The History of Protestantism

Two years ago I won an auction on eBay for J.A. Wylie’s History of Protestantism. This huge three volume history of Protestantism was written in the late 1800’s and was published until 1920’s. It was republished for a short while in the 1980’s but it was a small print run and is no longer available. I was fortunate, then, to purchase the series in an edition printed in the late 1800’s that was reasonably priced (though still more expensive than the books I am accustomed to purchasing) and in great shape. This series is widely acknowledged to be one of the best resources for understanding the history of Protestantism.

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In the past two years I have read pieces of the books, but am now intending to read through the series. I expect this endeavor to take at least a couple of months as each of the books weighs in at over 600 (big) pages. There are wonderful illustrations throughout the volumes. Wylie wrote in typical Victorian fashion. Read these excerpts to get an idea of what I mean.

The History of Protestantism, which we propose to write, is no mere history of dogmas. The teachings of Christ are the seeds; the modern Christendom, with its new life, is the goodly tree which has sprung from them. We shall speak of the seed and then of the tree, so small at its beginning, but destined one day to cover the earth.

Viewed thus – and any narrower view would be untrue alike to philosophy and to fact – the History of Protestantism is the record of one of the grandest dramas of all time. It is true, no doubt, that Protestantism, strictly viewed, is simply a principle. It is not a policy. It is not an empire, having its fleets and armies, its officers and tribunals, wherewith to extend its dominion and make its authority be obeyed. It is not even a Church with its hierarchies, and synods and edicts; it is simply a principle. But it is the greatest of all principles. It is a creative power. Its plastic influence is all-embracing. It penetrates into the heart and renews the individual. It goes down to the depths and, by its omnipotent but noiseless energy, vivifies and regenerates society. It thus becomes the creator of all that is true, and lovely, and great; the founder of free kingdoms, and the mother of pure churches. The globe itself it claims as a stage not too wide for the manifestation of its beneficent action; and the whole domain of terrestrial affairs it deems a sphere not too vast to fill with its spirit, and rule by its law.

I intend to report in on my progress every now and then. I am going to proceed slowly and deliberately, making notes and ensuring I truly understand the events as they unfold. The last thing I want is to read this series and later realize I absorbed almost nothing!