A Century of Church History: The Legacy of Philip Schaff

A Century of Church History: The Legacy of Philip Schaff

A Century of Church History: The Legacy of Philip Schaff

A Century of Church History: The Legacy of Philip Schaff


In commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of the American Society of Church History, this monumental compilation of historiographical scholarship calls on 10 eminent specialists to review significant achievements that over the past century have shaped current understanding of the multifaceted church.

The book inevitably honors the memory of Philip Schaff, the great 19th century church historian who laid the foundations of the discipline in America and in 1888 founded the ASCH. In examining the major subfields of church history, many of which Schaff pioneered himself in the U. S., the essayists explore such topics as early Christianity, the medieval church, the Reformation, American religious liberty, creeds and liturgies, and ecumenism.

The anthology includes David W. Lotz, "Philip Schaff and the Idea of Church History"; Robert M. Kingdon, "Reformation Studies"; John F. Wilson, "Civil Authority and Religious Freedom in America: Philip Schaff on the United States as a Christian Nation"; and Aidan Kavanagh, "Liturgical and Credal Studies"; Henry W. Bowden, "The First Century: Institutional Development and Ideas about the Profession"; Glenn F. Chesnut, "A Century of Patristic Studies, 1888- 1988"; Bernard McGinn, "The Gold of Catholicity": Reflections on a Century of American Study of Medieval Church History"; Jay P. Dolan, "Immigration and American Christianity: A History of Their Histories"; Gerald H. Anderson, "To the Ends of the Earth: American Protestants in Pursuit of Mission"; and John T. Ford, "Ecumenical Studies."

The topics addressed in this book are the major concerns of church history today. The essays provide a critical survey of major developments in the different fields over the past century, discussing the scholars and publications that brought new information to light or changed the general understanding of church history by contributing fresh interpretations. In bringing readers up to date in church history by surveying benchmark contributions in each of the special areas surveyed, the contributors seek to orient historians and stimulate colleagues toward further investigation of a common past.

A common thread running through all of these essays, Bowden notes, "is the recognition that we are heirs to a major change in historical self-understanding. Over the course of a century we have moved from views where history taught lessons of exclusivist rectitude to an appreciation of shared heritage and mutual development." Two appendixes provide extensive historical data about the society itself.


Jaroslav Pelikan

How our past has understood its past is an important component in our understanding of the past--and therefore in our understanding of ourselves. As this is true of literature, politics, and the arts, so it applies a fortiori to the understanding of Christianity, rooted as it is in a special concern with history. Having been a member of the American Society of Church History for just under half of its total history and having had the privilege of serving as its president in 1965, I am honored by the invitation to contribute this Foreword to the distinguished collection of essays by my friends and colleagues, and in the process to lay my own wreath at the monument to the genius of Philip Schaff.

The history of Christianity as an academic discipline is itself relatively short, having come into being not in the Reformation, as is sometimes supposed, but in the Enlightenment; thus the American Society of Church History has been in existence for roughly one-third of that history. For despite the Acts of the Apostles, it is by no means obvious that the imperatives of the Christian faith lead to an interest in the history of the church. Most of us who teach (and defend) that interest have at one time or another quoted the words of Psalm 143:5, "I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the works of thy hands," to justify it. Those words have stood, in one language or another, on the pages of everyone's Psalter throughout the centuries, but not everyone has drawn from them the conclusion that the chronological review of the history of the church, with its institutions, practices, and beliefs, is a key to the understanding of the church and the gospel. in fact, the opening words of what is usually identified as "the first church history," the Ecclesiastical History ofEusebius of Caesarea, make it clear that his primary apologetic and polemical Tendenz was just the opposite: to demonstrate that the history of heresy was a record of "novelty-mongering [kainotomia]," while the authentic Christian message was characterized by "continuity [diadoche]." Even if one does not go so far as to accept the judgment of Jacob Burckhardt that Eusebius was "the first thoroughly dishonest historian in antiquity," a critical study of the Ecclesiastical History does show an almost obsessive attention to "continuity"--of bishops in their succession from the apostles of institutions such as monasticism (to the point of claiming . . .

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