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No monograph has yet been devoted to the mission and spread of the Christian religion during the first three centuries of our era. For the earliest period of church history we have sketches of the historical development of dogma and of the relation of the church to the state—the latter including Neumann's excellent volume. But the missionary history has always been neglected, possibly because writers have been discouraged by the difficulty of bringing the material to the surface and getting it arranged, or by the still more formidable difficulties of collecting and sifting the geographical data and statistics. The following pages are a first attempt, and for it I bespeak a kindly judgment. My successors, of whom there will be no lack, will be able to improve upon it.

I have one or two preliminary remarks to make, by way of explanation.

The primitive history of the church's missions lies buried in legend; or rather, it has been replaced by a history (which is strongly marked by tendency) of what is alleged to have happened in the course of a few decades throughout every country on the face of the earth. The composition of this history has gone on for more than a thousand years. The formation of legends in connection with the apostolic mission, which commenced as early as the first century, was still thriving in the Middle Ages; it thrives, in fact, down to the present day. But the worthless character of this history is now recognised on all sides, and in the present work I have hardly touched upon it, since I have steadily presupposed the results xiigained by the critical investigation of the sources. Whatever item from the apocryphal Acts, the local and provincial legends of the church, the episcopal lists, and the Acts of the martyrs, has not been inserted or noticed in these pages, has been deliberately omitted as useless. On the other hand, I have aimed at exhaustiveness in the treatment of reliable material. It is only the Acts and traditions of the martyrs that present any real difficulty, and from such sources this or that city may probably fall to be added to my lists. Still, the number of such addenda must be very small. Inscriptions, unfortunately, almost entirely fail us. Dated Christian inscriptions from the pre-Constantine age are rare, and only in the case of a few groups can we be sure that an undated inscription belongs to the third and not to the fourth century. Besides, the Christian origin of a very numerous class is merely a matter of conjecture, which cannot at present be established.

As the apostolic age of the church, in its entire sweep, falls within the purview of the history of Christian missions, some detailed account of this period might be looked for in these pages. No such account, however, will be found. For such a discussion one may turn to numerous works upon the subject, notably to that of Weizsacker. After his labours, I had no intention of once more depicting Paul the missionary; I have simply confined myself to the general characteristics of the period. What is set down here must serve as its own justification. It appeared to me not unsuitable, under the circumstances, to attempt to do some justice to the problems in a series of longitudinal sections; thereby I hoped to avoid repetitions, and, above all, to bring out the main currents and forces of the Christian religion coherently and clearly. The separate chapters have been compiled in such a way that each may be read by itself; but this has not impaired the unity of the whole work, I hope.

The basis chosen for this account of the early history of Christian missions is no broader than my own general knowledge of history and of religion—which is quite slender. My book contains no information upon the history of Greek or Roman religion; it has no light to throw on primitive myths and later xiiicults, or on matters of law and of administration. On such topics other scholars are better informed than I am. For many years it has been my sole endeavour to remove the barriers between us, to learn from my colleagues whatever is indispensable to a correct appreciation of such phenomena as they appear inside the province of church history, and to avoid presenting derived material as the product of original research.

With regard to ancient geography and statistics, I have noticed in detail, as the pages of my book will indicate, all relevant investigations. Unfortunately, works on the statistics of ancient population present results which are so contradictory as to be useless; and at the last I almost omitted the whole of these materials in despair. All that I have actually retained is a scanty residue of reliable statistics in the opening chapter of Book I. and in the concluding paragraphs. In identifying towns and localities I have followed the maps in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, the small maps in the fifth volume of Mommsen's Roman History, Kiepert's Formae orbis antiqui (so far as these have appeared), and some other geographical guides; no place which I have failed to find in these authorities has been inserted in my pages without some note or comment, the only exception being a few suburban villages. I had originally intended to furnish the book with maps, but as I went on I had reluctantly to abandon this idea. Maps, I was obliged to admit, would give a misleading impression of the actual situation. For one thing, the materials at our disposal for the various provinces up to 325 A.D. are too unequal, and little would be gained by merely marking the towns in which Christians can be shown to have existed previous to Constantine; nor could I venture to indicate the density of the Christian population by means of colours. Maps cannot be drawn for any period earlier than the fourth century, and it is only by aid of these fourth-century maps that the previous course of the history can be viewed in retrospect.—The demarcation of the provinces, and the alterations which took place in their boundaries, formed a subject into which I had hardly any occasion to enter. Some account of the history of church-organization could not be entirely omitted, but questions of organization have only xivbeen introduced where they were unavoidable. My aim, as a rule, has been to be as brief as possible, to keep strictly within the limits of my subject, and never to repeat answers to any settled questions, either for the sake of completeness or of convenience to my readers. The history of the expansion of Christianity within the separate provinces has merely been sketched in outline. Anyone who desires further details must, of course, excavate with Ramsay in Phrygia and the French savants in Africa, or plunge with Duchesne into the ancient episcopal lists, although for the first three hundred years the results all over this field are naturally meagre.

The literary sources available for the history of primitive Christian missions are fragmentary. But how extensive they are, compared to the extant sources at our disposal for investigating the history of any other religion within the Roman empire! They not only render it feasible for us to attempt a sketch of the mission and expansion of Christianity which shall be coherent and complete in all its essential features, but also permit us to understand the reasons why this religion triumphed in the Roman empire, and how the triumph was achieved. At the same time, a whole series of queries remains unanswered, including those very questions that immediately occur to the mind of anyone who looks attentively into the history of Christian missions.

Several of my earlier studies in the history of Christian missions have been incorporated in the present volume, in an expanded and improved form. These I have noted as they occur.

I must cordially thank my honoured friend Professor Imelmann for the keen interest he has taken in these pages as they passed through the press.


BERLIN, Sept. 4, 1902.

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