In the tradition of other great British divines like Henry Chadwick and W. H. C. Frend who have undertaken the same task, Stuart Hall, former chair of ecclesiastical history at King's College, London, has presented an account of the life and thought of the early Christian Church from apostolic times to the Council of Chalcedon in this new volume from Eerdman's. Originally published in Britain in 1991 through S.P.C.K., Hall's fine treatment distinguishes itself in a number of ways in what is fast becoming a crowded field of introductory books on early Christianity.
To begin with, Hall coordinates his treatments of specific issues and events with references to the relevant primary literature in English translation in two widely-used source-books published through S.P.C.K.: A New Eusebius and Creeds, Councils and Controversies. The coordination of the three volumes not only reveals [End Page 68] Hall's thorough knowledge of the primary texts, but also gives evidence of having checked in the original, since he frequently offers corrections of the translations in the volumes edited by J. Stevenson. This coordination also provides the professor embarking upon teaching a standard introductory course for the first time with a virtually ready-made syllabus, or at least a useful place from which to start developing one.
Hall considers all the topics usually included in surveys of early Christianity: the apologists, Gnosticism, the trinitarian and christological controversies and so forth. This comprehensiveness, moreover, is not only thematic, but also geographical. Hall gives balanced attention to Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean, northern Africa, Egypt, and Europe, and also makes a consistent effort to include information on Syrian Christianity, which has been such a fruitful topic for patristic scholars in recent years. As announced in the book's title, Hall's account purports to discuss not only the theology of early Christianity, but also the lived social and liturgical practice of early Christian communities. Hall makes good on this intention early in the book in Chapter 2, "Community and Morality," in which he details the process for the admission of prospective members into the local Christian congregation, as well as the procedures for the celebration of Baptism and the Eucharist. In this chapter, Hall convincingly makes the point that adopting a distinct way of life, with ramifications for one's social, sexual and financial activity, was at least as important as, if not more than, assimilating a given set of doctrinal beliefs for those wishing to be baptized as Christians. Hall's interest in the practical life of the early Christians is evident elsewhere in the book in good treatments of the rise of the monepiscopate and its further elaborations (including the emergence of the Roman papacy), of monasticism, and in the best explanation of the ecclesiastical role of "confessors" I have encountered anywhere. This attention to the mechanics of early Christian organization is a wholesome corrective to the dominant focus on the development of ideas, orthodox and heretical, that often marks introductory works on the early Church.
As Hall explains in the Preface to the volume, Doctrine and Practice was the fruit of years of teaching theological students at Nottingham University and King's College. The book has benefitted in three ways from this circumstance of its conception. First, Hall's treatments are by and large models of clarity and balanced detail. Years of lecturing have enabled Hall to discern accurately what to retain and what to leave out both with regard to primary sources and their secondary commentary as well. When necessary, Hall devotes judicious attention to scholarly controversies on various topics (for example, the sources of the Constantinopolitan creed and of the christological passages of the Tomus ad Antiochenos produced at the Council of Alexandria) and explains their relevance simply and persuasively. Hall also considers the theories of early Church development articulated by the great historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such as Harnack and Newman in the lucid and helpful conclusion to the book entitled "The...