As most of you know, I’m doing quite a lot of teaching right now… I’m up to my eyeballs in my new day-job teaching high school and had already committed to teaching two Master’s level classes before getting that job offer. Thankfully, I had taught one of those before—my Church History class. However, I decided to do something a little differently this go around…
I’m trying to prepare my students to use their Church History where it counts—at the back of the church when some one asks an innocent question that is best answered with thirty minutes and a pile of books yet you know their eyes will glaze over after just a minute. Therefore, I’m giving an exam where the students will have to prepare short [short] answers to the kinds of questions that I’ve heard.
So, how well would you do on my first-section of the semester exam? It spans the period from the writing of the New Testament to the Church Fathers (end of the 4th century). Here’s the study guide I gave them:
H601 Study Guide for First-Half Exam
The few dates I actually want you to memorize (and why)
- AD 70–The Destruction of the Temple: This event ended the plurality of Late Second Temple Judaisms and set the stage for the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity as distinct entities. The Early Church saw the destruction as confirmation of Jesus’ prophecy in the Gospels. Also, it established Vespasian and Titus as the new dynasty of the Roman Empire
- AD 136—end of the Bar Kochba revolt, the third and final Jewish revolt against the Romans that led to Jewish expulsion from the region of Jerusalem. Continuing anti-Jewish policies played a role in Jewish-Christian self-differentiation.
- AD 180 (roughly)—Irenaeus writes Against Heresies and demonstrates a coherent Christian self-understanding embodied in the three marks of the Church that is only two generations removed from Jesus’ own circle: (Irenaeus learned from Polycarp who learned from John the Elder)
- AD 250—The Decian Persecution: This is the first time that persecution of Christians became a matter of Imperial policy requiring sacrifices and written proof of thereof. Although short-lived, it set an important precedent.
- AD 313—The “Edict of Milan”: While probably less formal than an edict, this was the agreement between Constantine and Licinius to allow Christianity throughout the Empire
- AD 325—The First Ecumenical Council at Nicea called by Constantine to address the Arian Controversy and ended the Quartodecemian Controversy.
- AD 380—Theodosius declares Catholic Orthodoxy the religion of the Empire.
- AD 410—The Sack of Rome by Alaric and “the Goths”: More an internal policy dispute between a Roman army and Roman officials than a barbarian sack of a civilized city, it nevertheless prompted a crisis concerning the efficacy of Christianity as a state religion.
Important Relationships (and their chronological order where pertinent)
- Apostolic Fathers—Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, the anonymous author of the Didache (The first generation of Christian thought and witness after the age of the New Testament)
- The birth of Monasticism: Origen – The Desert Fathers & Mothers, know Antony and Pachomius – Athanasius – Jerome – John Cassian – Evagrius of Pontus
- The Four Doctors of the Western Church: Ambrose – Augustine – Jerome – Gregory the Great
- The Four Doctors of the Eastern Church: John Chrysostom – Basil the Great – Gregory of Nazianzen – Athanasius
- The Great Trinitarian Champions: Athanasius of Alexandria – Leo the Great – Gregory of Nazianzen – Gregory of Nyssa – Basil the Great
- The African Fathers of Latin Christianity: Tertullian – Cyprian – Augustine
Be able to identify:
- The Three Marks of the Church according to Irenaeus (Canon/Creed/Apostolic Succession)
- The main idea of the Gnostics
- The main idea of the Arians
- The two positions in the Quartodecemian controversy
- The main idea of the Donatists
- The main idea of Ecumenical Councils
Short Answer Questions to Prepare:
- Why was the destruction of the Temple in 70 such a big deal?
- Acts says that the Early Church was “of one heart and one mind.” Is that really how it was and how do we know?
- I hear that the Gnostics were very spiritual people—why did the Early Church think that they were so wrong?
- As long as we have the Bible I don’t know why we need any of this other stuff.
- I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark—it seems to me like Jesus becomes divine at his Baptism. Is that right?
- I just think the idea of dying for a belief is strange. Why wouldn’t early Christians just fib and skip the whole martyrdom thing?
- Why did the Romans want to kill Christians, anyway? What were the Christians doing that was so bad?
- Christians hid from the Romans in the catacombs so they wouldn’t get martyred, right?
- Why would reasonable people believe in all of this allegory stuff? Why not just read the Bible the right way?
- Well, I take all of this stuff with a grain of salt. We all know that nobody thought Jesus was a god until Constantine decreed it to be the case.
- If the creed is what the church believes, why are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed different?
- The Church Fathers may have written a lot of stuff but that’s just their opinion. Why should theirs be any better than mine?