Early Church History and Patristics deal with the beginnings of Christianity until around the 7th century. In a dynamic and complex process, the early Christian community developed its own religious identity and established various structures and institutions, many of which still exist today.
As Early Church Historians, we examine the spread of early Christianity within a world largely influenced by Jewish, Greco-Roman, and Oriental religion and philosophy. On the basis of these traditions, early Christian thinkers created new forms of theology and religious practice. They referred back to Jewish holy scriptures, which they incorporated into their own Christian canon. Moreover, they adapted methods and ways of thinking based on Greco-Roman philosophy in order to give their own teachings higher plausibility. Finally, Christian theologians developed criteria to distinguish between “true” teachings and “heresies” that resulted from ongoing discussions in the Christian context itself.
The political and social context of the late antique Mediterranean led to reflections on Christian ways of living and matters of everyday life. Since Christian integration into Roman society was their main aim, very few theologians demanded fundamental change (for example the abolition of slavery). At the same time, the special Christian concepts of God and man led to new kinds of charity. However, Roman politics also had a direct impact on Christian theology: when the emperors followed up on local pogroms initiated by non-Christians and started persecuting the Christian faith in the 3rd century, the adherents of the new religion developed a theology of martyrdom. After Emperor Constantine I. and his acceptance of Christianity, the concept of martyrdom evolved to include ascetic ways of life, too. At the same time, Christians deeply valued marriage and family.
Various sources document these complex processes. Additionally to written sources in various languages, many material remains as well as liturgical practice and forms of popular belief await examination. The evaluation of these sources requires close cooperation with other disciplines such as Philology, Classics, Christian Archeology and Art History.
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