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A history of Early Christian Literature

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A History of

Early Christian Literature

Edgar J. Goodspeed


A History of

Early Christian Literature


Early Christian Literature.

Primitive Christianity Not Literary.

The Oral Gospel.

Letters and Gospels.

Organization of the Literature.

Order of Treatment.

Literary Expansion.


Paul's Letters.

Clement of Rome.

Modern Discoveries.

The Apostolic Fathers and the Didache.

Ignatius of Antioch.

Polycarp of Smyrna.

Forms of the Ignatian Letters.

The Letter of Barnabas.

The Epistle of the Apostles.

The Martyrdom of Justin.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp.

The Letter of the Gallican Churches.

The Abgar Letters.

Fragmentary Letters.



The Apocryphal Gospels.

The Fourfold Gospel.

The Gospel according to the Egyptians.

The Gospel according to the Hebrews.

The Gospel according to Peter.

The British Museum Gospel.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

The Traditions of Matthias.

The Gospel ofthe Ebionites.

The Book of James.

The Gospel of Truth.

The Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Philip.

Other Gospels.


Religious Fiction.

The Acts of Paul.

Course Of The Narrative.

The Acts Of John.

The Acts of Peter.

The Acts of Thomas.

Course of the Narrative.

The Acts Of Andrew.

The Clementine Recognitions And Homilies.

Himns, Homilies and Exegesis.

The Odes Of Solomon.

II Clement.

Papias of Hierapolis.

The First Apologies.

The Preaching Of Peter.

The Apology of Quadratus.

The Apology of Aristides.

Aristo of Pella; the Christian Dialogue.

The Age of Justin.

Justin Martyr.

The Letter to Diognetus.



The Successors of Justin.

Melito of Sardis.


Theophilus of Antioch.

Antiheretical Writers of the Late

Second Century: Irenaeus and Hegesippus.

The Catholic Church.

Against Heresies or Refutation.

Other Writings.

The Memoirs of Hegesippus.

The Alexandrians: Clement.

The First Christian School.



The Alexandrians: Origen.

His Voluminous Writings.

On Text.





New Testament.

Hippolytus and Other Greek

Writers of the Third Century.


The Statue.

Scripture Interpretation.


Works on Doctrine.

The Chronicle.

The Apostolic Tradition.

New Testament.

Julius Africanus.

Dionysius of Alexandria.






Latin Christian Writers.

Christian Latin.


Apologetic Writings.

Practical Works.

Doctrinal Works.

Polemic Writings.

The Latin Bible.

Minucius Felix.

The Octavius.

Cyprian of Carthage.

His Letters.

His Treatises.

The “Life” of Cyprian.

His new Testament.

Novation of Rome.

His Works.



The Divine Institutes.

Other Writings.


Eusebius and Early Christian Literature.



The Church History.

Could Eusebius Have Done Better?

The Lost Books of Early Christian Literature.


To many, the New Testament appears as an island of religious literature in an ancient sea. That it is the beginning of a new continent of literature escapes them. Yet the New Testament was the source of a whole range of literary movements that in a few generations gave Christianity a literature that in sheer bulk and vigor dominated the ancient scene.

The New Testament was really the bursting forth of a great spring of religious expression that flowed on copiously far and wide for five hundred years. This literature sprang not only out of Christian life and experience but also directly out of the New Testament. Its first literary models and patterns were found in the sermons, letters, revelations, gospels, and acts of the New Testament. There was something about the Christian experience that drove men to record it in books, to express it, defend it, and explain it. This is an aspect of early Christianity too often forgotten.

Much of this literature has perished, although the discoveries and studies of the last sixty years have recovered some long-lost pieces of striking interest. But not a few of these lost writings can be pictured and in part recovered from mentions of them and quotations from them in later writers, particularly from Eusebius.

That remarkable young man came to Caesarea in Palestine about A.D. 280 to study with Pamphilus in the library the latter had assembled there along with the library of Origen. Eusebius not only catalogued these books, he read them; and to good purpose, for when in A.D- 303 he published the first edition of his Church History, it covered much of the history of Christian literature as well as of Christian life. That is why he is so constantly referred to in these pages. Eusebius was so devoted to Pamphilus, his friend and teacher, that he adopted him as his father and ever after called himself the son of Pamphilus. It was in his Life of Pamphilus, now lost, that he included the catalogue of his library. Ah, Eusebius! Immortal cataloguer, who read and summarized the books he catalogued!

Half a century or more later, Jerome flourished. He wrote in Latin, and he still influences the religious and learned worlds through his version of the Bible, the Latin Vulgate. He wrote a short dictionary of Christian biography which he called “On Illustrious Men” (De viris illustribus). He sometimes leaned heavily on Eusebius for his information, but his book has some independent value, too, and will be frequently referred to in this and every book on early Christian literature.

And then there is Photius, most extraordinary of them all; that Byzantine officer who, while master of the horse, suddenly emerged as the logical man for patriarch of Constantinople. He was not even in holy orders and had to go through a series of rapid clerical ordinations and promotions to achieve in a single week the transformation from soldier to prelate. This was a thing Roman ecclesiasticism could not tolerate, and it gave lasting offense to the Church of Rome.

And yet what we know as the Library of Photius, his Bibliotheca, is one of our chief helps in the recovery of early Christian literature. For it seems that, when he and his brother Tarasius were stationed at different places in the empire, Photius sent Tarasius summaries of a whole library of ancient works as he read them. They formed, in fact, a kind of medieval book club. And these book reviews by Photius, made, it would seem, for his faraway brother's enlightenment, still play a notable part in the study of these same books, too many of which have disappeared altogether since Photius wrote them, about A.D. 890.

With these and other lesser aids from the fourth century onward, we can do much to fill the gaps in our early Christian library. And certainly the development of Christian thought and life can never be understood from the New Testament alone. Early Christian literature is an indispensable aid for its understanding. The rise of the rites, creeds, doctrines, clergy, and liturgy is reflected here, in that heroic age when Christianity moved through persecution and conflict to become the religion of the empire.

The field of study assigned to me during almost forty years of service at Chicago was Biblical and Patristic Greek, and most of the positions taken in these pages were worked out with groups of graduate students of early Christian literature there, in the course of those years. But new discoveries in recent years have surprisingly supplemented our patristic resources and encouraged us to anticipate still greater reinforcements in the years to come. It is with this in mind that I have added a chapter on the works of early Christian literature that are still conspicuously missing and to be looked for.

I am once more indebted to my brother, Charles T. B. Goodspeed, of the profession of Tertullian and Minucius Felix, who has generously assisted me with the proofs of this book.

This book has been written primarily for continuous reading; but to facilitate casual consultation also, dates have been purposely repeated with each mention of the names of ancient writers with whom the casual reader can hardly be expected to be familiar.

Edgar J. Goodspeed

Bel-Air, Los Angeles

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