Links: The First Two Centuries

Moderately Interactive Map of the Roman Empire — This is a fairly sweet resource — you can click through and see the size of the Empire at various times.  The point of the map is to compare the Celts and the Romans — use whatever is of interest to you.

Cicero on Crucifixion — Concerning ancient Roman attitudes toward crucifixion, you can find quotations from the ancient world by Googling “Cicero on crucifixion,” but this link is to part of the fuller speech of the Roman orator Cicero.  The center of this reading is a paragraph that reveals Cicero’s horror at crucifixion and its shamefulness.

Introduction to the Septuagint — This is a fairly basic introduction to the Septuagint (that is, the early Greek translation of the Old Testament that early Christians used).  If you’re interested in some similar content from a slightly more scholarly perspective, you should consult this link.

The “Mystery Cults” in the Greco-Roman World — This site discusses the “mystery cults” as part of a generally interesting discussion of non-monotheistic religions in the ancient Roman empire.

Images of Ancient Feasts — There are lots of resources out there about “feasts” and dining in ancient Rome, but very few combine solid text, accessibility for the amateur, and some images. This one is pretty good, with both actual images and digital reconstructions, and it lets you learn more about what typical Romans feasts looked like.  Christians as well as non-Christians would have partaken in these feasts, if they had the means to do so.

Gladiatorial Combats — This is a very nice source with lots of follow-able links on many matters concerning gladiatorial combats.

The Cult of Asclepius — The healing cult of Asclepius was widespread in the ancient world, and there are many parallels to the early Christians’ view of Jesus as healer.  This link includes ancient testimonies to that cult.  You might browse the various quotations here, as they will help you get a sense of what that cult entailed.

The Destruction of Jerusalem — This site provides an account about the destruction of Jerusalem, from a Jewish eyewitness named Josephus.  This text is, in fact, the only eyewitness account to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. And, incidentally, while Josephus was Jewish, he had surrendered to the Romans, which was how he survived the destruction.  NB: the text is rather long and is in an old-fashioned translation.  If you want, you can peruse the section headings to see what you might be interested in, rather than reading through the whole thing.

Ignatius of Antioch — Here’s a nice Wikipedia page on Ignatius, one of the most important bishops of  this time period, in terms of his textual legacy.  If you follow the links under “Letters,” you can find online versions of a number of his letters.

More Correspondence between Pliny and Trajan — This is a very important early correspondence depicting “official” Roman policy concerning Christians — at least in one region of the empire.  The earlier letters give you the sense of the two men’s working relationship; the last portion concerns Christians.  Notice how Trajan says that anonymous “lists” of purported Christians are not to be admitted — it seems that he thinks the Romans too “enlightened” to accept such under-handed tactics.

The Catacombs in Rome: This is the Vatican site on the catacombs.  There’s some nice information here, along with some good images.  It’s not exhaustive, but it provides a good introduction.

Gnosticism — It can be difficult to find a dispassionate presentation of the Gnostics, but this link does a good job.  For a much more extensive discussion of the phenomenon, check out this link.

The Epistle to Diognetus — This text is a second-century letter that nicely illustrates early Christian attitudes toward the world around them.  Notice especially chapters 5-6 of the Epistle, where the author clearly articulates the distinction between Christians and everyone else.  The reason I give you this text is that it helps illustrate the mindset that could be questioned in times of grave sin, as discussed in chapter 7.  Are Christians really that separate from the world?  We need strong leaders to guide us when we fall.

Greco-Roman Thought and Philosophy — Trying to find a good but brief introduction to Greek philosophy is challenging, and this site is the best thing I’ve been able to find these days.  It’s pretty readable, and it does have a view toward the emergence of Christianity.  This link is also helpful, especially on the philosophical side.

Justin Martyr and Early Christian Worship — People often cite Justin Martyr as the first description of early Christian worship.  This is the fuller text, which is an excerpt from Justin’s “1st Apology.”

Thumbnail image credit (Fra Angelico’s painting of St. Peter preaching): Wikimedia Commons

Suggested next click: the next set of links (the patristic period)

Links: The Patristic Period

The Muratorian Canon — This is an early (the first extant?) list of authoritative books for a particular community.  It’s interesting to read, and although there is some debate about how early it is, I think the most common dating is safe — around the year 200 AD/CE.  Notice that already the writer is talking about what books are “accepted” and what ones are “rejected.”  Notice also the interesting category he discusses toward the end: that a certain book (in this case, the “Shepherd” by a guy named Hermas) is good and should be read, but not in church.  Clearly, that book is helpful but is not on par with the “canonical” books that will become the New Testament.

The Epistle to Diognetus — This text is a second-century letter that nicely illustrates early Christian attitudes toward the world around them.  Notice especially chapters 5-6 of the Epistle, where the author clearly articulates the distinction between Christians and everyone else.  The reason I give you this text is that it helps illustrate the mindset that could be questioned in the situations regarding the martyrs.  Are Christians really that separate from the world?  We need strong leaders to guide us when we fall.

Clement of Alexandria on Philosophy — Here are a few selections from Clement’s work.  In terms of his high opinion of Greek philosophers, notice how he says about halfway down the page that Plato can speak “as though divinely inspired.”

Irenaeus on Bishops — This is a text from the second-century Christian writer Irenaeus, in his writing Against Heresies.  What’s interesting to me is Irenaeus’ perspective on the importance of the bishops in preserving apostolic teaching and connecting back to those early days.  He wrote this against some Gnostics whom he accused of inventing “new teaching,” which was a bad thing in those days.  Notice that, for Irenaeus, the bishops are important for doctrinal reasons, not so much power reasons.  This text connects nicely with our reading about bishops.  However, because Irenaeus was writing his text (called “Against Heresies”) against those Gnostics, he’s also interesting if you look at that material, too.  If you want to explore more on Irenaeus, you might start with something like this link.

The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity — This text from the early third century will help illuminate the material on persecution.  It is a “martyrdom account” — a narrative purporting to tell the story of a Christian martyr.  In this case, the text is especially interesting because it both concerns women and also seems to come (in part) from the actual hand of one of them — the noblewoman Perpetua.  If you are interested in other martyrdom accounts, the other most famous one is that of Polycarp (died around 150 AD/CE), which you can read at this link.

Tertullian’s On Spectacles — This text comes from the early-third-century writer Tertullian, and is the first extended argument we have from a Christian writer about why Christians shouldn’t attend gladiatorial games.  Notice the various kinds of arguments Tertullian uses.

Origen — Origen was a hugely important early biblical scholar from the third century.  Here is a slightly long, oddly-formatted site that has lots of good information about him.  Notice especially his three-fold method of interpreting Scripture, which includes both literal and figurative (or”spiritual”) interpretations.

Origen on Scripture — Here’s a sample of Origen’s writings, and in fact, it’s among his most famous material.  Scroll down to section 11, and read sections 11-16.  You will get a sense of Origen’s discussion of Scripture, his idea that the Spirit is the divine author of Scripture, and that we can sometimes look for the “literal” meaning of Scripture (the “flesh” of Scripture) but other times its allegorical or symbolic meaning (its “soul” or “spirit”).  He is very tuned in to a devotional way of thinking about Scripture.

Origen’s Hexapla — One of Origen’s major contributions to biblical scholarship was his so-called “Hexapla” (which, being translated, means “six-fold”).  This site probably has way more information than you want, but the top portions of it give you a good sense of what the Hexapla was about, contained, and may have looked like (approximately).

More on Cyprian — If you are interested in reading more about the third-century African bishop Cyprian, this site will help.  It includes discussion of his two most important treatises for this chapter, namely, “On the Lapsed” and “On the Unity of the Church.”

Apocryphal Gospels — Wikipedia has a nice article on the New Testament apocryphal texts – that is, texts that are not included in the New Testament, despite containing reflection on Scriptural topics and sometimes being ascribed to Scriptural authors.  Most of these were written several decades after the New Testament books.  For perspectives on alternative stories of Jesus, see the “Gospels” section in the linked article.

How to Make a Papyrus — This is an interesting site and slideshow about modern folks making papyri like the ancients did.  How time-consuming!

Codex Sinaiticus Online — This site is the online home for the digital version of Codex Sinaiticus, a fourth-century manuscript of the Bible that is *hugely* important for helping textual scholars establish the best text of the Bible.  This site is explorable and is the result of years of work by many folks.

Jerome — Jerome was a very important early biblical scholar who flourished in the late fourth century.  He was the one who translated the Bible into Latin, in what became known as the Vulgate translation.  This translation was the Latin Bible used by Catholic Christians all over the world for 1,500 years.  Here’s a little more about him.

A Sample of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History — Eusebius is often called the “father of church history,” and this text gives you a little flavor of his work.  It deals with some early issues in the church; for the famous section describing the (fictional) correspondence between Jesus and Abgar, see this link.

Constantine and the “Sign of Christ” — This is a cool site that shows the emergence of Constantine’s use of the Christ-symbol (sometimes called the “Chi-Rho,” after the first two letters of the word “Christ” in Greek) by means of coins that he had minted, and then with those of his successors.  Nice commentary, too.

Images of Constantinople — Here is a source for images of Constantinople.  It can give you a better sense of the ancient city founded by Constantine.  Incidentally, some of our Leipzig study abroad students have visited Istanbul, which means they’ve seen the (former) churches of Hagia Sophia and Chora.

Selections from Arius’s Writings — Here is a portion of Arius’s writing, as it was quoted by Athanasius in one of his texts.  Notice the contrasts he draws between “God” and the Son — very stark!

Athanasius’s Easter Letter — Athanasius’s letter of 367 is the text that contains the first record of our 27 New Testament books.  This site gives the pertinent excerpts.  Note that Athanasius calls Hebrews a letter written by Paul – that was the common belief in those days, and it continued for many centuries afterward.

Gregory of Nazianzus on Analogies for the Trinity — Here is a selection from a text by the Cappadocian father (mentioned toward the end of the chapter) Gregory of Nazianzus on the Holy Spirit.  It’s a late-19th-century translation, so the English is rather Victorian.  At the very end of this text — sections 31-33 — he discusses two different analogies for the Trinity and also their weakness.  It’s a nice counterpoint to our attraction to some of those analogies.

Athanasius’s Life of Antony — We have read some about monks in the early church.  This is a narrative about the most famous early monk — Antony of Egypt — written by Alexandria’s most famous bishop.  Here is the text in full, after a good bit of prologue, should you want to read some of it.

Celibacy in the Early Church — On a related topic, many early Christians saw celibacy as an important part of their Christian discipleship.  Here are some quotations (in rather awkward, dated translation) that back this up.

A Summary of the “Rule of St. Basil” — Here is a summary of the monastic “rule of St. Basil,” an early guide for the monastic life in a monastery (that is, with others, and not living alone somewhere).

A Prayer to “Baby Jesus” — This is a moderately ridiculous clip from Will Ferrell’s movie Talladega Nights (with a bit of inappropriate language — please excuse it), but it connects nicely with the controversy between Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius of Constantinople, who argued about Jesus’s humanity and divinity.  Nestorius did not go with the idea that the divine nature could be born of a woman — he would not have liked Will Ferrell’s language of “dear baby God.”  He would have agreed with Grandpa Chip — “he was a man; he had a beard!”  I assume Nestorius would have seen the intra-prayer conversation as indicative of what can happen when one sees Jesus however one wants.

Thumbnail image credit (John Chrysostom):

Suggested next click: the next set of links (the medieval period)

Links: The Medieval Period

General Information on Icons — Icons are crucial for an understanding of Eastern Christianity, which really began to have a separate identity in what we call the “medieval period.”  This is a helpful site on the topic, formatted as questions with answers.

Icon Blog — You may also find helpful this “Reader’s Guide” to understanding icons.  When iconographers create an icon, Eastern Christians say that they “write” the icon; as a result, one must learn how to “read” them, and this blog can help!

Description of Hagia Sophia — Here you’ll find a description of Hagia Sophia (the great church of Constantinople/Istanbul) from Procopius, a sixth-century figure who was alive when Hagia Sophia was built.  At the bottom of the page, there is a link to learn more about the destruction of the city in 1204 — that is interesting.  But the other link (“Hagia Sophia”) is dead, so don’t bother with it.  Also interesting is this link, which provides the history of the church up to the present, as well as a contemporary description.

A Full List of Popes — It’s impossible to think of medieval Christianity without thinking of the popes of Rome.  You’ll find many names in our textbook; however, if you’d like a full list of the popes — from Peter to Francis — check out this link to the Catholic Encyclopedia.  Each pope’s name also links to his biography  You’ll occasionally see the word “antipope” — that’s the word used when there was more than one pope claiming the office at one time.

Boniface and the Oak Tree — Early medieval Christianity also saw the development of Christian traditions among the Germanic/Teutonic peoples and the Celts.  The Germanic tradition included the work of several missionary monks, including the famous Boniface.  This link tells of his life — scroll down to chapter 6 for the famous story of the oak tree he cut down in the name of God.

The Life of St. Patrick — Similarly, the Celtic tradition of Ireland and Scotland had its famous characters, chief among them the man known as St. Patrick.  This link gives you his biography, written by a 7th-century monk.

Pope Gregory I on Mission Work in England — One of the important influences on British Christianity was the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons.This is a rather famous section from the Ecclesiastical History written by Bede, the seventh-century English monk, regarding Gregory’s sending missionaries to the Angles and Saxons.  Note the pope’s instructions regarding native worship: don’t destroy everything, but see how it can be converted to the worship of the True God.  For more on Bede’s text, see this link.

Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne — One of the towering figures of early medieval Christianity is the Frankish king Charlemagne.  Happily, we have a biography of him from his contemporary Einhard.  Here’s a link to Einhard’s work, with a handy, click-able table of contents at the top, so you can scan for something that you’d like to read about.

Vikings in England — Not long before the turn of the second millennium CE, folks we call “Vikings” appeared on the shores of Western European lands, including Great Britain.  Here’s a link (including a nice map) that describes the Vikings’ raids into England, and the effects of those raids.

Gothic Architecture — An important development in medieval art was Gothic architecture, but you may not remember as much about it as you’d like.  Here’s a little more information, with images, about this style of architecture that became so influential and widespread in the High Middle Ages.  The language is somewhat technical, but I think it gets its information across.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris — One of the most famous examples of Gothic architecture is the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  This link is the official website of the Cathedral — in the English version.  You might find especially interesting the tab called “Cathedral for Art and History” — lots and lots of images there, including panoramic views of the structure.

More on the Crusades — One of the darkest episodes in all of church history is the Crusades.  Here’s more information on that movement.  The site is nicely organized, but it can be a little challenging to tell what is a link and what is just a heading, but it’s still useful.

Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae — This is a free online version of the great Dominican’s Summa Theologiae, perhaps the most famous single work of theology in all of Christian history.  It has a table of contents and links to each section, so that you can get an idea for how big this work is, and you can also peruse different articles within it.

Quodlibet Disputations — One of the great contributions of the medieval period to the modern world is the university.  However, medieval universities weren’t always peaceful places, as regular “disputations” were held — something like academic debates

.  These disputations can be revealed in written form in a variety of texts, but one that is interesting is what is called the “quodlibets” of medieval writers.  “Quodlibet” literally means “whatever,” and it refers to a semi-annual tradition in some universities where students could come and ask “whatever” question they wanted — essentially a “stump the professor” session.  Some of these sessions were recorded.  This link has translations of some of the quodlibets of Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval teacher.  Peruse the table of contents for something interesting to you.

More on the Waldensians — Here you can find more information on the Waldenses, or Waldensians, that group that was accused of heresy and also provided an important forerunner to Luther’s Reformation.  This site is run by Anabaptists, who are not historically related to the Waldensians.  But they do have some affinities with them, and so they have an investment in understanding this group more fully.

Two Perspectives on the Inquisition — This link is to the old version of the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on the Inquisition.  For material connected the Inquisition’s work against heresy (its original function), scroll or click down to the section called “The suppression of heresy by the institution known as the inquisition.”  For an interesting Jewish perspective on the Inquisition, see this link.

More on Indulgences — This site is an interesting one, as it considers famous historical trials.  One of those trials is that of Martin Luther, and one of the resources it includes is a page called “Questions & Answers Concerning Indulgences.”  For a modern Catholic perspective sympathetic to the use of indulgences, see this link.

The Borgia Family — You may have heard of the Borgia family, who were involved with “political corruption and immorality” to “unbelievable heights,” as one church history textbook has it.  If you’d like to know more about them, including Roderigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI), see this link.

John Wycliffe’s English Translation of the Bible — Another important forerunner to the Protestant Reformation was the work of John Wycliffe, who among other things advocated the use of the Bible in the vernacular to aid in people’s understanding.  If you would like to read some of Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English, see this link.  Granted, it is written in a form of middle English, so it might be challenging.  You might start with a book with which you’re familiar — like maybe “Romaynes” or “1 Corinthis,” or perhaps one of the Gospels.

Image credit (Girolamo Savonarola; edited by the blogger):

Suggested next click: the next set of links (the Reformation period)

Links: The Reformation Period

Luther’s 95 Theses — If you’ve ever wanted to read Luther’s actual theses, here they are (in translation)!  You’ll probably be varyingly interested in these, but I’ve found the following to be quite provocative: 6, 21, 27, 36-37, 52-53, 62, 79, and 92-95.

The Condemnation of Martin Luther — This is the text of the papal bull, called “Exsurge, Domine” (from its first words), in which Pope Leo X expressed the church’s condemnation of Luther. The whole thing is interesting, but you might especially enjoy the last few paragraphs, beginning with the one starting, “As far as Martin himself is concerned….”

The Preaching of John Tetzel — This is a YouTube clip from the 2003 movie Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes in the title role (please forgive the Dutch subtitles — I hope they aren’t distracting!).  Scroll forward to the 4:40 mark, where you will see about 4:00 of footage depicting what the preaching of Tetzel might have been like.  Notice the emotional pleas Tetzel makes — it is easy to see how his rhetoric would have been effective in selling indulgences!

The Schleitheim Confession — The sometimes-called “Radical Reformers,” who later became the Anabaptists’ text, developed a seminal text in 1527 called the “Schleitheim Confession.”  It reflects well several Anabaptist values.  Most of it is self-explanatory, except for the term “the ban,” which appears now and again.  This refers to a method of church discipline by which sinful members are ostracized from the church until they repent of their sins.  It is like what Paul prescribes in 1 Corinthians 5, and it is the predecessor of the Amish practice of “shunning.”

The Drowning of Dirk Willems — This image comes an etching connected with an important Anabaptist work stretching back to the 16th century, called The Martyrs’ Mirror.  It was a crucial community-building text for the Anabaptists — it sealed their identity as a persecuted, but ultimately triumphant people.  And the story below the image, about a man named Dirk Willems, is the most famous of the stories contained therein.  He saved one of his persecutors but was executed nonetheless.

A Selection from Calvin’s Institutes — Here you have a selection from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, a staple text of the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity.  Specifically, this is Book III’s “Chapter 21” on the “eternal election” of God, “by which God has predestined some to salvation, and others to destruction.”  You’ll get a sense of Calvin’s ideas about predestination, as well as his method.  He is quite a thorough thinker, considering both Scriptural foundations for his own arguments, and also the merits of those of his accusers.

Calvin’s Letter to France’s King Francis I — As a preface to the 1536 edition of his Institutes, Calvin wrote a letter to France’s King Francis I.  Here is a link to that letter.  It’s an interesting companion piece to some of Luther’s writings to the leaders of Germany in his heyday.

The Thirty-Nine Articles — The Reformation in England took a unique course, issuing in the doctrinal text called the Thirty-Nine Articles.  They represent Anglican theology as it came to be under Queen Elizabeth I, built on the foundation of Thomas Cranmer in the days of King Henry VIII.  Notice how the first five articles represent classic Christian orthodoxy, article 6 sounds quite Protestant, and articles 11 and 17 take up issues dear to the hearts of Luther and Calvin, respectively.  And yet there are things that are still Catholic, including what sounds like the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in Communion, as stated in article 28 (although transubstantiation is repudiated), as well as the power of the church to establish “rites and ceremonies,” as stated in article 20.  Note also that article 39 seems to interact with Anabaptist teaching on oaths.

Preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer — This is the preface to the first edition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in its original 15th-century English (you can handle it).  Noteworthy things include: 1) the concern in the first paragraph for people’s continually growing knowledge of God, and that they be inflamed with a love for the Christian religion; 2) the note in the second paragraph that only portions of Scripture were typically being read in church, and that worship was just plain difficult in the medieval church; 3) and the resulting desires that Anglican worship should be easy for people to follow and perform, that it should be done in their own language (fourth paragraph), and that it should be the same all over England (fifth paragraph).

History of the English-Language Bible — If you’re interested in learning more about the history of English-language Bibles, see this site.  It’s very informative!  It even gets up to just a few years ago in its narrative.

More about Ignatius Loyola — Here’s a link to a site with more information about Ignatius Loyola, that important figure in the Catholic Reformation.  The top of the page is a biography of the saint, with discussion of his life and thought below.  Further, there is a link in the left-hand sidebar to his Spiritual Exercises, so important for the Jesuit movement that he founded.  Explore to your heart’s content!

The Beginning of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises — And here’s the beginning of that very text!  He talks a bit about different kinds of sin, when we should talk about sin, etc., but the most interesting part is at the very bottom.  While the majority of the text sounds rather medieval and rather Catholic, the last bit about confession is something that most Christians can easily agree with.

Bartolome de las Casas on the Devastation of the Caribbean Islands — Bartolome (“Bartholomew”) de las Casas was an important figure in the history of Christianity in the New World, first as a priest and later as a champion of the oppressed natives.  This link is his famous Brief Report of the Devastation of the Indies.  For more about him overall, check out this link.

Preface to the Original King James Bible — The King James Bible has been the single most influential English translation of the Bible in history.  Read here the first part of the preface to the first edition — the section to King James.  You can get a sense of the values of the translators.  Given James’s actual actions toward the Dissenters who produced the translation, one wonders if there was some irony in the effusive praise they give him in the text.

Thumbnail image credit (Martin Luther):

Suggested next click: the next set of links (the early modern period)

Links: The Early Modern Church (up to 1800)

Westminster Shorter Catechism and Confession — The Westminster Assembly of the 1640s was hugely influential in English-speaking Christianity, for a variety of reasons, but especially in the Reformed churches (like Presbyterianism).  The Assembly produced a number of documents, and one of the most famous is the Shorter Catechism, which would have been used in a question-and-answer to teach children and newcomers the faith; this link is to that document.  The most famous line of the Shorter Catechism is the first answer: the chief point of human living is “to enjoy God and glorify him forever.”  Kind of cool, right?  (The Confession of Faith can be found at this link.)

More on the English Civil War — The English Civil War affected English Christianity quite heavily.  You can read a lot here and there about the war, but not many sources make good connections with the actual English churches, in my opinion.  This link gives you more information about the War, but it should also help you see the religious context more successfully.

More on Church Groups in England — Similarly, this site also discusses the English Civil War, but it also has lots of helpful information about the actual groups of English churches.  If you’ve ever wondered how the Levelers differed from the Independents, then this is your source.

More on the Thirty Years’ War — When you read church history books on this time period, you sometimes hear about the religious implications of this war, but not as much about the political or military aspects.  But you might want some of that.  Here’s a link that can tell you more about that important war, with clickable links for even more information on specific parts of it.

An Intro to Early Modern Science — If you’re interested in the emergence of modern science in the early modern period, you might check out this link, which discusses several important scientists.  It’s a good reminder of some things you probably learned a long time ago in school, and it makes a few comments on the connections of religion and science.

A Letter from Voltaire — Voltaire, that important Enlightenment figure, is often depicted as a relentless critic of the established churches.  This is a letter from Voltaire to a prince of Prussia (in part what is now Germany).  Notice that while he talks about God, it is in very rational terms.  Additionally, he has a rather cynical view of human attitudes toward morality; he thinks there is nothing in us that tends toward revealed truth, but rather to the expedient.

Pascal’s Vision, His Life, and His Wager — This is a site devoted to a sympathetic description of Blaise Pascal, the 17th-century figure who marries the Enlightenment and the “life of the heart” in some interesting ways.  Toward the bottom of the page, you can find the full text of the letter that he carried in his pocket.  Higher up, there is a description of his “wager.”

The Puritans’ “Cambridge Platform” — In terms of early American Christianity, there may not be a group more influential than the Puritans.  In reading about them, you might see the term “Cambridge Platform” but not be sure of the referent.  Here’s a link that can help clarify.

More about Zinzendorf and Herrnhut — Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf was a seminal figure in the second half of the history of the Moravian movement within Christianity, and Herrnhut was the community built on his lands.  The Moravian movement was strongly influenced by Pietism and themselves influenced John Wesley, and thus the Methodists.  This link is explorable and includes a good deal of information about both the Count and the community he founded.

Latitudinarianism — If you read about the early modern period of Christianity, especially in England, you will probably run into the term “Latitudinarianism,” but you may not catch the definition.  Here’s an informative page to help you understand.

The Hymns of Charles Wesley — The Methodist movement, which began at this time, is most closely associated with the figure of John Wesley.  But his brother Charles was also a hugely important part of the movement.  You may have heard of him before — especially in his role as a song-writer before — but either way, you should check out this link, which is one man’s choice of 5 great Wesley hymns.  You’ve probably heard of them.  Another resource is this link, which gives you a huge clickable list of his hymns.  This guy was prolific.

Great Quotes from Jonathan Edwards — If the Puritans were a major influence in 17th-century American Christianity, then Jonathan Edwards was a huge influence in the 18th century.  Sadly, this important figure sometimes gets short shrift in church history books.  Edwards is rightly remembered as a stern preacher — one who could depict a congregation as “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”  But he also, more than any other early American preacher, reminded us of the importance of the heart, the affections, in our relationship with God.  For example, he spoke once about an “inward, sweet delight in God and divine things.”  See this link for some more great quotes from Edwards, many of which speak to this importance of the heart.

Image credit (John Wesley):

Suggested next click: the next set of links (the contemporary church period — since 1800)

Links: The Contemporary Church (Since 1800)

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen — We’re actually starting a shade before 1800, because the American and French Revolutions are considered by many to be the beginning of the contemporary world as we know it.  Most Americans are familiar with the Declaration of Independence, but not as many know its “sister document” from France.  It is a part of the development of our modern attitudes toward freedom and personal autonomy, which have impacted Christianity in HUGE ways.  (By the way, if you need a link to the Bill of Rights, click this link.

The Concordat of 1801 — At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon worked out an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church to preserve the latter’s existence in France.  This is the text of the agreement, called the “Concordat of 1801.”  Notice that the “First Consul” (i.e., Napoleon) gets to select the bishops and archbishops, both in the present and in the future, that the bishops take an oath of allegiance before him, and that they must pray for the consuls at the end of their daily prayers.  Another chapter in the enduring conflicts between secular powers and spiritual powers…

The Syllabus of Errors — An important part of modern European history is the Roman Catholic Church’s reluctance to join it, instead favoring its medieval mentality all the way into the 20th century.  One of the classic expressions of this mentality is Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors (1864), which you can read at this link.  Note: these are modern ideas and attitudes that the church repudiated.  (Don’t be alarmed by the size of the page — the bottom 2/3-3/4 of it is devoted to user comments.)

The Declaration of Papal Infallibility — That medieval mentality was reinforced perhaps most strongly at the “First Vatican Council” of 1870, with its famous declaration of papal infallibility.  This page contains several documents from the council, and the declaration is the last one on the page.  Notice that there is a good deal of prologue — statements from Scripture and church councils, before the clear doctrine promulgated at the end.

William Wilberforce Before Parliament — Another important aspect of modern history is the abolition of slavery in many, many countries, a movement which really gained steam in the English-speaking world just before 1800, with the work of William Wilberforce, a devout Christian.  Here are two accounts of his first speech on the topic before Parliament, which you may find interesting.

More on the Abolition of Slavery in England — The story of slavery’s abolition is one that is inspiring to many people (Christian and non-), but you might not know as much about it as you’d like.  Here’s a fuller discussion of the topic.  Note that there is less emphasis on the Christian connection of the abolitionists, but make sure to catch the language of progress in this description.

The “Tracts for the Times” — Another important development in 19th-century Christianity in England was the so-called “Tractarian” movement, or “Oxford Movement.”  That group of Anglicans found themselves increasingly drawn to the early church as a way of revitalizing the Christianity of their day.  This link is to one of their “tracts” (or “treatises”), and you can see the appeal that the author makes to the early church there.  Later on, the group really got into hot water with its last, 90th tract.  If you are curious about that text, you can find it at this link.  It’s quite long, but if you scroll all the way down to the bottom, you can get a sense of what caused such protest.

William Carey’s Wikipedia Page — One of the important figures in the missions movements of the modern church is William Carey, the great Baptist missionary to India.  His Wikipedia page does a good job of telling his story, if you don’t know it, and there are also links to pages for a number of other people and organizations associated with him, including Andrew Fuller, the Baptist Missionary Society, William Ward, and Joshua Marshman.

William Carey’s Enquiry — Here you have the text of Carey’s An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians…, a hugely important text for the history of missions in terms of its author’s desire to motivate everyday Christians to participate in and contribute to mission work.  Pay attention not only to the contents of his text, but also to the persuasive tactics he uses to incite his readers to action.

A Selection from Livingstone’s Journals — “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”  This famous quote refers to David Livingstone, the Westerner who did so much significant work in Africa.  Livingstone’s journals and letters did open up Africa to many Westerners, both in showing the value and dignity of African peoples, but also in demonstrating the commercial value of African goods, which helped lead to later exploitation of the African land.  This selection gives you a sense of Livingstone’s writing style.  It also was one of the most provocative pieces he wrote, stirring up pro-African feelings among many Westerners.  Incidentally, this site is dedicated to recovering and publishing Livingstone’s journals, so you may find it profitable to explore if you’re interested.

On David Livingstone’s Only Convert — Here’s a 2013 article from the BBC on Livingstone’s only convert, a man named Sechele.  The article reports that African Christianity may owe more in some ways to Sechele’s activity than to that of European missionaries!

Quotes from de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America — In 1835 and 1840, the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville published his famous Democracy in America, a discussion of the “American Experiment” in light of the history of democracy.  It will give you a sense of the political and social life of the early 19th-century United States — an important backdrop for religion at that time.

American Expansion — Another important piece of background to American Christianity in the 19th century is the westward expansion of the “white folks.”  This link is a timeline concerning the American frontier as it shifted through the centuries, which is part of a companion site to the PBS show American Experience, a fascinating PBS examination of that set of events.  You can click on a number of elements in the timeline, for various types of information and media content, if you’re interested in this or that event.

A Christian Statement about Slavery in the South — Slavery also formed an important part of the story of 19th-century Christianity in the United States, not just in Europe.  This link contains a theological statement adopted by the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America — and it’s a statement that you may find shocking, surprising, or repugnant.  Notice, though, among other things, 1) the paragraph 1/3 of the way down the page that starts “In the first place,” 2) the arguments from history, and 3) the ways that the Bible is treated and used.  Overall, it seems to me that the statement is not so much pro-slavery as it is anti-abolition.

Christian Responses to Darwin — The late 19th-century in Western Christianity included a number of challenges to traditional understandings, one of which was that represented by Darwin and the developments of modern science.  This page is hosted by the Biologos Foundation, a group of evangelical (read: healthily conservative) Christians who explore the intersections of theology and “evolutionary creation.”  The content itself gives a readable yet detailed overview of Christian responses to Darwin, including some of the very first comments.  See also the notes and the “Further Reading” resources at the bottom.

“Liberal” Christianity — Another challenge that began in the 19th century is what we sometimes call “Liberal Christianity,” a set of movements, texts, impulses, and groups that began to include using “human reason” as a legitimate source of theological inquiry, even if it meant discarding traditional beliefs or practices.  The top half of this page reproduces an article from Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary (of Theology, I think), published in 2001.  The first two sections are especially strong, and while the second half reflects a bit more conservative theological bias (not inappropriately, here, I think), the whole thing is quite instructive.

Fundamentalism — One response to “liberal” Christianity was the movement we know as Christian fundamentalism, which was a desire to go back to the foundationsof traditional Christianity.  In other words, as many commentators have noted, it is a concept that began as a positive idea and has become mostly negative. The Wikipedia article on fundamentalism is quite strong, and it helpfully discusses the phenomenon in Christianity, other world religions, and even atheism!

A Summary of Rerum Novarum — The 19th-century Western church faced a different kind of challenge at this time with the problems of industrialization, and all of its attendant social difficulties.  One important text that arose at this time was Rerum Novarum, the 1891 encyclical of Leo XIII in response to those social crises.  This link is an instructive summary of the document itself.  (The original document itself is rather long but can be accessed at this link.

A History of the Salvation Army — One of the ministries that arose at this time, to care for those specially affected by the problems of industrialization, was the Salvation Army.  You’ve probably heard of them, but here’s a bit more history of the group.  (Also, the “About Us” tab also includes a link describing the origins of their famous “red kettles” at Christmastime.)

The Barmen Declaration — In terms of important texts from 20th-century Christianity in Europe, it is hard to find something to top the Barmen Declaration.  It was written during the Nazi period in Germany, it was co-authored by the prominent German theologian Karl Barth, and it contained the response of the “Confessing Church” to the Nazi regime’s attempts to control and repress it.  Notice the six “evangelical truths” upon which the Confessing Church built its foundation.  (By the way, if you want some more background to the Declaration itself, see this link.

The 1933 Concordat Between the Pope and Hitler — A different response to the Nazi challenge was the 1933 Concordat between the Pope and Hitler, a sort of “non-interference agreement” between the Catholic church and the Nazi government.  Incidentally, this site is kind of weird: the actual text begins about 1/4 of the way down, and it’s long, but then there is some commentary.  You can at least get the rather positive sense of the agreement even if, as you may not surprised to learn, Hitler didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.

Mit brennender Sorge — Also not surprisingly, the Catholic church’s attitude toward the Nazis changed over time.  The link is to the full text of Mit brennender Sorge, the 1937 encyclical of Pius XI criticizing Nazism.  If you’d like a summary of the text before you read the whole thing, check out this link instead.  You may also be interested in Divini Redemptoris (the anti-Soviet encyclical) from just a few days later, which can be accessed at this link.

More about Auschwitz and the Holocaust — Sadly, of course, the Nazis achieved great amounts of destruction before they were defeated in 1945, and that destruction has caused great soul-searching and contemplation among Christians of many stripes.  Should you desire to read more about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, you might check out this link from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.  There’s more on Auschwitz, but at the bottom of the page, there are many links that can also take you elsewhere.

The Toronto Statement of the World Council of Churches — An important contribution of the 20th century to Christian history was the ecumenical movement.  In 1948, at the first meeting of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam, the Council adopted a statement about its self-identity.  But, just a couple of years later, they realized that this statement could lend itself to misunderstanding.  So, they issued the “Toronto Statement” in an attempt to clarify what they meant.  Focus especially on the original statement at the top of the link, and then the numbered theses down the page — they give you the essence of the piece.

A Little More on “Faith and Order” — Various movements helped lead to the World Council of Churches, one of which was the “Faith and Order” movement.  If you’re interested in learning more about it, here is a site that can help you out.

The Lausanne Covenant — Some evangelicals have been wary of joining the WCC, due to doctrinal disagreements with some of the groups involved.  In 1974, more than 2,000 evangelical leaders met in Lausanne, Switzerland, and they agreed upon the so-called “Lausanne Covenant” as an ecumenical document.  Notice here the continued emphasis on evangelization, as well as the many Scriptural references — evangelicals have always been Bible-centered!

The Documents of Vatican II — In the 20th century, the Catholic church finally emerged from its medieval fortress (okay, yes, this is an overgeneralization, but it’s not far off) in the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.  This link is the Vatican’s clearing-house for all the sixteen documents that issued from Vatican II.  Have fun reading Verbum Dei (the constitution on Scripture) in Byelorussian!   But seriously, this is where the official translations exist.  For more general information on the council, along with a summary of some of the documents — a much better place to start, probably — see this link.  (Yes, sometimes Wikipedia is, in fact, the best place to begin.)

Humanae Vitae — One of the most important documents for contemporary church history is the 1968 encyclical of Paul VI condemning the use of artificial birth control.  The reason is that this is a papal teaching that huge swaths of the Catholic church totally ignore, even if they don’t talk about it, and thus it represents the triumph of individual choice over church authority (at least in this regard).  It is a rather long text, but I’d especially encourage you to note the method by which the Pope proceeds in the text: he discusses first the appropriateness of the church to teach on such matters (which some people dispute), then considers some theological topics that come to bear.  He then moves to very practical matters, before proceeding to “pastoral directives,” in which he considers what the implications of this teaching are for various groups.  Whether or not one agrees with the doctrinal content, I find the method quite admirable.

The Expansion of Christianity in Africa — One of the amazing stories of contemporary Christianity is the explosive expansion of Christianity in Africa.  See this link for more information about that expansion, including some very impressive numbers.

Some Views on the Religious Right — An important development in late 20th-century American Christianity was the emergence of the “Moral Majority”/”Religious Right.”  As you probably know, it is extremely difficult to find unbiased sources on the Internet that concern religion.  This site is no exception, as it is not friendly to Jerry Falwell.  However, there are some interesting quotes here.  Notice especially the various ways that Falwell injects God, Christianity, and the Bible into various matters that may or may not obviously require such reference.

A Megachurch Examines Itself — Another important development in American Christianity has been the so-called “megachurches.”  In 2004 the Chicago-area megachurch Willow Creek did a self-examination which they later published (and are marketing) as “REVEAL.”  It provided some really interesting data for them about how their preferred method of church work was and was not assisting its congregants in growing spiritually.  Formerly, they had a link on the relevant website to the data they found, but sadly that link now just takes one to an opportunity to buy the survey that they now administer.  Here is a link to a story about the study, though, which you may find interesting no matter your perspective on megachurches.  This blog entry from the magazine Christianity Today also considers the issue.

Christianity in Russia — The late 20th-century saw seismic changes in the political life of Russia, and those changes have had a major impact on religious life there, too.  This whole issue of Christian History magazine is devoted to the history of Christianity in Russia, and it includes material about the contemporary situation.

Famous preacher photo credit: RobertMWorsham at Wikimedia Commons

Suggested next click: Back to the Links home page

Interesting and Helpful Links

The primary goal of the CHEF network is to be a blessing to “regular folks” by enriching their knowledge and appreciation of the history of Christianity.  One of the ways I hope to accomplish this goal is by providing some web links that might be interesting to you and/or relevant to your own thinking and exploring, depending on what you’re doing with church history.

I’ve got the links organized by time period, including the first two centuries, the early church (or “patristic”) period, the medieval church, the Reformation period, the early modern church (up to 1800), and the contemporary church (after 1800).  Each category is organized more or less chronologically, but you may have your best luck by simply cruising through each section, seeing what might be most intriguing.  And of course, you can search the website with the little magnifying-glass icon in the top right corner.

I hope that these links will be a blessing to you — and as always, don’t hesitate to leave a comment!  Especially helpful things would include any dead links and information about something you’d like to see added.

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