Why Historical Theology?
Many Christians today favour theology ‘textbooks’, or Bible-inspired fiction/non-fiction/biographies, but rarely dive into the riches of what the “church fathers” (a slight misnomer since the church has existed for over a thousand years before Christ’s incarnation) have written in the past 2000 or so years. In my short experience of studying the fathers (a misnomer in itself which needs to be clarified, as the church has existed from the time of Adam till now rather than the common misconception that the church only existed from the Pentecost forward), I have realised that what they write can fundamentally underscore the heart-problems of modern day society. The vast selection of commentaries, books on exegesis and hermeneutics, how-to-guides on money-spending and that sort are problems which have already been extensively spoken of even in A.D. 1st C, after Christ’s ascension. This is by no means undermining the vast wealth of modern Christian literature and resources, but much of todays’ writings are built on a vaster wealth of church history and founded upon the lives and the theology of the fathers who have established the realms of orthodoxy and God-glorifying church traditions. It is through them that we are guarded from the type of false gospels which Paul spoke about in Galatians 1:6, and from reading them one is sharpened by the Word and it is almost impossible not to taste the milk and honey so present in the text of these amazing spiritual forefathers of ours!
However much I would like to savour the fathers’ writings, it is contradictory to our Trinitarian-based community to keep such gold to oneself. Thus, I have decided to provide a table below which includes the important church fathers who contributed with the pen, their most important works (which I recommend for you to read) and brief summaries on the signficant heresies and councils of the time. The list is ever-revising and expanding, with much thanks to N.R. Needham especially for compiling more detailed summaries of Church History (so far in three volumes), but the most important aim is for the reader to indulge themselves into the key writings of the fathers with the Law and Gospel as one’s qualifying text. I hope that during this life-changing endeavour you will increase in theological knowledge and apply it just as equally. In the words of Golden Mouth John (Chrysostom):
“There is nothing colder than a Christian who does not work for the salvation of others. You cannot use poverty as an excuse; the widow who threw in her two small coins will accuse you (Luke 21:2-4). Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3:6). Paul was so poor, he often went hungry and lacked even necessary food (Philippians 4:12). And being lower-class by birth is no excuse either. The apostles were obscure men from obscure families. Or are you uneducated? That is no excuse. The apostles were illiterate (Acts 4:13). Are you weak in body? That is no excuse. Timothy was a person who suffered from frequent illnesses (1 Timothy 5:23). Everyone can serve his neighbour if only he is willing to play his part…
… Don’t tell me, ‘It is impossible for me to influence others.’ If you are a Christian, it is impossible for you not to influence others! Just as the elements that make up your human nature do not contradict each other, so also in this matter – it belongs to the very nature of a Christian that he influences others. So do not offend God. If you say, ‘The sun cannot shine’, you offend Him. If you say, ‘I, a Christian, cannot be of service to others,’ you have offended Him and called Him a liar. It is easier for the sun not to shine than for a Christian not to do so. It is easier for light itself to be darkness than for a Christian not to give light. So don’t tell me it is impossible for you as a Christian to influence others, when it is the opposite which is impossible.” – Homily 20 on the Acts of the Apostles
May God bless you!
TIME PERIODS (all newly updated)
1st to 7th century (Early post-apostolic international church fathers)
7th to 15th century (Middle Ages)
14th to 16th century (Reformation)
How to use the tables
1st to 7th century
The labels on the top are quite self-explanatory, except for “Active Years”, “Trinity”, “Hermeneutics” and perhaps “Heresy” (Note: “Trinity”, “Hermeneutics” and “Heresy” are replaced in the 7th – 15th Century Church History tables):
“Active Years” encompasses the time in which the theologian is alive, OR the time in which the theologian was most active (as some theologians’ life-dates are not provided or clearly recorded).
“Trinity” is something I’ve added as a check-point for particular theologians who have written more extensively on it, contributing to the most important and fundamental understanding of God’s being.
“Hermeneutics” is divided into two types – Alexandrian or Antiochene exegesis, respectively defined (roughly) as allegorical or literal/grammatico-historical readings of Scripture. There are various degrees of course, but some theologians will incline to one more than the other, whereas others will apply both.
Finally, “Heresy” includes the important movements of the respective periods which have resulted in much doctrinal controversy, ranging from mild unbiblical stances to full-blown apostacy/other cultish beliefs.
7th to 15th century
For 7th Century onwards, I have replaced many of the categories above. Namely, this is because “Trinity” is not as hotly debated as before (save the filioque controversy), “Hermeneutics” goes to the back-stage, and what we have instead are “Movements” which include new denominations, religions, heresies and stray beliefs which the term “Heresy” does not cover sufficiently. Furthermore, an additional term “Other” is used because many anonymous documents bearing much theological influence cannot be attached to a particular movement or person.
14th to 16th century
You will realise that the “heresies” are no longer as obvious as they were in the 1st to 7th century period. Most of the controversies will surround “traditional” tried-and-tested doctrine, be that the Eucharist, baptism, questions of Christology and whatnot which have been around for a long time. The document is divided into two sections: the movements surrounding the (approximately) 200 year period of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and the participating theologians on different points of the theological spectrum.