As there is today, there were various expressions of Christianity in the first few centuries of the church, and there were various models, as well as developments, in how congregations organised themselves. Discovering the beliefs, practices and policies of the early Christians, as well as the challenges they faced, is a fascinating pursuit. To help with this, here are some resources that are freely available online. Take a look in the comments section (below) too. (Disclaimer: I don’t agree with everything stated in the following resources, even the ones I highly recommend.)
Early Christian Writings
This website contains the most complete collection on the internet of Christian texts written before the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. These include the New Testament, Christian Apocrypha, Gnostic writings, and pre-Nicene Church Fathers, etc. Commentary, as well as English translations, are provided. I visit this site every week as it’s a goldmine.
Writings of the Church Fathers
Many writings of the pre and post-Nicene church fathers can be found on the New Advent site here. Roger Pearse has compiled and edited writings of early church fathers that were not included in the well-known, 38 volume collection of Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, here.
Ruslan Khazarzar’s (Руслан Хазарзар) Website
There are numerous ancient Jewish and Christian documents, some in their original languages (e.g., Greek and Syriac) as well as essays, etc, about early Judaism and Christianity here. (Use Google translate, or a similar tool, to help read the titles.
Non-Canonical Writings at The Wesley Center
The Wesley Center, attached to Northwest Nazarene University, has links to English translations of various ancient Christian documents here that can be helpful in understanding early Christianity. Many of these documents can also be found on the Early Christian Writings website.
The Wesley Center also has links to both the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. However, I recommend the Common English Bible’s translation of the Old Testament Apocrypha. This modern translation can be read on Bible Gateway here. (Scroll down the Bible Gateway page, past the New Testament books.)
Early Christian Commentary
Eusebius’ Church History
Eusebius (260-339) was the bishop of the church at Caesarea Maritima, and a prolific author. He is especially known for his Church History. Many of the documents Eusebius quotes from in his history, and some quotations are lengthy, have since been lost, so his history is an invaluable resource. Eusebius, however, wasn’t always discerning of the veracity of his sources, so we can’t take everything he says at face value. But his history is itself an ancient document and, as such, I love it. It can be read online here. A pdf of the original Greek is here. (Some of my articles that draw information from his history are here.)
Christian History Magazine
Back issues of Christian History magazine are available as free PDFs on the Christian History Institute website here. Some topics covered are Women in the Early Church (Issue 17), Worship in the Early Church (Issue 37), Gnosticism (Issue 96), Early Christianity in Africa (Issue 105), and more. Many contributors to the magazine are top scholars in their fields.
Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church
All eight volumes of this work can be found on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website here. The first three volumes are about the early church. This work was published over 100 years ago and was for many years a standard reference on Church History. It still has some value, but I much prefer newer books that rely on recent research and incorporate new discoveries. Have a look at Google Books for extended previews of more recent books on early church history.
Internet Sourcebook on Christian Origins at Fordham University
This amazing webpage functions as a portal to numerous articles on various subjects related to early Christianity.
The Early Middle Ages, 284-1000 CE (Videos)
I love this course of twenty-two 40-minute lectures. These lectures were given in 2011 by Dr Paul Freedman and are offered by Yale University via YouTube here. The course covers major developments in the political, social, and religious history of Western Europe from the time of the Roman Emperor Diocletian onwards.
While many of the topics may not appear to be about church history, this series is very helpful in understanding the context of the development and spread of Christianity in Western Europe. Moreover, some lectures are very much focussed on key Christian people, such as Constantine and Augustine, and Christian practices such as monasticism. I highly recommend this series.
Early and Medieval Church History (Videos)
This resource is a series of fifty-four half-hour lectures created in 2016 by Dr Ryan Reeves who earned his PhD at Cambridge University in the field of historical theology. Each of the videos, here, contains a graduate-level lecture that forms the backbone of Dr Reeves’ lectures at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where he is an associate professor. Check out his YouTube page Historical Theology for Everyone for more goodies, here.
Bart Ehrmann presents a series of lectures here, including lectures (#13-34) on early Christian groups and beliefs that were considered heterodox by later orthodox Christians. I realise that some Christians find Dr Ehrmann, an agnostic, a controversial figure. I disagree with some of his views about Jesus Christ, but there is some good stuff in his videos.
And More . . .
What resources on early church history do you recommend?
Relief depicting a Christian banquet, 300-350 AD, held in Museo Pio Christiano, Vatican, inv. 31445. © William Storage and Laura Maish (Source: Rome101.com)