Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Preface

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This volume is designed to render to a wider circle, alike of clergy and of laity, the service which, as is generally admitted, has been rendered to the learned world by The Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects, and Doctrines, published under the editorship of Dr. Wace and the late Dr. Wm. Smith, about twenty years ago, in four large volumes. That work covered the whole of the first eight centuries of the Christian era, and was planned on a very comprehensive scale. It aimed at giving an account, not merely of names of importance, but of all names, however small, concerned in the Christian literature of those eight centuries; and to illustrate its extent and minuteness, it may be enough to mention that no fewer than 596 Johns are recorded in due order in its columns. The surviving Editor may be pardoned for expressing his satisfaction that the work is now recognized, abroad as well as at home, as a valuable work of reference, being constantly quoted alike in the great Protestant Cyclopaedia of Herzog, in its third edition now happily complete, and in the Patrology of the learned Roman Catholic Professor at Munich, Dr. Bardenhewer. To the generous band of great English scholars to whose unstinted labours the chief excellences of that work are due, and too many of whom have now passed away, it is, or it would have been, a welcome satisfaction to find it described in the Patrology of that scholar as "very useful, relatively complete and generally reliable."[1]

But that work was mainly adapted to the use of men of learning, and was unsuited, both by its size and expense, and by the very wideness of its range, for the use of ordinary readers, or even for the clergy in general. In the first place, the last two centuries of the period which it covered, although of immense interest in the history of the Church, as including the origins of the Teutonic civilization of Europe, have not an equal interest with the first six as exhibiting primitive Christianity in its purer forms. With the one important exception of John of Damascus, the Fathers of the Church, so called, alike in East and West, fall within the first six centuries, and in the West the series is closed by St. Gregory the Great, who died in the year 604. English divines accordingly, since the days of Bp. Jewel, have, like Bp. Cosin, appealed to the first six centuries of the Church as exhibiting, in doctrine as well as in practice, subject to Holy Scripture, the standards of primitive Christianity. Those six centuries, consequently, have a special interest for all Christian students, and particularly for those of our own Church, and deserve accordingly some special treatment. It was thought, therefore, that a Dictionary of Christian Biography which confined itself to this formative and authoritative period of the Church's history would be of special interest and service, not only to the clergy, but also to the Christian laity and to students for Holy Orders.

But the limitation of such a work to this period at once disembarrassed our pages of the mass of Teutonic, and sometimes almost pagan, names with which, after the settlement of the barbarians in Europe, we were overwhelmed; and thus of itself rendered it possible to bring the work into much narrower compass. Moreover, a mass of insignificant names, which the principles of scholarly completeness obliged us to introduce into the larger Dictionary, were not needed for the wider circle now in contemplation. They were useful and necessary for purposes of learned reference, but they cast no light on the course and meaning of Church history for ordinary readers. We have had to exercise a discretion (which may sometimes seem to have been arbitrary) in selecting, for instance, from the 596 Johns just mentioned those which were the most valuable for such readers as we had in view; and for the manner in which we have exercised that discretion we must trust ourselves to the indulgent judgment of our readers. The publisher gave us generous limits; but it seemed to him and to ourselves indispensable for the general usefulness of the Dictionary that it should be restricted to one volume; and we were thus, with respect to the minor names, obliged to omit many which, though of some interest, seemed to be such as could be best dispensed with.

By omissions of this nature we have secured an object which will, we are sure, be felt to be of inestimable value. We have been able to retain, with no material abbreviation, the admirable articles on the great characters of early Church history and literature which were contributed, with an unselfish devotion which can never be sufficiently acknowledged, by the great scholars who have been the glory of the last generation or two of English Church scholarship, and some of whom are happily still among us. To mention only some of the great contributors who have passed away, such articles as those of Bp. Westcott on Clement of Alexandria and Origen, Bp. Lightfoot on Eusebius, Archbp. Benson on St. Cyprian, Dr. Bright on St. Athanasius and kindred subjects, Dr. Salmon on varied subjects of the first importance, Bp. Stubbs on early English history, and some by the learned Professor Lipsius of Jena, have a permanent value, as the appreciations of great characters and moments of Church history and literature by scholars and divines who have never been surpassed, and will hardly be equalled again, in English sacred learning. We deemed it one of the greatest services which such a work as this could render that it should make accessible to the wide circle in question these unique masterpieces of patristic and historical study. It has therefore been one of our first objects to avoid, as far as possible, any abbreviation of the body of these articles. We have occasionally ventured on slight verbal condensation in secondary passages, and we have omitted some purely technical discussions of textual points, and of editions. But in the main the reader is here placed in possession, within the compass of a moderate volume, of what will probably be allowed to be at once the most valuable and the most interesting series of monographs, on the chief characters and incidents of early Church history, ever contributed to a single undertaking by a band of Christian scholars. We feel it no more than a duty to pay this tribute of gratitude and admiration to the great divines, to whose devotion and learning all that is permanently valuable in these pages is due, and we are confident that their monographs, thus rendered generally available, will prove a permanent possession of the highest value to English students of Church history.

We must further offer the expression of our cordial gratitude to several living scholars, who have contributed new articles of similar importance to the present volume, in place of some in the original edition which the lapse of time or other circumstances had rendered less valuable than the rest. In particular, our warmest thanks are due to Dr. Robertson, the present Bp. of Exeter, who has substituted for the sketch of St. Augustine contributed to the original edition by an eminent French scholar, M. de Pressensé, a study of that great Father, similar in its thoroughness to the other great monographs just mentioned. We are also deeply indebted to the generosity of Chancellor Lias for fresh studies of such important: subjects as Arius and Monophysitism; and a valuable account of the Nestorian Church has been very kindly contributed by the Rev. W. A. Wigram, who, as head of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Assyrian Mission, possesses unique qualifications for dealing with the subject. We have to thank also the eminent learning of Dr. A. J. Mason for an article on Gaudentius of Brescia, who was unaccountably omitted from the larger work, and whose name has of late acquired new interest. The gratitude of the Editors, is also specially due to Dr. Knowling and Dr. Gee, of Durham University, for their assistance in some cases in which articles required to be supplemented or corrected by the most recent learning.

In all cases where the writers of the original articles are still living they were afforded the opportunity, if they desired it, of revising their work and bringing it up to date, and of checking the condensations: though the Editors and not the writers must take the responsibility for the latter and also, in most cases, for bibliographical additions. The Editors desire gratefully to record their appreciation of the assistance thus readily and kindly rendered by most of the original writers who are still spared to us, and, as an example, we are glad to thank the Rev. E. B. Birks for his very thorough revision of his article on the Epistle to Diognetus.

Cross-references are inserted, where needed, on the principle adopted in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary (to which this is intended to be a companion volume in size, appearance, and price)—namely, the name of the article to which a cross-reference is intended is printed in capitals within brackets, but without the brackets when it occurs in the ordinary course of the text.

In the headings of articles the numbers in brackets after names which are common to more than one person are retained as in the large edition, to facilitate reference to that edition when desired, and also to indicate that there were other persons of the same name.

It was not consistent with the limits of the work to retain in all cases the minute bibliography sometimes furnished in the larger edition. But, on the other hand, an endeavour has been made to give references, at the end of articles, to recent publications of importance on each subject; and in this endeavour the Editors must express their great indebtedness to the valuable Patrology of Professor Bardenhewer, already referred to, and to the admirable third edition of Herzog and Hauck's Protestant Cyclopaedia, and occasionally to the parallel Roman Catholic Cyclopaedia of Wetzer and Welte, edited by Cardinal Hergenröther. It may be permissible, in referring to these auxiliary sources, to express a deep satisfaction at the increasing co-operation, in friendly learning, of Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars, and to indulge the hope that it is an earnest of the gradual growth of a better understanding between those two great schools of thought and life.

The Editors cannot conclude without paying a final tribute of honour and gratitude to the generous and devoted scholar whose accurate labours were indispensable to the original work, as is acknowledged often in its Prefaces, and who rendered invaluable assistance in the first stage of the preparation of the present volume—the Rev. Charles Hole, late Lecturer for many years in Ecclesiastical History in King's College, London. Dr. Wace hoped to have had the happiness of having his own name associated with that of his old teacher, friend, and colleague on the title-page of this volume, and he laments that death has deprived him of this privilege. He cannot, however, sufficiently express his sense of obligation to his colleague, Mr. Piercy, for the ability, skill, and generous labour without which the production of the work would have been impossible.

  1. Edition of 1908, published in English at Freiburg im Breisgau, and at St. Louis, Mo., U.S.A., translated from the second German edition by Dr. T. J. Shahan, Professor of Church History in the Catholic University of America, p. 11.