The New Westminster Dictionary of Church History: Volume One, The Early, Medieval and Reformation Years

By Robert Benedetto, ed.
Louisville, Ky. : Westminster John Knox (2008). xlvii + 691 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
20.2 (Fall 2009) : 247-248

The resurgence in reference material related to biblical and theological studies in the last decade has new and updated volumes covering nearly every aspect of those studies. One glaring exception has been a lack in the area of church history. The two main works available have been The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd edition, edited by E. A. Livingstone and the late Frank L. Cross, Oxford University Press, 2005) and Jerald Brauer’s, Westminster Dictionary of the Christian Church (WJK, 1971). The former works price tag of $150 generally keeps it out of reach to the average pastor, and the later had, by the admission of the editor of this new edition, become significantly dated.

This new edition will be published in two volumes dividing roughly between A.D. 33 to 1700 and then 1700 to the present day. This is an excellent decision on the part of the publisher allowing for more articles in terms of number and depth. In this new edition (unlike its predecessor) the articles are signed and each contains a short bibliography. The articles are all solid overviews of the individual person, place, or event. Very few are longer than two full columns, most between 350-750 words long.

The work is thorough in terms of entries, but it is not exhaustive. For instance, many of the minor or insignificant popes do not receive an entry. One notable exclusion is Benedict IX [Theophylactus of Tusculum] (1012-1061 or 1085 ), who was notable for being the youngest pop e (probably in his late teens when he was first elected) and also held the papacy on three separate occasions in his rather tumultuous lifetime. Some articles are perhaps too brief, for instance, that of Henry VIII (300) is only slightly longer than that of his son, Edward VI (219) even though Edward reigned only five years compared to Henry’s 44 years. In addition, the fact of Henry’s exceptional importance in the transition of England to a world power is important. Also, the work does not mention Henry’s work against the Reformation,"\o"Defenceofthe Seven Sacraments" Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defense of the Seven Sacraments), for which the title “Defender of the Faith” was attached to the English monarchy. However, these are exceptionally minor flaws in an excellent work.

The articles are also well balanced in terms of reflecting both the Eastern and Western traditions concerning personalities and significant works. Further, the editor has been careful to assign a wider scope of articles in the oft-neglected medieval period, and the updated scholarship in the patristic entries is noteworthy.

This is an excellent reference volume that will serve its owner well. The articles are well written, the bibliographies, though brief, are thoroughly suggestive. One can look forward to the companion volume and highly recommend this present work.