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on 19 November 2011
A brief but well balanced review of the early centuries of the Christian Church and how the various beliefs developed. After Christ's death his followers did not have a rule book to follow and a highly detailed theology. They started with the basis of Judaism, much of which Christ did not take issue with.
The present Christian Church has developed sets of beliefs, some of which are almost universal across the variety of forms, and some of which can vary to the point that one Christian church considers another heretical (still).
This book is a useful introduction to the huge variety of paths open to the early church, what they had to consider and the political and economic circumstances that may have swayed them one way or the other. What did they consider to be without question (and why).
Who were the most important historical figures to sway the church and what drove them to their various positions.
Frend is highly regarded by the high churchman although himself tending towards low church, and his book does not promote one way of thought over another. He simply presents the ancient records in a coherent and well laid out way, and reports on the difficulties of the record as we have it today. Historic records are written by the winner, and may omit unfortunate details.
A useful and readable book for the Christian who wishes to have well grounded information on the development of the faith in the early days, and to have available the alternative paths which may have been dropped without serious consideration.
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on 18 September 2012
The definition of "early church" is a slippery one. Frend uses the term fairly loosely, describing a period that is much earlier than that in which we presently live (as opposed to the interpretation of the term to mean the church as described in Acts). He works chronologically, beginning with the historical and cultural background into which the church was born.

Frend writes from a fairly neutral perspective. For example, there can be a tendency amongst catholic apologists to make claims for Rome being one of the earliest centres of christianity and for the primacy of Peter as a figure in church history. Frend gives due weight to the evidence that supports this, but maintains a scepticism about the testimony of some influential people, especially Irenaeus of Lyons.

That said, he doesn't really give an account of the origins of catholicism. In the first part of the book, he sticks to talking about "christians" but about half way through he suddenly introduces "catholics" but without stating how the latter emerged out of the former. That said, he does go onto to give an account of catholicism's rise to power in through the 4th and 5th centuries.

As the book is only about 240 pages long, yet covering around 420 years, it is inevitable that the work is concise. This is both a strength and a weakness. It's a strength because it allows the reader to get a good grip on the big picture and to see how various people and events interrelate in the grand scheme of things. It's a weakness because it means that some issues are dealt with all too briefly. Each chapter ends with a list of further reading, so Frend is aware that some readers may wish to follow up with some more extensive study. If any serious criticism can be made, it is that there is an undue weight given to the events and people of the 4th century, as this takes up nearly half of the book, with relatively little on what most would regard as the "early" church of the 1st century. However, this may be due to relative amount of evidence available.

Much of the history of the church is a history of debates and disagreements. These arguments are given some space, but only enough for a brief overview.

One thing that went through my mind as I was reading was on how the book focused largely on a relatively small number of influential or well-known figures and I was left wondering "what about the ordinary person who went about their daily business, living a christian life but not having it as their full time occupation?" The lack of such detail must, of course, be related to the lack of sources, though Frend does address this somewhat in his final chapter.

It is a very interesting read and serves as a great introduction and overview of the history of the church, though I would dispute the use of the term "early". For anyone interested in this, or interested in how modern Trinitarian thinking developed, then I'd highly recommend it.
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on 25 March 2014
A classic for those wanting to learn more about Christian History. Written in a very "easy to read" style that keeps one interested throughout.
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on 25 May 2016
A must for all lovers of Church History, Which enables students to get a full picture of how the early emerged. A rich resource.
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on 6 November 2012
I picked this up after wanting to know about Nicene Creed and some of the political turns within early Christianity. After Christ, the church had an ardous task, competing with a hostile parent religion, in Juadism, and under an oppressive Roman regime. Along the way they have heretics to deal with, repression both from religious schisms and the state variety, a change in political fortunes, competing early philosophies and local factors to take into account.

This all adds up to something which should read more interesting than what transpires in Frend's book. You see, exhaustive as it is, it takes away something from the narrative and whole chapters leave you gazing over, because the detail is too immense. If there is a demand for a concise overview, this probably isn't it.
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on 25 July 2015
Not read it all yet.
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