Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

From Dogma to History: How Our Understanding of the Early Church Developed

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

From Dogma to History: How Our Understanding of the Early Church Developed

Article excerpt

Ancient From Dogma to History: How Our Understanding of the Early Church Developed. By William H. C. Frend. (London: SCM Press. 2003. Pp. viii, 212. £12.99 paperback.)

This, William Frend's last book, is a fitting summary of his personal concerns and contributions to the history and archaeology of the early Church. It is as much about the six giants, two German, two French, one Scot, and one Englishman, who particularly influenced his views, as about the development of the modern disciplines of church history and Christian archaeology, whose history he so memorably traced in his 1996 book. His own liberal tendencies and sympathies are evident in the treatment of figures often in dispute with authority, conservatism, and traditionalism, and his own personal reminiscences of two of them add color to his account. His choice, if personal, as he admits, is certainly well justified: it comprises Adolf von Harnack, Hans Lietzmann, Stéphane Gsell, Sir William Ramsay, Louis Duchesne, and Norman Baynes, covering the first six centuries of church history and ranging from armchair historians (von Harnack, Baynes) to full-blown field archaeologists (Gsell, Ramsay) and revealing the fascinating other roles they played. After a characteristic Introduction giving details of his own autobiography, Frend allots a chapter to each scholar, supplying very valuable biographical information, putting each in context, and assessing their careers and contributions. A brief Epilogue, while gloomy about prospects for early church history in British divinity faculties and about the threats facing archaeological sites, notes the rise of interest in Late Antiquity in classics and other departments in Britain, the Commonwealth, and America, and ends on a characteristicall7y optimistic note.

Frend's English background did give him a valuable entrée into both German and French scholarly circles before and during World War II and the ability to be fair to both sides in what emerges as often a nakedly political contest to exclude the rival country (and sometimes Britain as well) from a particular region, such as North Africa. …

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