Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church is normally considered one of the definitive Church history texts. One of the features which makes it very interesting is that during Schaff’s career there were many developments in biblical and historical scholarship. His extensive bibliographies survey many of the major works of his time. The revisions to his work, conducted throughout the second half of the 19th century, likewise trace the development of scholarly opinion.
Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church (The Complete Eight Volumes in One). Amazon Kindle Edition, 2014.
Volume 1, Apostolic Christianity A.D. 1-100, Loc. 125-12,025.
Preface to the Revised Edition (1882).
Schaff took up the revision of his church history some thirty years after the original publication. In the revision process the first volume grew into two.
Preface to the First Edition (1858).
The Ante Nicene period “presents a state of primitive simplicity and purity unsullied by contact with the secular power, but with this also, the fundamental forms of heresy and corruption, which reappear from time to time under new names and aspects, but which must serve, in the overruling providence of God, to promote the cause of truth and righteousness” (Schaff 2014, Loc. 160). Schaff’s attempt is to keep the work of Christ in his people prominent in his study of Church history (Schaff 2014, Loc. 173).
Preface to the Third Revision (1890).
Schaff has been involved in numerous revisions of his work, trying to keep up with the growth of scholarship. This is his last full revision (Schaff 2014, Loc. 191).
A General Introduction begins with a bibliography (Schaff 2014, Loc. 195).
§1. Nature of Church History (Schaff 2014, Loc. 217).
We can look at history as a divine revelation of God’s work in time or as a human biography. Schaff cautions against overlooking the divine as we study history. “Secular history, far from controlling sacred history, is controlled by it, must directly or indirectly subserve its ends, and can only be fully understood in the central light of Christian truth and the plan of salvation” (Schaff 2014, Loc. 235). Schaff divides church history into both the objective view, in which we identify the facts of the person of Jesus, and the subjective, in which we try to describe the progress of God’s kingdom in the inward life (Schaff 2014, Loc. 254).
§2. Branches of Church History (Schaff 2014, Loc. 275).
Church history has several branches. Missions (Schaff 2014, Loc. 285) reviews the spread of Christianity. Studies of persecution are common (Schaff 2014, Loc. 298). Church history and government are a common study (Schaff 2014, Loc. 325). So also is history of worship or liturgy (Schaff 2014, Loc. 327). Some have studied Christian life, or morality (Schaff 2014, Loc. 334). Another branch is history of theology, which can be divided into the various theological categories (Schaff 2014, Loc. 336).
§3 Sources of Church History (Schaff 2014, Loc. 351).
Schaff observes that we have both written and unwritten sources of church history with the unwritten ones mostly being works of art (Schaff 2014, Loc. 320).
§4. Periods of Church History (Schaff 2014, Loc. 380). While a strict year-by-year study has been tried, it does not always work. Breaking study into large divisions and finding natural boundaries of various movements is more productive (Schaff 2014, Loc. 388). In general there is agreement on a division of ancient, medieval, and modern periods (Schaff 2014, Loc. 395). Schaff gives some basic parameters of each.
§5. Uses of Church History (Schaff 2014, Loc. 475).
Theology has to draw upon church history. It is what supplies all the other disciplines with the source material they need. It also provides illustrations of God’s work to different ages (Schaff 2014, Loc. 490).
§6. Duty of the Historian (Schaff 2014, Loc. 497).
The historian is a witness, telling the truth, mastering sources, selecting and examining them responsibly, and composing an account of living things from a deeply Christian point of view.
§7. Literature of Church History (Schaff 2014, Loc. 570).
Schaff provides additional bibliography and discusses the changes in outlook in different generations of writing. As he reaches more modern authors he gives more detailed summaries of style and content.