Early Church History Book List

Some Good Books on the Early Church…

Occasionally I get asked about good books to read on the early church.  Here are a couple of handfuls that are interesting, sometimes surprising, and that I have found both helpful for myself and for students.  I have tried to include some good introductions and surveys, some classics, and some on particular topics (monastic development, worship, social patterns, philosophical and theological developments, women, war and the military, the saints, the church and the empire).   Some to start with: Wilkins, Greer, Chadwick, Hall.

Bondi, R.  To Love as God Loves.  An attempt to translate the monastic sensibility into modern terms.

Bradshaw, P. F.  Daily Prayer in the Early Church.  Instructive on the “office” of daily prayer, and its development in lay and monastic contexts.

Brown, Peter.  The World of Late Antiquity, The Cult of the Saints, The Body and Society, Augustine of Hippo (now in a second edition).  Anything by Brown is worth reading. 

Chadwick, H.  The Early Church, Christianity and Classical Culture, The Church in Ancient Society, and many more…always good.  A good place to start.

Chitty, D.  The Desert a City.  On the hermit’s community.

Dodds, E. R. Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety.  An older treatment of philosophical and psychological character of the age.

Fox, R. L. Pagans and Christians.  One of those, possibly, monumental studies.

Grant. R.  Early Christianity and Society, The Greek Apologists of the Second Century

Greer, R.  Broken Lights and Mended Lives.  An illuminating reconstruction of the meaning of patristic theology in the lives of early Christian.  Another good place to start.

Hall, G. Stuart. Doctrine and Practice n the Early Church.  A good short introduction.

Helgeland, J. Daly, R. J. and Burns, J. P. Christians and the Military

Jaeger, W.  Early Christianity and Greek Paideia.  On the Christian transformation of ancient education, and the practical purpose of speculative theology.

Jungman, J.A.  The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer.  Brings the early liturgy into living relation to the Gospel.

Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christina Doctrines.  Older but still useful, like Prestige below.

Louth. A.  The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition.  Theological and philosophical exploration of one form of Christian experience.

MacMullen, R.  Christianizing the Roman Empire.  Revising our understanding of the Church and the Empire, and their mutual interpenetration.

Malherbe, A.  Social Aspects of Christianity, Paul and the Popular Philosophers.  These gives us something about how Paul, in particular, related to the social and intellectual patterns of his day.

Meeks, W.  The First Urban Christian.  On the earliest Christians, and how the developed a new community.

Pagels, E.  Adam, Eve and the Serpent, or The Gnostic Gospels.  A problematic approach to the third and fourth centuries, but it has been popular beyond the classroom.

Pelikan, J.  The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1. The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism, The Excellent Empire and the Fall of the Church. Pelikan is one of the most prolific and insightful historical theologians of all times.  He has many others. One handy introduction to the history of the church as a whole is his The Melody of Theology.  

Prestige, G  L.  God in Patristic Thought.  Along with his Fathers and Heretics, an older set well worth considering.

Rudolf, K.  Gnosis: The Nature and Meaning of Gnosticism.  A summary work of a delicate subject.  One of the standards.

Thursten, B.  The Widows: A Women’s Ministry in the Early Church.  Just one of the good works on the place of women in ministry of the Church.

Trigg, J. W. Origen: The Bible and Prophecy in the Third Century Church

Wilkins, R. L.  The Spirit of Early Christian Thought. One of the more recent—inspiring.

Steve Varvis

Department of History

Fresno Pacific University