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TAMILNADU THEOLOGICAL SEMENARY, ARASARADI, MADURAI

(HC-1: Historical Methodology and Historiography of the Indian Church)


Submitted by: Babu.C (M.Th I)
Topic: History of Christianity and Secular History

1. Introduction

“History is an unending conversation between the past and the present, carried an through the
examination of evidence and focused upon concrete events and changes in the past.” 1 Human life
is bound in the movements of past, present and future. The world history of human being is
divided on the basis of what they fallow and how they treat them. People stand at present look to
future from the past experiences and events. History begins with humanity which includes social,
religious, economic, cultural and political aspects. Human life is rooted in the two world
perspectives; one is the spiritual and the second one is secular. The age of classical history was
brought to halt with the emergence of new epoch in world history. History of Christianity begins
with Jesus and the Gospels gives information of Jesus, his life and work. History of Christianity
deals how it began, spread and became new movement in the world history. The secular history
which is considered as worldly focuses outside the spiritual world. The classical age contributed
first for the historiography. The secular history does not dwell on metaphysical and supernatural
aspects of the religion. The recent studies in the history in general has brought to the light that
there is much exchangeable resources available both in secular history and Christian history. In
this paper we will be dealing with the History of Christianity and the Secular history and try to
find how these two are pregnant with immense knowledge to serve each other.

2. What is History?

The term ‘history’ is originated from the Greek word ‘istoria’ which means ‘to know or learn.’
This also refers to truth that we derive by enquiry, criticism, and research. The Germans referred
to history as the explanation of the past.2 While defining the meaning of History Aristotle’s view
of history is the account of unchanging past. E.H. Carr found that history is interaction between
historian and his facts, a dialogue between the past and present. For Karl Marx history is of all
hitherto existing society is history of class struggle. 3 Charles Firth stated that history is the record
of life of human societies, changes that occurred in the society. Clyde and Beers define history as
the records of things thought, said and done and they also make distinction between the actual
history and written history. But a French Philosopher has stated history in another way. He says
‘history is but a picture of crimes and misfortunes’. Beccario stated that nation is happy without
the history.4

1
John C.B. Webster, An Introduction to History (Delhi: The Macmillan Company of India Limited, 1977), 15.
2
C. Selvaraj, Historiography with special reference to India (Udayamarthandam: C.S.R. Publications, 2006), 1.
3
John C.B. Webster, 14.
4
K. Rajayyan, Historiography: History in theory and method (Madurai: Madurai Publishing House,1976),24-25.

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In the European historiography the change was seen in three dimensions. First was the crisis of
the fifth century BC when the idea of history as a science, a form of research came in to being.
The second one is the crisis in the fourth century AD with idea of Christianity which brought the
revolutionary effect of Christian thought. The third crisis came in the eighteenth century with
Barkeley’s concept of material substance and Hume’s conception of Spiritual substance. This
also marked the crisis in the European historiography.5

History is a social science and it studies about human being and their activities. Human being has
wider relations with political, geographical, sociological, psychological, economical, and literary
affairs. By this we understand that history is related with other branches.6

3. What is the History of Christianity?


3.1. Pre-Christian History
In a wider meaning the History of Christianity naturally deals with the Kingdom of God on earth
with the fortunes of its citizens, saints, and community of believers. These citizens include both
the Old Testament and the New Testament. Therefore History of Christianity begins with
creation of God leading towards the second coming of Jesus. Further in the pre-Christian world
God’s people were called by two terms: “edhah” and “Kahal” the meaning is “assembly”. In the
Christian world this body of congregation is referred to “ecclesia” or the “Christian church”. 7
With creation and by the election of nation the history of the Israel begins. The Old Testament is
the recorded history of God’s action among his people. There is continuation of History of Israel
with history of Christianity. As St. Augustine rightly points that ‘the New Testament is concealed
in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New’. However making a difference the pre-Christian
Israel is usually treated under the titles such as the History of Israel, or the History of the Old
Testament, or the History of the Jewish church.8 The pre-Christian history does not make any
contact with the Christian history because it happened before the birth of Jesus, the center of the
Christian history. The pre-history of Jesus was considered as preparation for his coming. The
Christian historians were influenced by the historiography of the Greco-Roman scholarship. The
Pre-Christian Greek historiography begins in the 6 th century BC.9 Among them Herodotus was
the first to write the history fallowed by Thucydides, Polybius and others. There were Roman
historians like Livy and Tacitus, Caesar and Sallust and Seutonius Tranquillus. These historians
one way or the other followed the methods used by the Greeks. The Roman historiography can
be well understood only when it is compared with the Christian historiography. 10 By the coming
of Christianity the age of classical writings of history was put to an end until the time of
Renaissance. A change began from classicalism to spiritualism of history.

5
R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 46-48.
6
C. Selvaraj, 20.
7
Lars P. Qualben, A History of the Christian Church (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1961), 1.
8
Ibid., 2.
9
N. Subrahmanian, Historiography, (Madurai: Koodal Publishers, 1973),320.
10
Ibid., 324.

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3.2. Christian History
Bible is loaded with the historical events, it outlines the plan of history from past to future,
centered on principal events- the creation of the world, fall of human, coming Jesus, the
evangelistic work of the church, and second coming of Jesus.11 History of Christianity certainly
plays an important role for Christian faith and describes it as a personality cult. Gospels gives the
account of Jesus’ life and ministry and the later writings and growth of the Jesus Movement by
his followers. The Christian tradition, scripture, and the living community life are the marks of
their history.12
Jesus a Jew rose against the existing conditions, political and social order. To be particular Jesus
was against the rich and the hypocrites of religious leaders. This protest resulted in death of Jesus
and later the persecution of his followers. Around this Jesus the Christian history is revolving. 13
Beginning from the first century to the modern time the history of Christianity has impacted on
the social, economic, cultural, political and religious lives of the people.

In Christian understanding history is the history of salvation and sinful human being need God’s
intervention for redemption. The salvation history of Christian community revolves around the
concept of the creation, fall of man(sic), redemption and the final coming that would mark the
end of history.14

3.3. Stages of Development of Christianity15

Chronologically the History of Christianity is divided into three stages or periods, namely; the
Ancient Period(1-590); the Medieval period(590-1517); and the modern period(1517-present). In
a description the history of Christianity beginning from Jesus and later continuing with his
disciples up to AD 70 is Apostolic period during this time Christianity grew alongside Judaism
and Roman empire. From AD 70 to 313 is a early state of Christianity which was coming to form
and organization. From the period AD 313-500 the age of theological development,
controversies, division of the church took place. From AD 500-1000 is the early middle ages,
during this time Christianity spread to northern Europe and central Asia. During this time the
controversy broke out between the Eastern and the Western Churches. From 1000-1300 is
known as the high middle age. During this time both the papal and theological revival took place.
The late middle ages covers from 1300-1500AD, during this period the seed of reformation was
sown. For this reformation the immediate reasons were political, social, religious, economic and
cultural colonialism and corruption of the Papal office was another major outbreak for the
reformation. From 1500-1700AD is the period of reformation and changed the pace of the
11
K. Rajayyan, 100.
12
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Ground Work of Christian History (London: Epworth Press, 1987), 2.
13
J.F. Horrabin, Jawaharlal Nehru: Glimpses of World History(London: Lindsay Drummond Limited, 1949), 84-86.
14
Margret Chatterjee, The Meaning of History: Principal Miller Endowment Lecture in Journal of the Madras
University Vol. XLVIII. No. 2 (Madras: University of Madras, July 1976), 6.
15
Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (New York: Harper& Row Publishers, 1953),xii-x. Latourette
divides the growth of Christianity through the centuries. Here i have precisely written the stages on the basis of
Latourette’s work.

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history of the church. The great awakening in America, England, Scotland resulted in the
reformation of church, society and systems of the day. And also during this time many Christian
agencies were born for evangelization of the whole world, from 1700 to the present day is known
as the beginning of evangelicalism/missionary movement and the ecumenism. The Christian
history underwent different stages challenging the every aspect both the ecclesiastical and social
life.16

3.4. Kinds of history of Christianity17

As Diarmaid mentions the different kinds of histories, first one is the Imperialistic history
because church viewed the world as its property which is given to them by God. The Christians
expected the imminent coming of Jesus. Church only helped the world for the meeting with God,
in another word the history from above, coming with imperialistic nature.

The second one is the Sectarian Christian History by the Gnostics who were influenced by
Greek thoughts and deny the validity of the world. This history limits to the community and faith
of the people in doctrines. It is history written by the individual with a hypothetical or who do
not link with the World.

The third one is Liberal Western Christianity. When the church lost the place at the center of
intellectual life both in the Catholic and Protestant world a divergence began in the historical
setup from imperialism to liberalism. This liberalism in 18 th century led to revolution in the
social, political and economic spheres in France, Germany, Britain. The religion began to be
subsided during this time. The liberal historians were influenced by the secularized version of
Christian imperialistic history. However in the 19 th and 20th centuries these liberals could raised
to see beyond their own research area.

3.5. Characteristics of Christian History

N. Subrahmanian mentions two distinctive characteristics of Christian history. The first is


Christianity was an anti-pagan religious movement, they could not be objective in their
historiography. The second is they developed a method for treating inspired and sacred writings.
At the same time Christian history suffered with two defects; firstly, it was written with a
purpose and as part of that purpose paganism was discredited. Secondly, their chronology was
based on theological and not on the secular assumptions. These people maintained a distinction
with the Greek historians. Some of the early historians of Christianity were Sextus Julius
Africanus(AD180-250), Eusebius, Jerome, St. Augustine few to name.18

According to Rajayyan the Christian historiography has four distinctive characters. Firstly,
unlike the Greek and Romans who gave importance to the present, Christian historians gave
16
K.S. Latourette, A History of Christianity, see the table of Content for detailed description of the periods. And also
refer Lars P. Qualben’s A History of the Christian Church especially the table of content.
17
Diarmaid MacCulloch, 3-9.
18
N. Subrahmanian, 331-333.

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importance to the future events. Secondly, the Christian historiography gave way to universalist
view. History is essentially universal since people live all over the world. Thirdly, Christian
history lost its humanistic view and became theistic Christianity and it saw history as a work of
God in human realm. Fourthly, the Christian historiography rejected the substantialistic idea of
the existence of eternal entities which underlay the process of historical change. In fact above all
Christianity contributed a new way of developing historiography and a new attitude towards
history.19

4. Important features of History of Christian historiography20


C. Selvaraj in his book brings out some of the features of the church historiography. They are:
a. Theological interpretation: the Christian history reflects the divine intervention into the human
realm where human becomes the tool for God. however church historians have narrow downed
their approach to other objectivities.
b. Definite chronology: the exact chronology of church historian introduced clarity in history. To
classify the dates they used BC(Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, the year of the Lord).
c. Introduced periodization: the church historians introduced the practice of periodization of
history. This helped to divide history into ancient, medieval and modern periods.
d. Universal approach: the history of Greeks was confined to Greece, of Romans to Roman
empire. But to the Christian history is universal and for them there is one God and one world.
e. Anticipation of the future: the Greeks and the Roman historians wrote on the past and present.
But the church historians believed that the world is moving towards the second coming of Christ.
They presented an eschatological history.
f. Neglected Critical Approach: unlike the Greek and Roman historians who critically
approached to extract truth, the Church historians rather neglected and felt that it is the duty of
historian to find out how people acted on God’s plan.
g. Neglected the Unchanging truth: the church historians felt that everything is changeable, but
only God is unchangeable. They say that the world is created by God for a purpose and after the
purpose is over the world will perish.
h. Philosophy of History: the church historians began to study from the beginning of the world
to explain the hidden philosophy. This philosophical approach to history began to grow among
people like St. Augustine, Hegel, Karl Marx and others. This approach further widened the scope
of history.

Some of prominent Church Historians21


Since many have contributed to historiography of Christianity, due to scope and limitation only a
sample historians are given below.

19
K. Rajayyan, 105-107.
20
C. Selvaraj, 91-92.
21
For more early and later church historians please refer to CHAI committee for Indian church historiography. Tim
Dowley, ed., A Lion Handbook: The History of Christianity (England: Lion Publishing, 1977). Please refer this book
for more information on the eastern and western historians of the church.

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Josephus was a Jewish Historian, was born in AD 37 in Jewish family. After his arrest by
Romans he spent time in writings. The Jewish Wars and The Antiquities of the Jews, Against
Apion are his famous historical writings.

Bede(673-735) a talented historian spent almost all of his life in Monasteries in Wearmouth and
Jarrow in North England. Some of his writings were Ecclesiastical History of the English People
and History. He also contributed in biblical studies, Chronology, grammar, science and the lives
of the English church men.

Eusebius(c.263-c.339) was the first to write the history of the Church. 313-314 he was a bishop
of Caesarea in Palestine. His works include Chronicles, Church History as famous writings.

John Foxe(1516-87) was an Elizebethanian Historian. He was famous for his Book of Martyrs
and he was a compiler of accounts and documents illustrating the Christian heroism during
persecution.

F.S. Dawns, John C.B. Webster, A. M. Mundadan, A.Arthur Jeyakumar, M. K. Kuriakose, and
other prominent church historians of India have immensely contributed to church historiography.
The multi-volume history of CHAI is one best example for Indian church historians and their
contribution.

5. Secular History

The oxford dictionary defines “secular” which is “not religious or spiritual” or “not subject to or
bound by religious rule.” The term “secular” is derived from the Latin word Saecularis, means
“relating to an age or period.”22

As we have earlier seen the history is spiritual and also secular. Why it is secular? Because it is
concerned with temporary, routine matters and not with the spiritual and divine affairs. 23 Secular
history is concerned with the society, the impact of religions on the lives of the people. The
Greek and Roman historians and histories are good example for secular histories, because they
related with world and human day-to-day life.

Greece which for long lost in politics and conflicts could not produce the real history of its own.
Greece which served as a meeting place for East and West in later periods witnessed a great
change taking place. And Greeks discovered a great deal transformation or change taking place
in people’s life, politics, geography, social life and they realized that nothing is unchanged. Until
5th century the Greek historical interest was limited to the states of Greece. But only during the
time of Alexander the thinking began to change in history.24

22
Catherine Soanes ed., Compact Oxford Dictionary, Thesaurus, and Word power Guide (New Delhi: Oxford
University Press, 2003), 811.
23
C. Selvaraj, 8.
24
K. Rajayyan, 75-76.

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Among the classical secular historians Homer(Iliad and Odyssey), Dionysius (persica), Charan
(History of Greece, History of Persia), contributed for the classical history. Herodotus, who is
considered as the father of history was very much interested in the history which is the war
between Greeks and Persians.25 Thucydides a noted historian of the Greece wrote History of the
Peloponnesian War which was his experience in the exile for 25 years. Xenophon a soldier and
historian studied under Socrates but later joined a Greek band. Polybius was the greatest
historian of ancient Greece.26

Among the Roman historians Titus Livy(59BC-17AD) was national historian, Cornelius
Tacitus(54-20AD) was greatest historian of the Roman empire, and Trogus Pompeius the
contemporary of Livy, wrote the history of Hellenic and Oriental world.27

6. Kinds of secular history28

In the ancient time history was concerned with individuals, their victories and defeats. But in due
course the concept was changed and it developed into different kinds. Trevalyan rightly said that
“history is house in which all subjects dwell.” What are the different kinds of histories?

a. Political history: the political history deals kings, monarchs, dictators, rulers etc. it also deals
with the activities of the state such as administration, declaration of war, conclusion of peace,
production and distribution, trade and commerce etc.

b. Economic history: during 19th century the economic history developed. It study about
production, distribution, income, expenditure, import, export, coinage, labour, etc. in a given
period of country.

c. Social History deals with social activities of human being. Their life, population, sex ratio,
cultural, religious aspects, etc are studied.

d. Military History is closely allied with the political history. In recent years it is developed as a
separate discipline which deals with war, causes, course, results and weapons used in the war.

e. Constitutional History studies about the form of governments, functions, types, kinds, organs
of government, rights and duties of the citizens, legislative, executive, judiciary etc.

f. Intellectual History deals with role of intellectuals in shaping the history of a country.
Intellectual activity will lead to revolutions, political and social reforms and bring change in the
course of history.

25
Ibid., 77-78.
26
Ibid., 80-86.
27
Ibid., 91-96.
28
C. Selvaraj, 15-19.

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g. Diplomatic History is developed as an independent discipline. It is concerned with alliances
and diplomatic ties with other countries. The League of Nations, UNO etc, are also part of
diplomatic history.

h. Universal history adapts the universal approach in its writing history with world view. The
changing technological and communication developments are main components in this approach.

7. Differences between History of Christianity and Secular History


There has been considerable change happened both in the History of Christianity and the secular
history. Till the beginning of the 20th century all histories were accepted without criticism and
proper evaluation of the historiography. Therefore certainly in recent time both have much to
learn and exchange.

The classical history was confined to the particular geographical context dealing with their own
people. But the Christian history was presented as a universal history.

History of Christianity is centered around God, making human just an actor in God’s purpose.
But the classical history is written about people and social life and it is non-theistic.
History of Christianity is records of growth of Christianity, its government, the state-church
relationship and ecclesiastical growth.

Secular History is dealing with human beings, society and culture, country, the administrative,
political, economic, education etc.

There is a narrowness followed in the History of Christianity, because it underlined all other
secular values and system as of no use. However Christianity paved a new way for
historiography.

Secular history deals with non-theistic issues. secular history is not linked with any religious
organization. Secular and spiritual are seen as separate in writing the history of Christianity.

Conclusion
In the context of growing scholarship in research, production of materials, availability of
information, the growing interdisciplinary approaches have certainly challenged the
historiography of the past. Either Christian history or secular history is studied and approached
with critical methods of study assessing the necessary tools of interpretation. Both History of
Christianity and the Secular history have emerged in a particular context with their own world
view. However, in this complex world, where religious and cultural pluralism exist and secular
and religious thinking goes hand in hand and also contradicts on the information written need to
be studied together. Certainly there is much for the church history to contribute for the wider
perspective of the society and church. At the same time there immense writings available among
secular historians which help in better reading of history of Christianity. It is very important to
note the contextualization of historiography and historical readings.

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Bibliography

Chatterjee, Margret. The Meaning of History: Principal Miller Endowment Lecture in Journal
of the Madras University Vol. XLVIII. No. 2. Madras: University of Madras, July 1976.
Collingwood, R.G. The Idea of History. London: Oxford University Press, 1956.
Dowley, Tim. ed., A Lion Handbook: The History of Christianity (England: Lion Publishing,
1977.
Horrabin, J.F. Jawaharlal Nehru: Glimpses of World History. London: Lindsay Drummond
Limited, 1949.
Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity. New York: Harper& Row Publishers, 1953.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Ground Work of Christian History. London: Epworth Press, 1987.
Qualben, P Lars. A History of the Christian Church. New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1961.
Rajayyan, K. Historiography: History in theory and method. Madurai: Madurai Publishing
House,1976.

Selvaraj, C. Historiography with special reference to India. Udayamarthandam: C.S.R.


Publications, 2006.
Subrahmanian, N. Historiography. Madurai: Koodal Publishers, 1973.
Webster, C.B John. An Introduction to History. Delhi: The Macmillan Company of India
Limited, 1977.
Soanes, Catherine. ed., Compact Oxford Dictionary, Thesaurus, and Word power Guide. New
Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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