EH 250 - History of Early Christianity

Module Level

8 (Undergraduate)

Time Allowance

24 hours


Essay 40% Exam: 60%

Module Aims

To provide students with a fundamental understanding of the history of the early Church (from its beginnings in Jerusalem to c.500AD) and also the history of Christianity in early medieval Ireland (from c. 400- c.900)

To enable students to place in historical context core areas of theological study covered in other modules, such as the composition of New Testament writings and the formation of the Canon, in addition to the development of Christian doctrine and its expression in the decrees of early church councils.

Indicative Syllabus:

Historical sources for Jesus of Nazareth.

The worlds into which Christianity was born: Jewish and Greco-Roman.

The Jewish context of the Jesus movement: Jewish and Gentile Christianities.

Second-century Christianity and some of its issues: Ebionites, Marcionites, Gnostics. The beginnings of canonisation of Scripture.

Christianity as a ‘pernicious superstition’. Roman attitudes and the response of the apologists. Christians as a ‘third race’

State persecution and the cult of martyrdom: the birth of Donatism.

Constantine and the establishment of the imperial Church.

Greek philosophy and the birth of Christian theology.

The Arian crisis of the fourth century.

Augustine and Pelagius on Grace.

Christological Controversies.

The evidence for pre-Christian religions in Ireland.

The evidence for Patrick – his writings and vitae

The establishment of Christianity in Ireland

Writings of the early Irish Church

Material evidence for early Christian Ireland

Expansion of the early Irish Church & the contribution of the peregrini.

Learning Outcomes

  • Gained a basic knowledge of the narrative of early Christian history and an awareness of the development of church structures over time, both universally and in the specific case of early medieval Ireland.
  • Be able to place other areas of study such as the development of the Christian scriptures and the evolution of creedal formulas into their historical contexts.


  • Kelly, Joseph F., The ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church: a history. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2009.
  • Lane, Tony, A Concise History of Christian Thought. London: T&T Clark, 2006.
  • Lynch, Joseph H., Early Christianity: a brief history. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Mitchell, Margaret M., and Frances M. Young (eds.), The Cambridge History of Christianity volume 1: Origins to Constantine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Stout, Matthew, Early Medieval Ireland, 431-1169. Dublin: Wordwell Press, 2017.


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