H8510 – The Early Church

H8510 – The Early Church

Unit Code


Unit Name

The Early Church (postgraduate)

Unit Weighting

9 Credit Points

Type of Unit


Prerequisites, corequisites or exclusions


Academic Staff

Dr. Samuel Fanous BCommerce/Laws (USYD), MBBS (Notre Dame), MTh (UON),

Curriculum Objectives

This course unit is designed to provide students with an overview of the early centuries of Christian history. It will furthermore equip them with the critical tools necessary in order to understand historical phenomena and circumstances related to the early Church.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this course unit, students should be able to:

1. distinguish and assess the various social, cultural and religious factors in the history of the early Church

2. critically expound the key contributions of leading figures and significant events in the early Church

3. give a thorough analysis of the literary representation of Christians, both by themselves and others, in the early Church

4. assess and construct the mentalities of the various religious and cultural groups in this historical period (Christian, Jewish, and pagan), especially in relation to their view of the early Church

5. apply the findings of a study of primary sources and secondary studies on the early Church to present historical discussion on the period.

During this course unit, students may acquire the following threshold concept. This concept is fundamental to a proper understanding of the unit or course. It is essential for further progress in the discipline. It is often troublesome for students: Students need to be able to grasp the concept that history is not just a chronological description of events but involves an interpretive element and a range of methodological approaches.


1. Studying the early Church in context; methodology and historiography

2. Religious, cultural and social backgrounds of the early Church

3. The relationship between the early Church and the Roman state; Jewish, pagan and Christian perceptions

4. Persecution and the phenomenon of martyrdom

5. Internal tensions within the early Church; orthodoxy and heresy

6. Aspects of an emerging Christian worldview

7. The ‘ triumph’ of the Church: Constantine, Fathers, councils

8. The Church in a declining Empire

Unit Weekly Schedule
Week 1 Introduction to course unit; Early Church History sources; historicity and methodological approaches.
Week 2 The early Christian community; worship, life and organisation.
Week 3 The Jewish context; Paul and the break with historical Judaism
Week 4 The persecuted Church; the era of martyrdom, their literature and influence on Church life.
Assignment/Task 1
Week 5 The School of Alexandria; theology, philosophy and the interpretation of Scripture
Week 6 Defending the Church; Apologists and their opponents; Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian
Week 7 Boundaries Defined; the challenge of dynamic orthodoxy; Gnosticism, Marcionism, Manicheism and Montanism
Week 8 The Rise of Christianity; Constantine and the Imperial Church
Assignment/Task 2
Week 9 Retreating to the Desert; The Origins of Monastacism and Monastic Literature
Week 10 New Theological Challenges; St Athanasias and the Arian heresy
Week 11 The Christological Controversy; St Cyril, Nestorius and a divided Church
Week 12 The Western Church: Ambrose, Augustine and the beginnings of Medieval Christianity
Assignment/Task 3



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