



3000 words

2000 words






·         233:

·         8233:

An essay

An essay

and a learning journal*


* Distance learning students are required to pass this element. So long as this element has been passed, they will be eligible for compensation if the overall unit mark is within the compensation zone (30-39%), and the compensatable credit allowance as set out in the Degree Regulations has not been exceeded.




Available on which programme(s)?

BA in Theology


1.    Introduction: ‘Why Church History?’; overview

2.    The spread of the early church in the first three centuries  

3.    Persecution and the theology of martyrdom

4.    The development of a rule of faith; the canon of scripture; the ways the church coped with Gnosticism

5.    Patterns of worship and ministry

6.    Montanism  

7.    The theology and practice of Baptism

8.    Constantine: conversion, his role, the growth of Christendom

9.    Monasticism (including Athanasius’ Life of Antony)

10.   ‘The Lost History of Christianity’: The church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia after Constantine (Part 1)

11.  ‘The Lost History of Christianity’ (Part 2)

Teaching method

Interactive lectures

Additional eLearning content

Unit materials are available at Spurgeon’s Online to support student learning


Written feedback within 15 working days from submission

Date of approval (for office use)


Information updated on

December 2015


Indicative reading

The Apostolic Fathers, ed. by Michael W. Holmes (Leicester: IVP, 1989)

Bray, Gerald, Creeds, Councils and Christ (new edn.; Fearn: Christian Focus, 1997)

Frend, W.H.C., The Early Church (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1991)

Harvey, Susan Ashbrook and David G. Hunter, The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) <http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199271566.001.0001>

Hazlett, Ian (ed.), Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to AD 600 (London: SPCK, 1991)

Hinson, E. Glenn, The Early Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)

Jenkins, Philip, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia - and How it Died (Oxford: Lion, 2009)

Lenski, Noel, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) <http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521818389>

Noll, Mark A., Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Leicester: IVP, 1997) chs. 1-4

Stevenson, James (ed.), A New Eusebius (London: SPCK, 1987)

Stevenson, James, Creeds, Councils and Controversies (London: SPCK, 1989)

Torrance, Alexis, Repentance in Late Antiquity : Eastern Asceticism and the Framing of the Christian Life C.400-650 Ce (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) <http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199665365.001.0001/acprof-9780199665365>

Wedderburn, A.J.M., A History of the First Christians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2004)

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Early Church History

BA (Hons) in Theology - Year 1
Course Unit 233 8233





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Dr Peter J. Morden

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