I recently finished reading book 1 of The Penguin History of the Church The Early Church by Professor Henry Chadwick. First published in 1967, my edition is a Pelican imprint from 1986.
The first thing I will say is if your not interested in this topic do not read this book, it's not really for beginners. Having said that I would not call myself an expert on the early church by any means, merely an interested layman. It is not a light read, it is a scholarly book designed for educated people, but it is not dense or impenetrable, it also doesn't hold your hand.
I was surprised at how "Protestant" the early Church was. It is quite bewildering the number of different sects and beliefs that grew up in the early centuries. While the church leaders of the time talked about the unity of the church, in reality it was mostly talk. I also found it interesting how geography seemed to produce different versions of the Church. North Africa had one view, the Middle East another, the Balkans and Asia Minor yet another and Western Europe was different again. When we look at the Bible it is easy to think that it has always been as it is now. But in the first centuries there was much controversy on which books should be included and which should not be.
The book also shows a world that no longer exists, a Christian North Africa, a Christian Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor. As I was reading it I was shocked to realise that of the five great Christian cities of the ancient world, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople and Rome, only one of them did not become Muslim. That means that the people of those lands were once overwhelmingly Christian. Saint Augustine was a Berber and most of his life was lived in what is today Algeria and Tunisia.
It puts the Crusades in a whole other light.
It was also interesting to read how different Theologians contributed to the development of the Church. Men, who to be honest, I had never heard of for the most part. The books they wrote seem to have fallen into two categories, to convince other Christians that what they wrote was correct, or to tell Pagans that Christians had valid reasons for believing and behaving as they did.
An interesting book worth reading if your interested in the history of the early Christian church.
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