Early Church History

THL131 / THL410

This foundation subject introduces students to skills appropriate to studying church history, including the use and analysis of early sources, both written and non-written, and later historical interpretations. It encompasses the contributions of the Apostolic Fathers and early Christian Apologists, and explores early challenges to the Christian movement from within and without. Close attention is given to church-state relations and the formulation of Christian theology by prominent theologians and significant councils, especially those convened at Nicaea and Chalcedon. The subject also examines early Christian monasticism, issues of ethnicity and gender, mission and the claims of the Bishop of Rome to supremacy. Consistent attention is given to understanding the broader context of the Graeco-Roman world in which Christianity developed.


One Semester


Semester 1 every year

Subject Points



Delivery Mode

On site at St Francis College Milton



As notified in the CSU Course Outline.

Prescribed Texts

Three assignments plus
Participation in an online discussion board
Details of to be confirmed by the CSU Course Outline annually



This subject will cover the following topics

  • The "Apostolic Fathers," second-century Christian apologists, and their opponents

  • The impact on churches of Graeco-Roman culture, Roman imperial power, and Judaism

  • "Docetism," "Gnosticism," "Montanism" and other heterodox movements prior to 250 CE

  • The persecution, harassment and martyrdom of Christians in the early centuries: causes and effects

  • Church and empire I: the Constantian dynasty and its legacies

  • The Council of Nicaea, the Arian controversy, and later developments, c. 311-381 CE

  • Church and empire II: East and West

  • Christian monasticism and asceticism, East and West

  • The lives, careers and writings of major figures in the early church (including Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, Jerome and Augustine of Hippo)

  • The Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), further Christological controversies, and the emergence of the eastern churches

  • Leo the Great, the papacy and the rise of Rome

  • Regional and ethnic diversity in the early Church

  • Gender and the role of women in the early Church

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this subject, students should:

  • be able to demonstrate a broad and critical understanding of the principal movements in theology, ecclesiology and politics in the Christian Church during its formative period;

  • be able to demonstrate a knowledge of the primary source documents of this period and be able to analyse, interpret, and critically review these documents;

  • be able to analyse and critically evaluate historiographical approaches to the Christian faith across different cultures and ecclesial communities;

  • be able to research and communicate the relevance of historical documents for understanding the historical origins of contemporary churches in Australia and Asia;

  • be able to review critically and analyse the contribution of historians and historiographical perspectives from a variety of denominational and historical contexts; and

  • be able to demonstrate self-guided and collaborative learning, including basic research, writing and communication skills relevant to history as a discipline.