History of Christianity: The First Five Centuries

Next Session: Aug 26, 2024

This course aims to introduce students to the richness of the early Christian tradition between the first and fifth centuries. This is not a survey of great theologians, but, rather, an exploration of the social, ritual and doctrinal dimensions of life in the early Christian communities. The course will consider the Church's relationship with the Empire and discuss Christianity's success in the Mediterranean and beyond.

Course Content

Unit 1

  • The Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire
  • The first Christian communities
  • Ritual life in the first century
  • Readings include excerpts from: Tacitus’ Annals, the First Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, and The Didache.

Unit 2

  • Christians in the empire
  • Apostolic Christianity
  • The Church and her martyrs
  • Readings include excerpts from: correspondence between the Emperor Trajan and Pliny, Justin Martyr’s First Apology and Dialogue with Trypho, Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians, Irenaeus’ Against HeresiesThe Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs, and The Martyrdom of Polycarp.

Unit 3

  • Crisis in the third century
  • A battle of ideas
  • Liturgical life and church order
  • Readings include excerpts from: Cyprian’sLetters, Origen’s Against Celsus, and The Apostolic Tradition.

Unit 4

  • Diocletian and the great persecution
  • Constantine and Imperial Christianity
  • Constantine’s successors (church/state relations and the resurgence of official paganism)
  • Theological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries
  • Readings include excerpts from: The Edict of Milan and other imperial statements, Lactantius’ Divine Institutes, and Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History.

Unit 5

  • St. Augustine and The City of God
  • Monasticism in the east and west
  • Readings include excerpts from: Augustine’s City of God, Athanasius’ The Life of Anthony, and John Cassian’s The Conferences.

Course Format

  • Six weeks in duration, with one week for orientation.
  • Typically 15-20 students in each course.
  • All readings available online in course.
  • Supplemental readings are provided to encourage further exploration of topic, internet links provided for all readings.
  • Written assignments (200-250 words) required.
  • Facilitator moderated Zoom sessions with students in course.

Required Texts

  • All course materials are available online in the course.

Participation Requirements

  • Read assigned lecture text and primary sources; keep notes, questions, and comments for class discussion.
  • Participate in the class discussion using the Forums area: post at least 2 comments, questions, or responses per unit.
  • Respond to the assignment in each unit.
  • Participate in at least 3 scheduled Zoom sessions throughout the course.
  • Complete the course evaluation.

Time Expectations

4 to 6 hours per week, depending on your learning style and schedule.

Course Certificate

A certificate of completion awarding 30 contact hours will be sent upon completion of all course requirements.

Marcela K. Perett

Marcela K. Perett

Marcela K. Perett holds a Ph.D. in medieval history from Notre Dame. She is especially interested in the history of the Church, early and medieval; her current research focuses on reformers (and heretics) of the medieval Church. She also holds a master's degree in theology and in medieval studies, both from Notre Dame. Marcela has recently started a new job, teaching at the European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin, Germany.

B.A., Middlebury College, 1999; M.T.S., University of Notre Dame, 2003; M.M.S., University of Notre Dame, 2005; Ph.D., University of Notre Dame, 2009