The Dial/Volume 15/Number 170/Church History Re-Edited



Church History Re-Edited.[1]


Obviously, the late learned Professor of Church History in the University of Kiel used, as the basis of his work now appearing for the benefit of English readers in an octavo volume entitled " History of the Christian Church, a. d. 1-600," the notes for his accustomed lectures. The original skeleton with which his lectures began can be readily differentiated from notes added from year to year as the same lectures have been delivered to successive classes of students at Kiel. How thorough and how entertaining the lectures must have been, the book shows. One can imagine how each of the parenthetical references, interspersed in great profusion throughout the volumes, has been made to remind the lecturer of an illustrative incident that has lost none of its effectiveness in the telling. Lecture notes, however, require much emendation and rearrangement as well as expansion to render them readable in a printed volume, and to give English readers the benefit of his profound knowledge, the learned author of Kiel needed, quite as much as a translator, a careful editor, who could separate from the text the explanatory parentheses and citations of authorities and relegate them to their proper place as footnotes or appendices. As it is, we have upon each page a confused mass of text, explanatory notes, and references to authorities, interspersed with parentheses in some cases of such length as to cause the reader to lose the thread of the narrative, the whole making the reading exceedingly laborious. The variety of types used in printing the book, Roman capitals and lower case, italics, and full-faced letters, tends to still greater confusion. It is evident that the full-faced letters are resorted to for emphasis. The reason for setting up the text in small pica with paragraphs here and there in bourgeois is not so evident. The book does not justify its appearance at this time either by adding newly discovered facts in history to those known to students in theology, or by presenting the old matter in any new light. The author's deductions are those likely to be most acceptable to ultra-Protestant Germany. As a text-book, the work will probably be useful, its chief value consisting in its exhaustive bibliography. Certainly its style is not calculated to popularize the study of Church History, or (to borrow a phrase from the author's preface) "to animate delight in that study." The present volume was intended to be the first of three to take up that number of great epochs of Church History. Whether or not the author's death (since Easter, 1891, the date of his preface) has interrupted the preparation of the subsequent volumes does not appear.
A book-buyer might be led by the title of Professor Ramsay's recent book "The Church in the Roman Empire before A. D. 170 " and by its general appearance (it is an octavo of 480 pages with an index) to expect a narrative history of a certain phase of the early church promising much of deep interest in its development. Such a one would probably be surprised, without being disappointed, upon finding in the volume an exemplification of "the method of applying archaeological, topographical, and numismatic evidence to the investigation of early Christian History." The volume bears as a somewhat misleading sub-title, "Mansfield College Lectures." The six lectures delivered at Mansfield College, Oxford, in 1892, form, indeed, the basis of the book, but these lectures (themselves almost entirely re-written) include a chapter expanded from a lecture delivered at Cambridge in 1889, and are preceded by a long excursus (divided into eight chapters) upon "St. Paul in Asia Minor." Therein the author supplements and corrects Conybeare and Howson and Dean Farrar in their biographies of St. Paul, from a topographical study of Asia Minor, and he even corrects his own previously published "Historical Geography." He shows a like frankness in the manner in which he celebrates, in his preface, his breaking away from the German critics whom he followed for years with much interest and zeal, and whose results he accepted. In recent years, and with a better understanding of Roman history, he has realized that it is a gross outrage on criticism to hold most of the books of the New Testament for second-century forgeries. Much of the work before us is directed towards this point.
Dr. Hurst's volume, "Short History of the Christian Church," would take up nearly the same amount of shelf-room as Dr. Moeller's, but it contains about a hundred pages more of text, besides statistical appendices and indices. Its typographical arrangement, however, is not so compact as that of the former volume, and if pains were taken to estimate the exact amount of verbal matter in each, it would probably be found that there was little difference. Assuming this result, it is interesting to note that Dr. Hurst attempts to give a comprehensive view of nineteen centuries of Christian history in a space equal to that which Dr. Moeller requires for setting forth six centuries. To the early Church, Dr. Hurst assigns a century and a half more than Dr. Moeller, and devotes 102 pages. His avowed purpose is to popularize the study of religious history. The qualifying part of the title to his work, in such a case, is made important. The author frankly tells us how he has prepared this volume. Its five divisions are a careful re-arrangement and re-writing of five short histories by which he is already known to a certain class of readers. In the re-arrangement and re-writing, it seems to have escaped the author's attention that the rather confused view of a very disorganized Christianity presented in the latter part of his volume is wholly inconsistent with the definition of the visible Church with which he sets out. "The visible Church," says he, "consists of the organized believers in Christ and the followers of his life." We should be justified in expecting a "short history " of the Christian Church to keep this definition in view, so that the Church might be clearly identified in every period of its history. Certain phrases used by the author, e. g., "the Evangelical Protestant Church," "Evangelical Christianity," and "the aggressive sisterhood of Protestant Churches," imply a reaching out after a term which shall be comprehensive of—something, and yet non-committal as to the theories of the visible Church held by Latin or Anglican theologians ; though he repeatedly makes the blunder, common among ultra-Protestant writers, of calling the Church of Rome, its adherents, and its principles, "Catholic,"—a sweeping concession of every claim the Church of Rome makes. The author would have avoided many difficulties in the way of writing a short history of the Church from his standpoint, had he entitled his work a "Short History of Christianity." The chapters in the fifth division of his volume, devoted to a score or more of fantastic sects in no sense connected with the Church as he defines it, would not then appear so incongruous.
An accurate terminology, however, does not seem to be a strong point with this distinguished writer. The words "sect" and "schism" are used as though convertible terms. "Theotokos" is defined as "God-born" on page 52, and as "Mother of God" on page 386. The term "Roman Catholic " is used under circumstances which render it utterly meaningless. We are seriously told that, at a certain period of his life, Luther was "a firm and full believer in the one Roman Catholic Church." Again (p. 247) "Henry's [VIII.] real purpose was a National Roman Catholic Church with himself at the head"; and (p. 262) mention is made of the desire of the French " for a National Roman Catholic Church." How such combinations of antagonistic Church polities could possibly have been accomplished, even in the mind of a theorist, it would be interesting to know. Furthermore, omitting all reference to the origin of the term "Protestant" (a serious omission even in a short history of the Reformation), and failing to define the same, it is applied long before the occasion for its use arose, and indiscriminately afterwards, even to a class of modern religionists of the Baltic Provinces who have been deprived of privileges which the Czar of Russia seems to have it in his power to restore. This confusion of terms appears to result from confused ideas on certain essential historical points. Be that as it may, it is sure to lead to confused ideas in those who would derive their historical information from this book. If "the Church of the Past " is to be made "a wise instructor for the Church of the Future," it is not only necessary that the events of history be accurately known by those who have the "true historical instinct," but also that they be accurately related. Granted that Dr. Hurst is not deficient in his knowledge of events, it is unfortunate that we should find him "nodding" so frequently when he comes to relate these events. We are surprised that some of the errors (of which we may cite the following as an example) should have evaded detection. It was not to escape the general persecution under Herod Agrippa, a. d. 44, that "the Christians took refuge in Pella, beyond the Jordan" (p. 17), but in immediate anticipation of the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Titus, a. d. 70. That important event is altogether erroneously narrated in the sentences immediately following the statement we have just corrected :

"Bar-cochba led a final popular Jewish revolt against

the Roman authority, a. d.. 132, but was defeated by Julius Sever us, and Jerusalem became a heap of ruins. The Roman emperor Hadrian tried to destroy the attachment of the Christians to the sacred associations of the city by erecting on Calvary a temple to Venus, and,

over the Holy Sepulchre, a statue to Jupiter. But his efforts, while pleasing to the Jews, had no material effect."

It is scarcely necessary to give a correct account of these events, so well known is it to readers of history. It was the insult offered by Hadrian to the religion of the Jews, in settling a Roman colony on the site of the Holy City which had been destroyed sixty-two years previously, that incited the revolt of Bar-cochba. Hadrian's establishment of the city of Ælia Capitolina on the foundations of Jerusalem, and a temple of Jupiter on Mount Zion, were very far from pleasing to the Jews, and to the Roman city the Christians, who had been expelled by Titus, were freely admitted with the first of their Gentile Bishops.
The utility of the work is seriously marred by omissions, of which a long list might be given. The organized existence of the Church of England in the fourth century, independent of the See of Rome, having been frankly admitted, the means by which Rome gained the supremacy, the continued protests of the Church of England against the same, and the part taken by that Church in the Reformation, are entitled to some attention. A paragraph is certainly inadequate treatment of the Council of Trent, even in a short history, and the omission of all mention of the Creed of Pius IV., and the consequent failure to define modern Romanism, are scarcely excusable. In relation to the Vatican Council of 1869 (which the author incautiously concedes to have been œcumenical), a magnificent opportunity for a clear statement of the decree of Infallibility is ignored. Such a statement would have conveyed information on a subject often referred to but popularly little known.
The suggestion of so many omissions might be taken to imply that the work should have been extended at the cost of its qualified title. On the contrary, however, the book would have been greatly improved by a regard for the rules of proportion, and the consequent omission of much of its present contents. The references to hymnody are so filled with errors and are so inadequate, and a half-dozen or so chapters upon Missions, Religious Literature, and cognate subjects are so partial, that the space they occupy might have been used to better advantage in the treatment of more important historical subjects. The author's prefatory misgivings regarding his treatment of the various American denominations are well founded, and suggest that the considerable portion of Part V., devoted to not very satisfactory sketches of about thirty different denominations, might have been profitably replaced by a comprehensive view of Christianity in America. A general re-arrangement of the chapters would have been of great advantage. The present derangement (of which let this serve as a sample : In Part II., Arnold of Brescia is treated of in Chapter XVI., Abelard, who was his teacher, is treated of in Chapter XXVIII.) is calculated to mislead readers as to the chronological order of the events narrated.
If we have been somewhat explicit in pointing out the shortcomings of this work, it is because we agree with the author, "that the popular taste for the condensed treatment of the secular sciences can be safely applied to the domain of Theological Science, and to no department with greater hope of success than to Historical Theology." We regret, however, that this book falls far short of. serving that popular taste as it should, and fails of being of educational value to the constantly increasing number of students of Church History.
Mr. Cole's contribution to ecclesiastico-his- torical literature, "The Anglican Church," is a monograph with a definite aim in view, thereby giving it a decided advantage over the much more pretentious works above reviewed. It is a modest duodecimo of 110 pages, containing a catena of proofs of the facts implied in the title, viz. that the Christian Faith was early introduced into the British Isles and has been continuously maintained therein. Its argument is for the identity of the present Church of England with the organized Church which Dr. Hurst admits was represented at the Council of Aries. It is an argument against both Romanists and Protestants, who, in the face of such historic facts as Magna Charta, refer the origin of the English Church to the time of Henry VIII. The book has all the elements of popularity save one. Its arguments are too convincing to meet with favor from those whose minds are made up against the claims of the Church of England to Catholicity limited only by nationality.

Arthur Howard Noll.


  1. History of the Christian Church, a. d. 1-600. By the late Dr. Wilhelm Moeller, Professor Ordinarius of Church-History in the University of Kiel. Translated from the German by Andrew Rutherford, B.D. New York : Macmillan & Co.
    The Church in the Roman Empire Before a. d. 170. By W. M. Ramsay, M.A., Professor of Humanity in the University of Aberdeen; formerly Professor of Classical Archaeology, and Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. With maps and illustrations. New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons.
    Short History of the Christian Church. By John Fletcher Hurst, D.D., LL.D. With maps. New York : Harper & Bros.
    The Anglican Church ; or, The Introduction and Continuity of the Christian Faith in the British Isles. By the Rev. Robert Henry Cole, B.D. New York : James Pott & Co.