General Introduction To Church History -- By: Philip Schaff

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 006:23 (Aug 1849)
Article: General Introduction To Church History
Author: Philip Schaff


General Introduction To Church History

Professor Philip Schaff

§ 1. The Idea Of History In General

The object of this General Introduction is, to come to a clear understanding of the nature and purpose of church history, and thus to gain the proper position for the contemplation of its details. A full insight into it can be reached indeed only at the close of the historical course; for the best definition of church history is the thing itself. But some preliminary explanation is still very important, at least to know what we propose in some measure, and to serve as a directory to the study of particulars. Our best course will be to resolve this compound conception into its two constituent parts, and so to inquire first what history is in general, and then what the church is, which will lead of itself to the true idea of church history.

By History in the objective sense, we understand the sum of what has happened, or more strictly expressed, of all that pertains to the life of humanity and enters essentially into its development. History in the subjective sense, is the apprehension and representation of what has thus taken place, by means of language.1 The value of the last

depends throughout on the degree in which it is a true copy of the first, and thus presupposes that the historian has freely surrendered himself to his object, brings it to a living reproduction in his spirit, and is concerned only to be a faithful mirror of what has taken place, or to make its representation answerable exactly to its actual occurrence.

History, in the objective sense, of which mainly we have to speak, is not an outward aggregate of names, dates, and deeds, more or less accidental, without fixed plan or sure purpose, but a living organism, whose parts are inwardly joined together in the way of mutual need and complement. All nations form but a single family, having the same origin and destination; and all periods are only the different ages of its life, which is throughout one and the same. History stands moreover under the conduct of Divine providence, proceeds on an eternal, unchangeable plan, and is carried forward accordingly, in the irresistible necessity, to a definite end. This end is the same with that of the creation in general, the glorification of God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of the world, through the free worship of his intelligent creatures, whose highest blessedness at the same time flows from this worship.

We must look upon history thus, as the product always of two different factors. The last and highest factor is God himself, in whom we “liv...

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