All history is modern history," said Wallace Stevens. That is, whatever happens today is built upon yesterday; so the better we understand the past the better we shall understand the present, and the more effectively we will be able to shape the future. Ignorance of history is lamentable, and obliges people to walk the same dark paths their ancestors have trod, like prisoners going around in a treadmill. Christian people especially should know something about the background to their faith, otherwise we shall not only repeat the follies of our fathers but also make their sufferings vain. The importance of history is endorsed by God; the Holy Spirit is himself an historian. Consider how much of the Spirit-inspired scriptures are history! In particular, the Spirit is a church-historian, composing the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Apocalypse (history in advance). We ignore biblical history and church history at our peril!"
There are four major periods in church history:
the First Millennium (to the 11th century)
the Middle Ages (to the 16th century)
the Reformation (to the 18th century)
the Modern Church to the present day).
The following chapters deal with the most amazing of those periods, the first 1000 years, with some intrusions into the second period, followed by a brief survey of the following millennium. I have chosen to concentrate on the first ten centuries, (a) because most people are almost totally ignorant of what happened during those years; and (b) because the story they tell must surely be the world's most dramatic tale. The adventures of the new church ran the gamut of human experience, rising and falling between lofty nobility and squalid ignominy. Here we see a people collapsing from grandeur into disgrace, or rising from basest cowardice to incredible bravery. Here we find chronicles of love and hate, laughter and tears, triumph and defeat, vice and virtue, greed and generosity, failure and success. The finest and the foulest of human behavior lie in the annals of the church; but in the end love and grace prevail, and Christ gains honour from his people. The word of the apostle is fulfilled -
"Unto God be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ, throughout every generation, and for ever and ever! Amen!" (Ep 3:21).