Through their teaching of early Christian history and theology,
Elizabeth A. Clark contends, Princeton Theological Seminary,
Harvard Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, and Union
Theological Seminary functioned as America's closest equivalents to
graduate schools in the humanities during the nineteenth century.
These four Protestant institutions, founded to train clergy, later
became the cradles for the nonsectarian study of religion at
secular colleges and universities. Clark, one of the world's most
eminent scholars of early Christianity, explores this development
in Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant
Professors in Nineteenth-Century America.
Based on voluminous archival materials, the book charts how
American theologians traveled to Europe to study in Germany and
confronted intellectual currents that were invigorating but
potentially threatening to their faith. The Union and Yale
professors in particular struggled to tame German biblical and
philosophical criticism to fit American evangelical convictions.
German models that encouraged a positive view of early and medieval
Christianity collided with Protestant assumptions that the church
had declined grievously between the Apostolic and Reformation eras.
Trying to reconcile these views, the Americans came to offer some
counterbalance to traditional Protestant hostility both to
contemporary Roman Catholicism and to those historical periods that
had been perceived as Catholic, especially the patristic era.
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