Free Books of Church History

See also: Recent Catholic Church History Books

The earliest book of Church History is probably the Acts of the Apostles by St. Luke, which takes the story of the early Catholic Church up to about 62 A.D. After him, there is a lost work by a man named Hegesippus called Memoirs. I think it took the story of Church History up to the middle of the 100s A.D., but it is lost, so it is hard to verify as of right now.

The most famous early book of Church History is probably the one by Eusebius of Caesarea. The book is called "Ecclesiastical History," and it begins with a summary of the Gospels and Acts from Book 1 up to Book 2 chapter 22, and then from Chapter 23 on it's all original material, up to 324 A.D., right before the first ecumenical council.

A parallel Church History is the book History Against the Pagans by Orosius. It tells the history of Christianity up to 417 A.D., and the book was written by Orosius on behalf of his friend St. Augustine. I don't think it was nearly as popular in the early church as Eusebius' book though.

Four authors, named Rufinus, Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Theodoret, all took it upon themselves to continue Eusebius' work, and they each continued the story of early Christianity up to different times. Rufinus completed Eusebius' work out to 395 A.D., Socrates Scholasticus to 439 A.D., Sozomen to 425 A.D., and Theodoret to 429 A.D.

A man named Evagrius Scholasticus was a big fan of Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Theodoret, and wrote a book continuing the narrative out to 593 A.D. By this time the Church's saints had gotten in on the writing of Church History, and St. Gregory of Tours published his History of the Church in France at about this time, which tells the story of Catholicism in France from 250 A.D. out to 591 A.D.

St. Bede the Venerable then published an enormously valuable book of Church History that has helped make him the patron saint of historians. This is his History of the English Church, which tells the story of Catholicism in England from the early 200s, but really gets going from 596 A.D. to 731 A.D. Paul the Deacon also published a Church History about this time, and covers Catholicism in Italy out to 743 A.D.

Two Byzantine Catholic historians from about this time are St. Nikephoros I of Constantinople, whose Church History covers the period from 602 A.D. to 769 A.D., and St. Theophanes Confessor, whose Church History continues the story out to 813 A.D. (However, the last two links are to recent translations of those works, and they aren't free, so perhaps they don't belong on this page.)

At some point between 300 A.D. and 800 A.D., chronicles of history gradually became more popular than narratives of history, and many chronicles are hard for me to read. The most common form of chronicle that I've seen is basically this: list each year from the year the chronicle starts in to the end, and beside each year list important events that happened that year. From what I can see, chronicles, rather than narratives, make up the bulk of what I've been able to find for a long time after 800 A.D.

In the 1100s a man named Orderic Vitalis published a Church History in 13 books that brings the narrative out to 1141 A.D. Unfortunately, I am not aware of an English translation. A largely parallel history is the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian, which narrates Church History out to 1195 A.D. It comes from the ancient Syrian Church, and it is my understanding that at this time the Syrian Church was developing improved relations with the Catholic Church, but had not yet entered full communion with the pope.

In 1493 A.D. the Nuremberg Chronicle was published. The section called The Sixth Age narrates Church History out to the late 1400s.

In the late 1500s a Catholic scholar named Caesar Baronius wrote a Church History in twelve volumes that covered Church History up to 1193 A.D. His project was continued after his death by other men, who brought the narrative up to 1647 A.D. By this time the history was 37 volumes. Unfortunately, his history has not, to my knowledge, been translated.

In the mid-1800s a gentleman named Joseph Epiphane Darras wrote a Church History in four volumes, and published it with a list of recommendations headed by a congratulatory letter from Pope Pius IX, which was sent to him in 1855. His Church History is in the public domain, now, and all four volumes can be read online here:

Volume 1 Page Scans Volume 1 Text File Volume 2 Page Scans Volume 2 Text File Volume 3 Page Scans Volume 3 Text File Volume 4 Page Scans Volume 4 Text File

In 1948, Philip Hughes wrote a three-volume work called "A History of the Church" that explained the narrative of Church History up to, but not including, the Protestant Revolt. He intended a fourth volume, but died before finishing it. However, he did manage to finish an abridged version of the whole work, called "A Short History of the Catholic Church."

Between 1946 and 1957, a French history of the Church was translated into English, and was published as "A History of the Catholic Church" in eight volumes. This work is now in the public domain.

More recently, several Church Histories have come out, and you can go to this page to see some examples. One that didn't make it onto that page is Warren Carroll's Christendom series, which is a history of the Church in six volumes. But that one probably doesn't belong on this page, since it isn't free.

So there you have it! A list of free books of Church History that you can browse and search through at your leisure. These are some of the sources I often go to to provide the information on this website. I hope they serve other people as well as they have served me.

See also: Recent Catholic Church History Books

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