The Progress Of Church History As A Science -- By: Philip Schaff

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 007:25 (Jan 1850)
Article: The Progress Of Church History As A Science
Author: Philip Schaff


The Progress Of Church History As A Science

Professor Philip Schaff

Church History, like every other branch of learning, has its own history, serving to bring its true object and proper method gradually more and more into view. It may throw some light on the nature of the science, and at the same time assist our sense of the necessary qualifications of a church historian, to trace its progress from the beginning down to the present time. In this sketch we shall pay particular attention to the Protestant historians.

I. Historians Before The Reformation

§1. The Fathers

Here, as in all other departments of theology, the Greek church leads the way. Leaving out of view the Acts of the Apostles by

Luke, and the five lost books of Ecclesiastical Memoirs by Hegesippus, a Jewish Christian writer of the second century, the title ‘father of church history’ belongs undoubtedly to Eusebius († 340), the learned and truth-loving bishop of Caesarea. In his church history, which reaches in ten books to the year 324, he has made faithful use of the libraries of his friend Pamphilus of Caesarea and Alexander bishop of Jerusalem, the canonical and apocryphal writings, the works of the disciples, of the apostles, the apologists and oldest church fathers, including many valuable documents which have since perished.”1 Less worthy of confidence is his biography of Constantine the Great; he was too much blinded by the favors which this emperor had shown towards the church, not to sacrifice the character of the historian frequently to that of the panegyrist. He was followed and continued in the fifth century, first by two jurists of Constantinople; Socrates, who carried forward the history of the church, in seven books, from the beginning of Constantine’s reign (306) to the year 439, in unpretending, often careless style, but without prejudice and with more critical tact than Eusebius; and Hermias Sozomenus, of Palestine, whose nine books embrace the same period (323–423), but have more respect to monasticism, of which he was an enthusiastic admirer. Then comes Theodoret, bishop of Cyrusy who wrote his work, in five books (from 325–429), about the year 450, and excels both the last named in style and richness of matter. In his Lives of Thirty Hermits however (φιλόθεος ἱστορία), he relates in part the most marvellous events of his heroes, without leaving the least room for doubt. While all these writers belonged to the Catholic church, Phi...

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