Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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

Article excerpt

Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in NineteenthCentury America. By Elizabeth A. Clark. [Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion.] (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2011. Pp. x, 561. $69.95. ISBN 978-0-8122-4319-2.)

Founding the Fathers explores the earliest decades of church history as an academic discipline in American higher education. Elizabeth Clark, a distinguished historian of early Christianity (with its largely German early historiography), tells this story about now-forgotten American church historians who, for complex cultural reasons, develop an interest in the early church but stand at a critical distance from the German tradition that shaped later American scholarship. Her book carefully examines and critiques the nineteenth-century American tradition, showing that "scholarly assumptions and personal convictions" would need to be "modified or abandoned" in order for "a more advanced level of education in religious and theological studies [to] flourish in America" (p. 346). There is an intriguing triangulation happening in this account: as an American historian of early Christianity, Clark very much stands generationally downstream from her subjects, even while she and her profession have in many ways disowned them in favor of a German genealogy.

Clark's principal concern is the formation of early Christian history as a scholarly discipline, and her work provides new material for understanding the seminary roots of higher education in America. She makes a compelling case that her story can be told through the careers of six church historians at four Protestant theological institutions: Samuel Miller at Princeton; Henry Smith, Roswell Hitchcock, and Philip Schaff at Union; George Fisher at Yale; and Ephraim Emerton at Harvard. As a cohort, they recognized the importance of German scholarship for historical study even while most rejected the radical implications of German ideas. …

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