Arthur Penrhyn Stanley.

Three introductory lectures on the study of ecclesiastical history (Volume Talbot Collection of British Pamphlets) online

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Descbiption of Ecclesiastical History . . .1

I. Its first beginniag . . . . .2

The History of Israel, the first period of the History of
the Church . . , . . .4

Its peculiar interest . • . . .5

Its religious importance . . . .6

II. The History of Cbristendom, the second period of the His-
tory of the Church . . . . .10
Eelations of Civil and Ecclesiastical History . .11
Points of contact between them . . .15
Points of divergence . . . .17
Stages of the History of the Christian Church . . 20

1 . The Transition from the Church of the Apostles to
the Church of the Fathers . . . ib.

2. The Conversion of the Empire. The Eastern
Church . . . . . .22

3. The Invasion of the Barbarians. The Latin
Church . . . . . . 23

4. The Eeformation . . . . ib.
The German, French, and English Chuixh : 26

Conclusion. The late Professor Hussey . .28


Dryness of Ecclesiastical History . . .33

Remedy to be foxind in an Historical Yiew of the Church 34

I. History of Doctrines . . . . .35

II. History of Creeds and Articles . . . .35

III. History of Events and Persons . . .37

General Study . . . . .38

Detailed Study of great Events . . .39

The Councils . . . . ib.



Detailed Study of great Men . . .40

Neander and his History . . .41

Distinction of Characters . . .42

Uses of this Method : —

I. Gradation of Importance in Ecclesiastical

Matters . . . .44

II. Combination of Civil and Ecclesiastical

History . . . .45

III. Caution against Partiality . . 46

IV. Eeference to Original Authorities . 48

Graves of the Covenanters , .50

The Catacombs . . .51
Special Opportunities for this Study : —

I. In the Church of England . . .52

II. In the University of Oxford . . ,54

III. In active Clerical Life . . . .56

Conclusion . . . . . .59


I. Importance of Historical Facts in Theological Study . 62
II. Importance of a General View of Ecclesiastical History 65

III. Use of the Biography of good Men . . .67

IV. Use of the general Authority of the Church . .69
V. Better Understanding of Differences and of Unity . 72

VI. Evidence rendered to the Truth of Christianity , 74
VII. Lessons from the Failings of the Church . . 75
VIII. Comparison of Ecclesiastical History with the Scrip-
tures . . . . , .76
IX. Future Prospect of the History of the Church . . 80
Indications in History . . . .81
Indications in Scripture . . . .82
Conclusion . . . . . .85





When Christian the Pilgrim, in his progress to-
wards the Celestial City, halted by the highway-side
at the Palace of which the name was Beautiful, he
was told, that — " he should not depart till they had
' shewn him the rarities of that place. And first
' they had him into the study, where they shewed
' him records of the greatest antiquity ;" in which
was " the pedigree of the Lord of the hill, the Son

* of the Ancient of Days" " Here also were

' more fully recorded the acts that he had done, and
' the names of many hundreds that he had taken into
' his service ; and how he had placed them in such
' habitations, that could neither by length of days
' nor decays of nature be dissolved. Then they read
' to him some of the worthy acts that some of his
' servants had done ; as how they had subdued
' kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained pro-
' mises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the
' violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword,
' out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant
' in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the
' aliens. Then they read again in another part of

* the records of the house, how willing their Lord


' was to receive in his favour any, even any, though
' they in time past had offered great affronts to his
' person and proceedings. Here also were several
' other histories of other famous things, of all which
' Christian had a view ; as of things both ancient
' and modern, together with prophecies and pre-
' dictions of things that have their certain accom-
'' plishment, both to the dread and amazement of
" enemies, and the comfort and solace of pilgrims."
These simple sentences from the familiar story of
our childhood contain a true description of the
subjects, method, and advantages of the study of
Ecclesiastical History, which I now propose to un-
fold in preparation for the duties which I have been
called to discharge. And with this object, it wdll be
my endeavour in this opening Lecture to reduce to
order the treasures which were shewn to solace and
cheer the Pilgrim on his way, by defining the limits
of the province on which we are about to enter.
Beginning J. First, then, where does Ecclesiastical History

ofEccle- ' ' _ ^

siasticai commcncc ? Shall we begin with the Reformation
— with the framework of religion with which we
ourselves are specially concerned ? Or with the new
birth of Christendom, properly so called, in the
foundation of modern Europe ? Or with the close of
the first century — with the age of those to whom
we accord the name of our '' Fathers" in the Chris-
tian faith ? In a certain sense, each of these periods
maybe taken, and by different classes of men always
will be taken, respectively, as the boundaries of the



history of the Church. But, if we are fixing, not
merely the accidental limits of convenience, but the
true limits involved in the nature of the subject ;
if Ecclesiastical History means the history of the
Church of God ; if that history is one united whole ;
if it cannot be understood without embracing within
its range the history of the events, of the persons,
of the ideas which have had the most lasting, the
most powerful effect on every stage of its course,
— we must ascend far higher in the stream of time
than the sixteenth, or the fifth, or the second cen-
tury, beyond the Reformers, beyond the Popes,
beyond the Fathers.

.... Far in the dim distance of primeval ages, Caiiof
is discerned the first figure in the long succession
which has never since been broken, — in Ur of the
Chaldees, the Patriarchal chief, followed by his train
of slaves and retainers, surrounded by his herds of
camels and asses, moving westward and southward
he knew not whither, drawn on by a mighty des-
tiny big with the hopes of ages, — the first Father
of the universal Church, — Abraham, the Founder of
the Chosen People, the Father of the faithful, whose
seed was to be as the sand upon the sea-shore, as
the stars for multitude.

Earlier manifestations doubtless there had been
of faith and hope ; in other countries also, than
Mesopotamia or Palestine, there were yearnings
after a higher world. But the call of Abraham is
the first beginning of a continuous growth ; in his



charactei', in his migTation, in liis faith was bound
up, as the Christian Apostle well describes, all that
has since formed the substance and fibre of the
history of the Church.
The His- FroHi this point, then, we start, and from this shall
Israel, the be prepared to enter on the history of the people of
of Ecci™ Israel, as the true beginning and prototype of the
History. Christian Church. So in old times it was ever held ;
to the Apostolic age it could not be otherwise ; even
Eusebius, writing for a special purpose, is con-
strained to commence his work by going back
(almost in the words with which I opened this lec-
ture) to "records of the greatest antiquity, shewing
the pedigree of the Son of the Ancient of days,"
both divine and human ; and, in spite of the ever-
increasing materials of later times, the elder dispen-
sation has been included, actually or by implication,
in some of the greatest works on Ecclesiastical His-
tory. So it must be in the nature of the case, how-
ever much, for the sake of convenience or perspi-
cuity, we may divide and subdivide what is in itself
one whole. Speaking religiously, the history of the
Christian Church can never be separated from the
life of its Divine Founder, and that life cannot be
separated from the previous history, of which it was
the culmination, the explanation, the fulfilment.
Speaking philosophically, the history of the re-
ligious thoughts and feelings of Europe cannot
be understood without a full appreciation of the
thoughts and feelings of that Semitic race which


found their highest expression in the history of the
Jewish nation.

Nor is it only for the sake of a mere formal com-
pleteness that we must thus combine the old and the
new in our historical studies. Consider well what its peculiar

,,. . 1 r- 1 1 ' 1 Ti interest.

that history is, — what a field it opens, what light it
receives, what light it gives, by the mere fact of being
so regarded. Of all histories, it is not only the most
sacred, it is also (if one may use the expression) the
most historical. So far from being exempt from the
laws of gradual progress and development to which
the history of other nations is subject, it is the most
remarkable exemplification of those laws. In no
people does the history move forward in so regular
a course, through beginning, middle, and end, as in
the people of Israel. In none are the beginning,
middle, and end so clearly distinguished, each from
each. In none has the beginning so natural and so
impressive a preparation, as that formed by the age
of the patriarchs. In none do the various stages of
the history so visibly lead the way to the consum-
mation, which, however truly it may be regarded as
the opening of a new order, is yet no less truly the
end of the old. And nowhere does the final con-
summation more touchingly linger in the close, more
solemnly break away into new forms and new life,
than in the last traces of the efi^ects of the Jewish
race on the Apostolic age.

The form, too, of the sacred books of the Old
Testament is one of all others most attractive to


the historical student. Out of a great variety of
documents, sometimes contemporaneous, sometimes
posthumous, sometimes regular narratives, some-
times isolated fragments, is to be constructed the
picture of events, persons, manners most diverse.
The style and language, of primitive abruptness,
pregnant with meaning, is eminently suggestive.
The historical annals are combined with rich and
constant illustration, from what in secular literature
would be called the poets and orators of the nation.
There is everything to stimulate research, even did
these remains contain no more than the merely
human interest which attaches to the records of any
great and ancient people.
Its reii- But the SOUS of Isracl, as we all know, are much
portariMin morc than this. They are, literally, our spiritual
^thchris- ancestors : their imagery, their poetry, their very
tmn His- jj^jjjgg have desccndcd to us ; their hopes, their
prayers, their Psalms are ours. In their religious
life we see the analogy of ours ; in the gradual,
painful, yet sure unfolding of divine truth to them,
we see the likeness of the same light dawning slowly
on the Christian Church. They are truly ' our en-
samples.' Through the reverses, the imperfections,
the errors, the sins of His ancient Church, we see
how " God at sundry times and in divers manners
spake in time past to our fathers," bringing out of
all the highest of all blessings, as we trust that He
may still through like vicissitudes to the Church of
the present and to the Church of the future.


Political principles, we are told, are best studied
in the history of classical antiquity, because they
are there discussed and illustrated with a perfect ab-
straction from those particular associations which
bias our judgment in modern and domestic in-
stances. And so, in a still higher degree, in the
history of the Jewish Church we find the princi-
ples of all religious and ecclesiastical parties de-
veloped not amidst names and events, which are
themselves the subjects of vehement controversy,
but in a narrative of acknowledged authority, free
from all the bitterness of modern watchwords, and
yet with a completeness and variety such as within
the same compass could be found in no modern
church or nation.

Reproduce this history with all the detail of which
it is capable. Recall Abraham resting under the oak
of Mamre ; Joseph amidst the Egyptian monu-
ments ; Moses under the cliffs of Horeb ; Joshua
leaning on his outstretched spear ; Samuel amidst
his youthful scholars; David surrounded by his
court and camp ; Solomon in his eastern state ;
the wild, romantic, solitary figure of the great
Elijah; "the goodly fellowship" of gifted seers,
lifting up their strains of joy or sorrow, as they
have been well described, like some great tragic
chorus, as kingdom after kingdom falls to ruin, as
hope after hope dies and is revived again. Represent
in all their distinctness the several stages of the
historv, in its stead v onward advance from Egypt


to Sinai, from Sinai to the Jordan, from the Jor-
dan to Jerusalem, from the Law to the Judges,
from the Judges to the Monarchy, from the Mo-
narchy to the Prophets, from the Prophets to the
great event to which not the Prophets only, but
the yearnings of the whole nation had for ages
borne witness.

Let us not fear lest our reverence should be
diminished by finding these sacred names and high
aspirations under the garb of Bedouin chiefs, and
Egyptian slaves, and Oriental kings, and Syrian
patriots. The contrast of the ancient inward spirit
with the present degraded condition of the same
outward forms is the best indication of the source
from whence that spirit came. Let us not fear lest
we should, by the surpassing interest of the story
of the elder Church, be tempted to forget the end
to which it leads us. The more we study the
Jewish histor)^, the more shall we feel that it is but
the prelude of a vaster and loftier history, without
which it would be itself unmeaning. The voice of
the Old dispensation is pitched in too loud a key^
for the ears of one small people. The place of the
Jewish nation is too strait for the abode of thoughts
which want a wider room in which to dwell. The
drama, as it rolls on through its successive stages,
is too majestic to end in anything short of a di-
vine catastrophe.

* I am indebted for this expression to a striking sermon of
Professor Archer Butler, (vol. i. p. 210).


This is a brief but necessary sketch of the first
part of our subject. This is the ancient period of
Ecclesiastical History. Its full treasures must be
unfolded hereafter. Its accessories belong to other
departments of study. The critical interpretation
of the sacred books in which the history is con-
tained falls under the province of general Theology
and Exegesis ; the explanation of the languages in
which they are written I gladly leave to the Pro-
fessor of Hebrew and the Professor of Greek. But
the history itself of the Chosen People, from Abra-
ham to the Apostles, belongs to this Chair by right ;
and, if health and strength are spared to me, shall
also belong to it in fact.

II. The fortunes, however, of the seed of Abra- End of An-
ham after the flesh form but a small portion of the ciesiasticai
fortunes of his descendants after the spirit: they ^^ ^^'
are, as I have said, but the introduction to the his-
tory which rises on their ruin. With the close of
the Apostolic age the direct influence of the Chosen
People expires ; neither in religious nor in histo-
rical language can the Jewish race from this time
forward be said to be charged with any divine
message for the welfare of mankind. Individual
instances of long endurance, of great genius, of
lofty character, have indeed arisen amongst them
in later times ; but, since the day when the Gali-
lean Apostle, St. John, slept his last sleep under
the walls of Ephesus, no son of Israel has ever


exercised any widespread or lasting control over
the general condition of mankind.
Beginning Wc stand, therefore, at the close of the first cen-

of Chris- . . ,

tianEccie- tury, like travcUcrs on a mountani-ridge, when the
History. Yivev whicli they have followed through the hills is
about to burst forth into the wide plain. It is the
very likeness of that world-famous view from the
range of the Lebanon over the forest and city of
Damascus. The stream has hitherto flowed in its
narrow channel — its course marked by the contrast
which its green strip of vegetation presents to the
desert mountains through which it descends. The
further we advance, the more remarkable does the
contrast become, — the mountains more bare, the
river-bed more rich and green. At last its channel
is contracted to the utmost limits ; the cliffs on each
side almost close it in ; it breaks through, and over
a wide extent, far as the eye can reach, it scatters
a flood of vegetation and life, in the midst of which
rise the towers and domes of the great city, the
earliest and the latest type of human grandeur and

Such is the view, backwards, and forwards, and
beneath our feet, which Ecclesiastical History pre-
sents to us, as we rest on the grave of the last Apo-
stle and look over the coming ages of our course.
The Church of God is no longer confined within the
limits of a single nation. The life and the truth,
concentrated, up to this point, within the narrow
and unbending character of the Semitic race, has


been enlarged into the broad, fluctuating, boundless
destinies of the sons of Japheth. The thin stream
expands and loses itself more and more in the vast
field of the history of the world. The Christian
Church soon becomes merely another name for
Christendom ; and Christendom soon becomes
merely another name for the most civilized, the
most powerful, the most important nations of the
modern habitable world.

What, then, it may be asked, is the difference Relations
henceforward between Civil and Ecclesiastical His- Ecciesi-
tory ? How far are the duties of this Professorship H^^
separable from those of my distinguished friend who
fills the Chair of Modern History ?

To a great extent the two are inseparable ; they
cannot be torn asunder without infinite loss to
both. It is indeed true that, in common parlance,
Ecclesiastical History is often confined within limits
so restricted as to render such a distinction only
too easy. Of the numerous theological terms, of
which the original sense has been defaced, marred,
and clipped by the base currency of the world, few
have suffered so much, in few has ' the gold become
so dim, the most fine gold so changed,' as in the word
" ecclesiastical." The substantive, from which it is
derived, has fallen far below its ancient apostolical
meaning, but the adjective "ecclesiastical," has
fallen lower still. It has come to signify, not the
religious, not the moral, not even the social or
political interests ot the Christian community, but


often the very opposite of these — its merely acci-
dental, outward, ceremonial machinery. We call a
contest for the retention or the abolition of vest-
ments "ecclesiastical," not a contest for the re-
tention or the abolition of the slave-trade. We
include in " ecclesiastical history" the life of the
most insignificant bishop or the most wicked of
popes, not the life of the wisest of philosophers or
the most Christian of kings. But such a limitation
is as untenable in fact as it is untrue in theory.
The very stones of the spiritual temple cry out
against such a profanation of the rock from which
they were hewn. If the Christian religion be a
matter not of mint, anise, and cummin, but of jus-
tice, mercy, and truth ; if the Christian Church be
not a priestly caste, or a monastic order, or a little
sect, or a handful of opinions, but 'the wdiole con-
gregation' of ' faithful men,'" ' dispersed throughout
the world ;' if the very word, which of old repre-
sented the Chosen " People" (Aaoy), is now to be
found in the " laity ;" if the ancient maxim be cor-
rect, Ubi tres sunt laid, ibi est ecclesia ; then the
range of the history of the Church is as wide as the
range of the w^orld wdiich it w^as designed to pene-
trate, as the whole body which its name includes.

By a violent effort, no doubt, the two spheres
can be kept apart ; by a compromise, tacit or un-
derstood, the student of each may avoid looking
the other in the face ; under special circumstances,
the intimate relation between the course of Chris-


tian society and the course of human affairs may be
forgotten or set aside. Josephus the priest may
pass over in absolute silence the new sect which
arises in Galilee to disturb the Jewish hierarchy.
Tacitus the philosopher may give nothing more
than a momentary glance at the miserable super-
stition of the fanatics who called themselves Chris-
tians. Napoleon the conqueror, when asked on the
coast of Syria to visit the Holy City, may make
his haughty reply, — " Jerusalem does not enter into
the line of my operations." But this is not the
natural, nor the usual, course of the greatest ex-
amples both in ancient and modern times. Observe
the description of the Jewish Church by the sacred
historians. Consider the immense difference for all
future ages, if the lives of Joshua, David, Solomon,
and Elijah had been omitted, as unworthy of in-
sertion, because they did not belong to the priestly
tribe ; if the Pentateuch had been confined to the
Book of Leviticus ; if the Books of Kings and
Chronicles had limited themselves to the sayings
and doings of Zadok and Abiathar, or even of
Nathan and Gad. Remember also the early chroni-
clers of Europe — almost all of them at once the
sole historians of their age, yet, even by purpose
and profession, historians only of the Church, Take
but one instance — the Venerable Bede. His " Eccle-
siastical History of England" begins not with the
arrival of Augustine, but with the first dawn of
British civilization at the landing of Caesar ; and


for the period over which it extends, it is the suf-
ficient and almost the only authority for the fortunes
of the Anglo-Saxon commonwealth.

In later times, since history has become a distinct
science, the same testimony is still borne by the
highest works of genius and research, however much
it may have been withheld by the mere hewers of
wood and drawers of water, in this wide field.
Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"
is, in great part, however reluctantly or uncon-
sciously, the history of "the rise and progress of
the Christian Church." His true conception of the
grandeur of his subject extorted from him that just
concession which his own natural prejudice would
have refused ; and it was remarked not many years
ago, by one then of note in this place, that up to
that time England had produced no other eccle-
siastical history worthy of the name. This re-
proach has since been removed by the great work
of Dean Milman ; but it is the distinguishing ex-
cellence of that very history that it embraces within
its vast circumference the whole story of mediaeval
Europe. Even in that earlier period when the
world and the Church were of necessity distinct and
antagonistic, Arnold rightly perceived, and all sub-
sequent labours in this field tend to the same result,
that each will be best understood when blended in the
common history of the Empire, which exercised so
powerful an influence over the development of the
Christian society within its bosom, whilst by that



society it was itself undermined and superseded. And
the two chief historians of France and England in
recent times — M. Guizot in his Lectures on French
CiviUzation, Mr. Macaulay in his English History,
— have both strongly brought out, as necessary
parts of their dissertations or narratives, the religious
influences, which by inferior writers of one class

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