In Vincent of Lérins’ famous formula, dogma is that which has been believed ‘everywhere, always, by all’. As such, it could obviously not have a history. Is the history of dogma then inevitably inimical to the object of its study? Both conservatives and liberals have claimed that, albeit with different implications. Ferdinand Christian Baur, however, would beg to differ from both of them. According to him, dogma is necessarily historical; in fact, it is its own history. We cannot understand Christian ideas unless we contextualise them within their historical flow and development, as emerging from controversies and from the internal tensions inherent in major theological systems. History of dogma cannot therefore be the mere enumeration of the opinions of fathers and heretics, but the insight gathered from individual sources must be organised in such a way that they shed light on the story as a whole. Baur's Lehrbuch der christlichen Dogmengeschichte, first published in 1847 and here translated into English for the first time, is the classical expression of this fundamental assumption. 170 years after its first publication it therefore still merits not just historical but theological interest, even though the underlying scholarship is inevitably outdated. The work must impress in the first instance as the compressed synthesis of an incredibly extensive as well as innovative scholarly oeuvre spanning practically all periods of Christian history beginning with the New Testament. Apart from the breath-taking command of the widest possible range of theological works, the English reader is most likely to be struck by Baur's unashamed adoption of the philosophical tools of German idealism, and especially the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel, in the service of historical theology. Yet Baur's historical understanding of dogma required a philosophical foundation, and he believed that Hegel's thought offered the most attractive one available, even though he did not accept it without considerable qualifications.
Peter Hodgson and Robert Brown have rendered scholarship a huge service by translating Baur's often convoluted and difficult German faithfully but elegantly. The resulting text is therefore as accurate as it is accessible. Hodgson has prefaced the translated text with a masterful introduction providing much-needed context and background for Baur's understanding of theology, history and philosophy. In particular, it is unlikely that any reader will easily find a more competent sketch of Baur's complex relationship with Hegel's philosophy than the one provided here.