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Level 5

5AAT2301 'What is Christianity?': Patristic Perspectives


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee this module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Professor Markus Vinzent
Assessment: One 2,000-word essay (40%) and one two-hour examination (60%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: Two-hour weekly classes over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: none

This module is an introduction to Early Christianity from 2nd to 5th c. perspectives, hence the time of the ‘Fathers’ and ‘Mothers’ of the Church. It explores how new and often radical ideas transformed societies, traditions and cultures, beginning with those who read Paul and produced early Christian literature, art, architecture and developed Christian institutions within the Jewish and the wider Graeco-Roman world. It is a module strongly focused on history and society, using historical methods and looking widely at evidence from literature and archaeology.

Sample topics

  • Introduction: What is Patristic literature? Sources 2nd-4th century.
  • First Christian writings; Baur, Bauer and notions of 'orthodoxy' and 'heresy'
  • Principal centres: Alexandria, Antioch and Rome
  • Law, Interpretation and Freedom
  • Social conflicts: Synagogues, Mystery Cults and Varieties of Churches
  • Monotheism, Ditheism, Trinity
  • Jesus, the Messiah and Christ
  • The Rule of Faith and the Creed
  • Orthopraxy, Orthodoxy and Heresy
  • Christianizing of Rome or Romanizing of Christianity

Preliminary reading

  • Anatolios, Khaled, Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, 2011).
  • Burkert, Walter, Ancient Mystery Cults (Harvard, 1987).
  • Ferguson, Everett, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, 3rd ed. 2003).
  • Humphries, Mark,  Early Christianity (Routledge, 2006).
  • Vinzent, Markus, Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity and the Making of the New Testament (Farnham, 2011).

Further information

Module aims
  • The course examines the beginnings of Christianity from the second to the fifth century focussing on selected aspects of history, institution, belief and ethics.
  • The course is thus an introduction into the core of early Christianity’s intellectual and cultural history.
  • The course invites students to examine the chosen subject matter on the basis of both primary and secondary materials, addressing both a critical and (self)-reflective reading of these.
Learning outcomes

Generic skills

  • To engage competently and critically with primary and secondary sources.
  • To present ideas in both written and oral form.
  • To demonstrate the capacity to conduct research at an appropriate level

Course specific skills

  • To come to an informed understanding of various strands of early Christian developments and thinking.
  • To develop the critical skills for identifying a variety of possible readings of early Christian heritage and appreciate the multiplicity in interpreting the various strands of early Christianity.
Past syllabi
Previous syllabus document available here for academic year 2015-16.
Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.


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