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A Hstory Of The Councils Of The Church Volumes 1 to 5 by Charles Joseph Hefele D.D.

IT is now more than a quarter of a century since the present Editor proposed the publication of an English translation of a part of Hefele’s great History of the Councils to Mr. T. Clark (now Sir Thomas Clark, Bart.), who was at that time senior partner of the publishing firm which has done so much for the promotion of theological learning in Great Britain. Mr. Clark readily recognised the importance of the historical method in the study of theology, and the supreme place held by the Church Councils in the development of Christian doctrine; and, without any great hope of financial success, consented to publish the first volume. It is quite intelligible that this should have obtained the largest circulation; but the sale of the later volumes leads to serious doubts as to the nature of the contemporaneous study of theology. It is true that most of our leading British scholars are acquainted with German, and that a French translation of the earlier volumes (only of the first edition, however) has been published. Still, it would appear that a great many who have some pretensions to be theologians are contented with second or third rate authorities on these great subjects.

It is with much thankfulness that the Editor is now able to send forth the completion of the original design, by bringing the work down to the close of the second Council of Nicæa, the last which has been recognised alike by East and West. In closing the work at this point, neither the Editor nor the Publishers wish to imply that the subsequent Councils are unworthy of study. There is no break in history, civil or religious; and if any other translators or publishers should undertake to bring out the history of the Mediæval Councils, they will have the best wishes of those who have carried the work thus far. But it will be apparent that we have arrived at a convenient period for the suspension of our own work.

It was pointed out in the Preface to the third volume, that the Nestorian and Eutychian controversies were not mere strifes of words, which the Church might have evaded without loss. The toleration of either of these heresies would have involved the surrender of the Nicene faith. Whether the Monothelite controversy was of equal importance may be a matter of doubt; but at least it was not a mere logomachy. The contending parties knew perfectly well what they were fighting about; and a careless reader who pronounces the controversy to be either unmeaning or unintelligible, will be wiser if he takes a little more trouble to wrestle with the terms and phrases in dispute before he finally adopts this conclusion.

To many readers, the most interesting portion of this volume will be that which deals with the difficult case of Honorius, which caused some embarrassment to the Fathers of the Vatican Council. Whatever our own judgment may be in regard to the orthodoxy of Honorius, it can hardly be denied that Hefele has dealt quite fairly and consistently with the subject. The claim which he makes in the Preface which follows will be allowed by all careful readers of the volume.

Some critics of previous parts of the history have expressed surprise that the Editor has not more frequently annotated the statements of the Author. Such a temptation has frequently occurred; but it was thought better, where no question of fact was involved, to leave the Author to speak for himself, his point of view being quite well understood. Moreover, we believe that history is the best controversialist. When we compare the letter of S. Leo to the fourth Œcumenical Council with that of Pope Agatho to the sixth, it becomes quite clear that an explanation of the difference must be attempted from two opposite points of view.

The Iconoclastic Controversy is perhaps that part of the history in which the Author shows most of bias. A short postscript has been added, giving some further particulars, and continuing the history of the conflict to its virtual conclusion in the Greek and Latin Churches; but this also, as far as possible, in a purely historical spirit.

It is with much satisfaction that we have found room, in this volume, for the corrections which the Author introduced into the second edition of the first volume. The bishop complained that this was not done in our own second edition; but the reason was very simple: this was printed before the sheets kindly forwarded by the Author reached us. The reader will now possess the whole history, as far as it goes, with the latest corrections and improvements of the Author.

In conclusion, the Editor must acknowledge the generous recognition in many quarters of the work which has been accomplished. Those who have laboured on the translation have done their best to make it exact, accurate, and readable. The last two volumes have been brought out in the midst of many other engrossing occupations; yet it is believed that few slips will be discovered. For any notice of these we shall be thankful, as in the past. In this connection we desire gratefully to acknowledge a very careful, learned, and just review of the fourth volume in the Church Times, and another, no less scholarly and helpful, in the New York Churchman.

The Editor again acknowledges the help of the same accomplished friend who assisted in previous volumes. For words and phrases within square brackets, the Editor alone is responsible.

And now our work is done; and we commit it to the Church, with the sure hope that it will lead men to a better understanding of “the Faith once delivered to the saints,” and so will help forward the time when we shall “all attain unto the unity of the faith, and unto the knowledge of the Son of God.”

W. R. C.

Advent, 1895.








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