Early Church History / Patristics deals with the beginnings of Christianity until around the 7th century. In a dynamic and complex process, early Christians evolved as a religious community with their own identity. Thereby, they established various structures and institutions, many of which continue to exist in current times.
We examine the spread of early Christianity within a world largely influenced by Jewish, Greco-Roman, and oriental religion and philosophy. On that basis, 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. This included the development of criteria to distinguish between “true” teachings and “heresies”.
Political and social influences led to reflections on Christian ways of living and matters of everyday life. Since 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 Christian view of humanity led to new kinds of charity and justifications thereof. Actions against adherents of Christian faith by Roman rulers led to the development of a theology of martyrdom. After Emperor Constantine I. and his change of religious policy, this model of thinking also included ascetics. Nevertheless, Christianity always adhered to the value of marriage.
These complex processes are not only documented by literary sources written in different languages. There is also a rich source of material remains as well as liturgical practice and forms of popular belief. The evaluation of these sources requires close cooperation with sciences such as Philology, Classics, Christian Archeology and Art History.
(All pictures by Wikimedia Commons; thanks to Shirley Roth for translation support)