The editor of this volume, G.R. Evans, is a lecturer in history at Cambridge, and author of a number of texts that deal with issues and topics of the same period, as well as other historical periods. For the most part, however, Evans lets the articles from scholars speak for themselves. Her role, apart from the worthwhile introduction, was to select from among the best scholars in Britain, North American and Europe to produce a companion volume to Blackwell's others volumes in this series. Evans did the volume on Medieval Theology in this series (published in the year 2000) prior to this volume on Ancient Theology: The First Christian Theologians.
The book is divided primarily into five primary sections. The first section is about the Bible. John Rogerson looks at the issue of the ealiest Christian writings, both in terms of Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament as well as New Testament. He looks at issues of composition as well as compilation, and looks at the dual question, 'whether the Church regarded books as authoritative because they were declared canonical, or whether they were declared canonical because the Church recognised their authority.' Following this, Frances Young provides an essay on early issues of interpretation, including ideas of Irenaeus, Origen, and later church fathers towad Augustine.
The second section, The Church, deals with the early issues involved in formation of a church. Stuart Hall provides an essay dealing with the very concept of church, starting with the chronicle in Acts of the Apostles, up to the time of Cyprian, Tertullian and popes of the third century who helped solidify ways of acting. Editor G.R. Evans provides an essay setting the context of the church in the early Roman Empire, which would determine the nature and future of the church. Clarence Gallagher continues this with an examination of the history of the church from the reign of Theodosius I (shortly after Constantine and the making of Christianity an official imperial presence) to the reign of Justinian I, who laid the foundations of legal philosophy and practice that would influence all future lawmaking in the Western world, secular and ecclesial.
The third section has two essays that look at the interplay of Judaism and Christianity at this period of the parting of the ways. David Runia explores the thought and writing of Philo of Alexandria, one of the leading intellectuals of the age. Paula Frederiksen and Judith Lieu look at issues of identity, scriptural use and interpretation, and increasing states of rivalry between the two communities in which distance and separate identity was growing.
The fourth section looks at the rivalry and influence of secular philosophy and early Christian theology. Eric Osborne provides four essays, one each on Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian. Rowan Williams (current Archbishop of Canterbury) explores the controversial figure of Origen. John Rist sets the stages with a contextual essay, and editor Evans concludes the section with an essay on the Hermetica, a fascinating collection of writings that was sometimes used in aid of Christian thought (the idea that pagan and secular prophets, mystics and seers foresaw the coming of Jesus was persistent even among the major thinkers, such as Augustine).
The final section explores those figures at the end of the ancient era and the beginning of the medieval era as a maturing of the Christian theology of late antiquity. Rowan Williams provides a look at Athanasius and the Arian issue (Williams has written a major work on Arius). Morwenna Ludlow writes about the Cappadocians, Janet Williams looks at Pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor, and David Taylor looks at the Syriac tradition. Evans provides essays on Jerome, Augustine and the consolidation of the Nicene faith, that provides a strong link to the medieval period.
This text is a must for any student of theology, particularly those who have an interest in the history of the church and the development of ideas. The writing is intelligent and scholarly without being overpowering or needlessly technical. The essays are brief and to the point, well worth reading, providing good overviews. However, this text may send the reader looking for more reference material and further study (and this is not a bad thing!) - to this end, most articles have a good references list (although this is not always consistent across the articles, as some have notes, some have references, and some have both). The index at the end is a very good one.
Overall, this is a great text for the student of theology and church history, as well as useful for the student of philosophy, late antiquity, medieval European history, and general religious studies.