Choosing a Theology Textbook: From Nicaea to Chalcedon

For those of you who have been visiting the blog for a while now, you will know that I have been trying to find a series of books for use in the classroom. Along those lines, I want to say a bit about Frances M. Young’s volume From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and Its Background (2nd Edition) and its possible use as a textbook. Young has updated her work from 1983, with help from Andrew Teal, and there are several features which would make it, in my mind, a great classroom text. First, I think this volume is particularly interesting because of its focus on texts. I will let Young explain:

…the period from Nicaea to Chalcedon is one of the most significant in the formation of the doctrine of the Chruch. Yet the average student of Christian doctrine rarely gets to grips with the background or the literature of the period, let alone the theological argumentation to be found in the texts. The book set out to be a companion to standard textbooks, providing background material, an introduction to the characters involved in the disputes, to the literary sources and critical questions which they pose” (vii).

As you can imagine, an attempt to do this much over such a tumultuous period of intellectual history is no easy task. But its real value comes in the terse sections, packing in what seems like the right amount of biographical background, polemical context and focus on the actual texts. Furthermore, at the end of each section is a “Further Reading” list with English translations of the primary material and a list of key secondary sources. With the focus on texts in the exposition and the detailed bibliography work, this makes for a great resource for students who are new to this era. Furthermore, the bibliography at the end of the volume is broken down by theologian, thereby making it an easy resource to use.

Second, in terms of the possible use of this volume in the classroom, what I really like about it is that you can assign this text as the secondary reading and then have the students reading all primary literature outside of that. The discussion of each person is short enough to be read alongside another text, and the background information provided will give the student enough of a sketch to allow for deeper reading. The focus of classroom time can be spent on the texts and theological proposals themselves.

Overall, if I were teaching a church history course, which provided enough time to camp out in this important era of church history, I would definitely use Young’s book. With Louth, Ayers and D.H. Williams as endorsers, I think that is probably a save bet(!).

Has anyone worked with the first edition? I have never read it so it was hard to know how much has changed, other than the obvious use of newer materials. Has anyone used this or another volume like it in the classroom? If so, how have you used it and would you do so again?

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6 thoughts on “Choosing a Theology Textbook: From Nicaea to Chalcedon

  1. Kyle,

    I know J.N.D. Kelly’s book Early Christian Doctrine has been around for quite awhile, but what do you think about that text compared to the one you’re highlighting here? We used Kelly for my seminary Patristics class.

    • I’ve really liked Kelly’s book, but it is very out of date now and focuses on a broader period than Young’s. The fact that it is a broader period is probably more helpful for classroom use, but it is not as focused on texts as Young’s which I really like. Maybe someone should try and do a 6th edition of that one!

  2. I really like Young’s book, at least what I’ve been able to look at so far. It seems to be a nice balance of accessibility (for classroom use) and attention to the finer theological points at issue in this period, which other intro texts tend to gloss over (or leave out entirely).

    I’d definitely consider it for a course text, whenever you get to spend more than a week or two in the fourth-fifth centuries.

  3. This new edition is has been significantly updated. There is the addition of a complete new chapter on the desert fathers, and the footnotes and bibliographies throughout the book demonstrate an engagement with research since the first publication in 1983. Several new figures are also added to the book such as Marcellus of Ancyra and Ephrem the Syrian. It’s a true new edition that can now continue to be used as a thorough introduction for years to come.

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