Welcome to ChurchHistoryMatters.com, the site for curated links to Church History primary sources that are online, in English, for free. I've designed this site for students in my courses at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where I am Professor of Church History and Director of the Masters in Spiritual Formation, and I'm delighted if others find it helpful as well.
C. S. Lewis—the twentieth-century Oxford and Cambridge medieval scholar who wrote best-selling children's books—imagined a Wood between the Worlds, where in a silent, many-ponded glade, the brave could enter mysterious worlds, if they had the courage to dive deep into the still waters. If you follow the links on this site, you too may enter mysterious worlds. From the court records of the Salem Witch trials to the gentle, genteel novels of Jane Austen; from the martyrdom accounts of Perpetua and Polycarp in the crowded arenas of Northern Africa and Rome, to the carefully structured magna opera of Aquinas and Calvin; from the slave narrative of Olaudah Equiano to the mystical ecstasy of Margery Kempe; from the Chinese Nestorian stone carvings to the love letters of Abelard and Heloise...so many compelling stories, mind-exercising theological treatises, and heart-expanding journals and speeches.
Writing a paper about someone or some idea in one of these historical 'worlds' can be a fascinating experience, drawing you into another time and place and back again, allowing you to look at your world and life through fresh eyes. That journey will lead you through many steps. This site can help you, especially, with the first one: choosing the paper's topic.
A great paper needs to answer an interesting question with a well-reasoned argument grounded in evidence from primary sources (and in conversation with the scholarly world). Not all the interesting questions, however, have enough evidence surviving to answer them. We are limited to those for which adequate texts and artefacts have made it all the way from Then until Now.
How can you choose a viable topic if you don't know which sources have endured the trek from Past to Present? That's where ChurchHistoryMatters.com can help. It points you to sources available online, in English, for free.
Now, of course, you will need to assess which sources are paper-ready (scholarly, peer-reviewed, high quality translations, previously published in print by academic presses, etc.) and which ones need to be followed off-line into print form in libraries in order to get more accurate, trustworthy versions. And I make no claims that this site is exhaustive. Every day, more specialized websites, more translations, more facsimiles of originals add to the population of cyberspace. But here you can at least make a valiant start to your paper-writing endeavors.
There is something exciting about delving into the writings of the past, reading first-hand the ideas that have shaped contemporary worldviews, being challenged to think more profoundly and to live a more meaning-filled life. May you enjoy diving into the deep.
Gwenfair Walters Adams, Ph.D. Professor of Church History Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Domenico Ghirlandaio, St. Jerome in His Study (1480) Ognissanti, Florence