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Early Christian Doctrines

Product no.: 0-06-064334-X
This revised edition of the standard classic history of the first five centuries of the Church has been thoroughly updated in the light of the latest historical findings.

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Publisher's Synopsis

Dr. Kelly organizes an ocean of material by outlining the development of each doctrine in its historical context. He lucidly summarizes the genesis of Chrisitian thought from the close of the apostolic age to the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century - a time teeming with fresh and competing ideas.

The doctrines of the Trinity, the authority of the Bible and tradition, the nature of Christ, salvation, original sin and grace, and the sacraments are all extensively treated in these pages.

This revised edition of Early Christian Doctrines includes:

  • Sweepingly updated early chapters
  • Revised and updated bibliographies
  • A completely new chapter on Mary and the saints 


"Crystalline clarity marks Maurice Wiles’s The Christian Fathers (Oxford, 1982). He shows the influence of Greek philosophy on Christian theology.

*Pride of place among textbooks goes to J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines (Harper San Francisco, 1978). Its balance, lucidity, and helpful organization have put countless students in his debt.

Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100–600) (University of Chicago, 1971) is more impressionistic and written less with beginners in mind. But it is stronger than Kelly in long perspectives and illuminating insights."


"Naturally the Son is fully divine: 'the Father is God, and the Son is God, for whatever is begotten of God is God'. The Spirit, too, although Irenaeus nowhere expressly designates Him God, clearly ranked as divine in his eyes, for He was God's Spirit, ever welling up from His being. Thus we have Irenaeus's vision of the Godhead, the most complete, and also most explicitly Trinitarian, to be met with before Tertullian.

Its second-century traits stand out clearly, particularly its representation of the Triad by the imagery, not of three coequal persons (this was the analogy to be employed by the post-Nicene fathers), but rather of a single personage, the Father Who is the Godhead itself, with His mind, or rationality, and His wisdom. The motive for this approach, common to all Christian thinkers of this period, was their intense concern for the fundamental tenet of monotheism, but its unavoidable corollary was a certain obscuring of the position of the Son and the Spirit as 'Persons' (to use the jargon of later theology) prior to their generation or emission. Because of its emphasis on the 'economy', this type of thought has been given the label 'economic Trinitarianism'.

The description is apt and convenient so long as it is not assumed that Irenaeus's recognition of, and preoccupation with, the Trinity revealed in the 'economy' prevented him from recognizing also the mysterious three-in-oneness of the inner life of the Godhead. The whole point of the great illustrative image which he, like his predecessors, employed, that of a man with his intellectual and spiritual functions, was to bring out, however inadequately, the fact that there are real distinctions in the immanent being of the unique, indivisible Father, and that while these were only fully manifested in the 'economy', they were actually there from all eternity."   


J.N.D. Kelly is Principal of St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, England. He is acknowledged internationally as an authority on patristic Christian thought. Dr. Kelly is also the author of Jerome, which Library Journal "highly recommended for every serious religious collection."

Author Kelly, J.N.D.
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 511 pp.
Publisher HarperCollins 1978
Browse these categories as well: The Early Church and Gnosticism, The Church: Doctors, Saints and Mystics, Christian Classics: Ancient and Modern

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