After the New Testament book of Acts, few early sources provide narrative accounts of the history of the earliest centuries of the Christian church. For the years following Jesus’s ascension we are heavily dependent on the Church History of Eusebius of Caesarea, the first major historian of the church. His work covers the period up to the death of Licinius (c. AD 30-324). While its historical accuracy is not uniform and his own theological and political biases are at times prominent, Eusebius’s Church History was and still is our best ancient narrative source for the people and events within the church during the second and third centuries.

Eusebius’s work was so widely admired and accepted that no contemporary author attempted to replace or supplement it. By the fifth century, however, other Christian writers did feel the need to continue the story of the church’s development during the pivotal fourth century and up until their own day. They either continued from where Eusebius had ended or briefly reprised the events at the beginning of the fourth century to provide the necessary background for the events which followed. Similar to the work of Eusebius, these church histories often contain evident theological and political biases.

Among these “continuators” of Eusebius, three authors and their church histories stand out: Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Theodoret. All three of these men continued the history where Eusebius left off. Although the styles of these authors and, at times, their information and chronologies vary, all three recount the history of the church in the fourth century, and thus they often describe the same church figures and events. In order to easily compare and contrast the accounts of these men, fourthcentury.com is creating a Harmony of the Fourth-Century Historians which lays out the parallel accounts of Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret side by side.

However, these three men were not the only ones to continue the work of church history begun by Eusebius. The following chart lists the major historians of the Greek and Latin church who wrote about the history of the church of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries.

Historian
Years Covered Christian Beliefs Date of History’s Completion CPG
Eusebius (Caesarea) c. 30-324 c. 325 3495
Gelasius (Caesarea) 303-375 Orthodox c. 390 3521
Rufinus (Aquileia) 324-403 Orthodox 403 (Latin)
Philostorgius (Constantinople) 319-425 Eunomian 425-433 6032
Socrates Scholasticus (Constantinople) 305-439 Orthodox c. 439 6028
Sozomen (Constantinople) 324-422 Orthodox 440-443 6030
Theodoret (Cyrus) 324-428 Orthodox 449-450 6222
Anonymous (Cyzicus) 300-335 Orthodox c. 476 6034
Zacharias Scholasticus (Mytilene) 450-491 Moderate Monophysite c. 515 6995
Theodoros Lector (Constantinople) 439-518 Orthodox c. 543 7503
Evagrius Scholasticus (Antioch) 431-594 Orthodox c. 594 7500
John (Ephesus) 571-585 Monophysite c. 585 (Syriac)
Theodoros Lector [Epitome] 527-610
Nicephoros Callistos Xanthopoulos (Constantinople) 325-610 c. 1320

 



This chart is based primarily on Winkelmann’s chart between pages 208 and 209 of his “Kirchengeschichtswerke.”
* The blue bar indicates the years covered by that author’s church history.
** The black diamond indicates the approximate date of the completion of that author’s church history.

 

Bibliography:

Siniscalco, P. “Christian Historiography.” In  Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity. Edited by Angelo Di Berardino. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014, Vol. 2, pp. 261-267.

Winkelmann, F. “Kirchengeschichtswerke” in Quellen zur Geschichte des frühen Byzanz (4.-9. Jahrhundert). Bestand und Probleme. Edited by F. Winkelmann and W. Brandes. Amsterdam: Gieben, 1990, p. 202-212.

 

Created by NJ 1-24-17

Last updated by NJ 2-18-17

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