Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America

Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America

Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America

Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America

Synopsis

Through their teaching of early Christian history and theology, Elizabeth A. Clark contends, Princeton Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, and Union Theological Seminary functioned as America's closest equivalents to graduate schools in the humanities during the nineteenth century. These four Protestant institutions, founded to train clergy, later became the cradles for the nonsectarian study of religion at secular colleges and universities. Clark, one of the world's most eminent scholars of early Christianity, explores this development in Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America.

Based on voluminous archival materials, the book charts how American theologians traveled to Europe to study in Germany and confronted intellectual currents that were invigorating but potentially threatening to their faith. The Union and Yale professors in particular struggled to tame German biblical and philosophical criticism to fit American evangelical convictions. German models that encouraged a positive view of early and medieval Christianity collided with Protestant assumptions that the church had declined grievously between the Apostolic and Reformation eras. Trying to reconcile these views, the Americans came to offer some counterbalance to traditional Protestant hostility both to contemporary Roman Catholicism and to those historical periods that had been perceived as Catholic, especially the patristic era.

Excerpt

The question is, What is involved in the transformation of
a field of studies into a discipline?

—Hayden White (1982)

Founding the Fathers explores how the study of early Christian history and theology became instantiated as a discipline in four nineteenth-century Protestant seminaries in the United States: Princeton Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, and Union Theological Seminary. Although these four began in differing degrees as sectarian outposts—Princeton, Union, and Yale variously represented the Reformed (i.e., Calvinist) branch of Protestantism, while renegade Harvard “defected” from Congregationalism to Unitarianism early in the century—they functioned for most of this period as America’s closest equivalent to graduate schools in the Humanities. I track their hesitant transition from institutions of ministerial training to distinguished centers of advanced education that pioneered scholarship on early Christianity.

Founding the Fathers is based on the documentary records and published writings of six nineteenth-century professors of church history: Samuel Miller of Princeton; Henry Smith, Roswell Hitchcock, and Philip Schaff of Union; George Fisher of Yale; and Ephraim Emerton of Harvard. Their and their students’ class notes, an underutilized resource, reveal the infrastructural and pedagogical difficulties they faced: inadequate textbooks and libraries, students untutored in history, few colleagues (from zero to four) with whom to organize a theological curriculum, and new methods of . . .

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