In the preparation of this section there was not time to research thoroughly the availability of suitable contemporary student and teacher resources on church history.

As a compromise, I have attached below a scheme about sequence and resources that was used in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Because most of the church history in the past has not changed, many of these resources are still as useful today as they were 20 years ago.  The list is included to show what might have been used and those interested could follow up and see if there are more recent texts and audiovisual resources that might be used today.

In addition, some student texts for early church history will be included as pdf files.  These can be used in class if and where they might be appropriate. 


An Outline of Suggested Church History Topics Showing Content Outline, Selected Basic Resources and Teaching Focus or Main Ideas to be Taught and Student involvement exercises for the various topics


Teacher References

T. Bokenkotter, 1979, A Concise History of the Catholic Church (Revised Edition), New York: Image Books.

J.D. Holmes and B.W. Bickers, 1983, A Short History of the Catholic Church, London: Burns and Oates.

J.Comby, 1985, How to Read Church History, Vol.1, From the Beginnings to the 15th century, London: SCM Press.

J.Comby, 1987, How to Read Church History, Vol.2, London: SCM Press.

(For teachers and senior students)

The TEF Study Guides 5, 8 and 14 published by S.P.C.K., London.

Church History I, AD29-500, The First Advance.

Church History II, AD500-1500: Setback and Recovery.

Church History III, AD1500-1800: New Movements: Reform, Rationalism, Revolution.

(Church History IV: The Church Worldwide).  In preparation.


St Paul and the Early Church

Student resources

R.J. Wilkins, 1981 (1978), The Emerging Church, Dubuque, Iowa: Wm.C. Brown, pp.48-66.

R.J. Wilkins and M.E. Gryczka, 1987, Our Church in History: The Story of the Catholic Church, Dubuque, Iowa: Wm.C. Brown, pp. 52-59.

A. McBride, 1983, The Story of the Church: Peak Moments from Pentecost to the Year 2000, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, pp.2-7.  A good, succinct summary, suitable for less capable junior students.

A. Pluth and C. Koch, 1985, The Catholic Church: Our Mission in History, Winona, Minnesota: St. Mary's Press, pp.35-75.

D.R. DeLacey and M.M. Turner, 1983, Discovering the Bible: The Expansion of Christianity, Amersham, Bucks.: Hulton Educational.

Teaching focus

1..  The importance of Paul in the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world;  Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews).

2..  Paul as the Church's first theologian;  helping believers to understand the meaning of Christ's life, death and resurrection.

3..  The Council of Jerusalem: The first great change in the history of the Church;  the 'Christians' break away from their Judaic origins.

Student involvement exercises

1..  From the Acts of the Apostles, ask students to compose a short debate (not more than 10 minutes) on the issues discussed at the Council of Jerusalem.

2..  From information available in both the Acts and in Wilkins, and Pluth and Koch, dramatise the debate at the Council.  The short play should include a narrator to give a background introduction, Paul, Barnabas, James, Peter and general assembled believers.


Early Christian Communities

Student resources

R.J. Wilkins, pp. 67-82.  This text looks at the Roman, Greek and Judaic influences on early Christian communities and at the emergence of Church authorities, administration and leadership, e.g. Bishops, etc.

R.J. Wilkins and M.E. Gryczka, pp. 61-69.

A. Pluth and C. Koch, pp. 78-85, 96-97.

J. Comby, pp. 29-37.  (Some extracts can be useful as student materials);  pp.47-59, liturgy and prayer.

A. McBride, pp. 14-25.

R. Crotty and S. Macdonald, 1987, Introduction to the Gospels, Melbourne: Collins Dove, pp.69-82.

The role of Deaconesses in the early Church: J. Comby, pp. 58-59; A. Pluth and C. Koch, pp. 102-103.

Teaching focus

1..  The growing Christian community and the development of a sense of being Christian and working out what that meant.

2..  The attempt of communities to establish a more formal Church structure, e.g. bishops, presbyters, deacons, deaconesses, etc.

3..  The role of women in the early Church.

4..  The development of worship;  the house churches;  the sacraments.  These developments show the links between the early Christian community and Christianity today as exemplified by the celebration of the Eucharist.

Student involvement exercises

The class can prepare for a celebration of liturgy and a communal meal to follow, in the same way as did the early Christians.


The Early Persecutions

Student resources

R.J. Wilkins, pp. 85-86.

R.J. Wilkins and M.E. Gryczka, pp. 80-83.

A. Pluth and C. Koch, 1985, pp. 92-95.

J. Comby, pp. 38-46.

Teaching focus

1..  To understand why the Christians were persecuted by the Roman authorities.

2..  To explain the Christian ideal of martyrdom.

3..  To identify the way believers today witness to their faith:

i).  by dying for their beliefs, e.g. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Maximillian Kolbe, Edith Stein ;

ii).  by living their faith, e.g. Dorothy Day, Dom Helder Camara, Jean Vanier, Mother Teresa;

iii).  or as students responding to the call to goodness and caring for others that has animated people throughout the ages.

Student involvement exercises

1..  (a) Write or put on tape a documentary about the execution of Christians from a Roman point of view, or

(b) write a short play or newspaper article for the Roman Morning Bugle about the persecution of Christians, or

(c) tape an eye-witness report of the events in the amphitheatre about the persecutions from a Roman point of view.

2..  Students imagine they are living in the first century CE and are to write a letter to a Roman friend explaining why they are going to become Christians.



Student resources

R.J. Wilkins, p. 69 for Gnosticism;  pp. 97-100 for Arianism.

R.J. Wilkins and M.E. Gryczka, pp. 85-90.

A. McBride, pp. 26-30.

A. Pluth and C. Koch, p. 93 for Gnosticism;  p. 113 for Donatism and Pelagianism;  pp. 99-101 for Arianism.

J. Butterworth, 1981, Cults and New Faiths, Tring, Herts.: Lion Publishing.

L. Pastva, 1986, Great Religions of the World, Winona, Minnesota: St. Mary's Press, pp. 227-237.

Teaching focus

1..  To understand how heresies arose.

2..  To understand how the Church combats false teachings.

3..  To see how the Church after reflection and debate affirms the value of all believers, not elites, and stresses moderation in the way the majority of believers attain salvation, and can attain goodness without doing extraordinary things.

4..  Highlight how some modern 'heresies' (cults) stress extraordinary means of salvation, e.g. the Moonies, James Jones;  their distortion of the Gospel message.

Student involvement exercises

1..  Script a play from the information available in Comby and Wilkins on the arguments and debates at the Council of Nicea.

2..  Hold a Council to evaluate the teaching of one of the extreme Christian sects of the 20th century.


The Church Fathers

Student resources

R.J. Wilkins, pp. 79-83 for the Greek Fathers;  pp. 89-93, the Roman Fathers.

R.J. Wilkins and M.E. Gryczka, pp. 91-95.

A. McBride, pp. 31-39.

A. Pluth and C. Koch, pp. 109-117; 126-127, for the Church of East and West.

J. Comby, pp.105-107, a good summary of the differences between Eastern and Western Christianity.

Teaching focus

1..  To give some understanding of the cultural and theological differences between Eastern and Western Christianity.

2..  An understanding of the contribution of great thinkers to the beliefs of Christianity and the Christian way of life.

3..  To see that the message of the Gospels is reinterpreted for subsequent generations.

Student involvement exercise

Optional activities depending on the ability of the class.  Students will examine short extracts from contemporary theologians such as:- Karl Rahner - on the value of the individual and the purpose of life;

Avery Dulles - images of the Church;

Edward Schillebeeckx - the person of Christ.


Monasteries - Monks, Friars, Nuns.

Student resources

R.J. Wilkins, pp. 112-114;  130-139.

R.J. Wilkins and M.E. Gryczka, pp. 101-104.

A. McBride, pp. 46-65.  Includes a chapter on the mendicant orders of friars, e.g. Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians.

J.A.P. Jones, 1983, Medieval World [History in the Making. No. 2], London: Macmillan Education, pp. 171-179.

A. Pluth and C. Koch, pp. 108; 129-131, Benedictine rule;  161, Cluny;  177-179, the mendicant orders.

J. Comby, pp. 81-86;  164-166, the mendicant orders.

Teaching focus

1..  To understand some of the reasons for the first foundations of monasteries in the Eastern Church.

2..  The monasteries as centres of learning, reform and renewal in the Church.

3..  To learn about some of the prominent personalities in the monastic movement.

4..  To gain more detailed knowledge of the founder of the religious order which may be associated with the school.

Student involvement exercises

Refer to the activities noted at the end of The Medieval World, by J.A.P. Jones.


The Barbarian Invasions

Teaching focus

Though most books on Church history include material on the Barbarian invasions, not many draw conclusions about their effects on Christianity that can be understood easily by secondary students.  Wilkins gives a good account (pp. 109-112) for the 'first wave' of Barbarian invasions and their effect on Christianity.  Pp.119-122 discusses the effects of the Viking (Norsemen) invasions which had a more profound effect on the Church.  The Medieval papacy and the Reformation cannot be fully understand without some knowledge of the effects of these last great Barbarian invasions.

Additional student resources

A. Pluth and C. Koch, pp. 152-161, Feudalism and the Viking invasions and their effects on Church/State relationships.

R.J. Wilkins and M.E. Gryczka, pp. 97-101;  109-115.


The Church in the Middle Ages

Student resources

There are numerous student history books on the Middle Ages which can be used.

J.A.P. Jones, pp. 142-144;  150-157 for Miracle plays.

A. Pluth and C. Koch, pp. 165-194, the high Middle Ages, 1000 to 1300.

TRISS, pp. 122-127, The Medieval Church.

R.J. Wilkins and M.E. Gryczka, pp. 117-135.

A. McBride, pp. 41-91 covers this topic in summary form.

D. Forristal, 1976, The Christian Heritage, Dublin: Veritas Publications, pp. 62-89, specifically examines the culture of the Middle Ages and its influences on everyday life.

Teaching focus

1..  To show that the Church was central to all aspects of medieval life in Europe.

2..  To show both the power of the Church for good and also the potential for evil.

3..  To show how Christians were taught about their faith in medieval times, e.g. sermons, stained glass windows, morality plays, etc.

4..  To show that during times when there were difficulties and corruption in the Church, there were also great saints, e.g. St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare, St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas.

Other optional areas of study which give insights into medieval life are the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Black Death, the place of women in the Medieval Church.

Student involvement exercises

Refer to the activities in Pluth and Koch, Wilkins, Wilkins and Gryczka, and Jones.

*          *          *

The remaining topics in Church history to be covered are well resourced with numerous student texts in both the specifically Church history books and 'regular' history books.  Essential areas to be covered are:-


The Reformation

The Counter-Reformation

Liberalism and Rationalism - the Church's response

The Church and new lands: Australia, the United States, New Zealand, South America, the Pacific Islands;  a study of Asia and Africa where relevant

The Church in the 20th century before the Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council and its influence on the Church

The contemporary Church.

Student resources

Pluth and Koch, Wilkins and Wilkins and Gryczka have good student materials on most of the topics, with the exception of the coming of the Church to countries like Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.