Passing of the Primitive Church
Church History 30: 2 (June 1961): 84-85; reprinted in When the Lights Went Out (1970, 2001), and later in BYU Studies 16:1 (Autumn 1975): 139-164; and CWHN 4:168-208. Nibley presents forty arguments for the apostasy in an examination of the expectation of early Christian writers of the fading of the Church. Professor Hans J. Hillerbrand wrote a letter protesting Nibley’s thesis because, among other reasons, of the possibility that, if widely accepted, it would logically preclude his continuing to teach what he understood to be “Church history.” See Hillerbrand, “The Passing of the Church: Two Comments on a Strange Theme,” Church History 30:3 (December 1961):481-482; and a response to Hillerbrand by Robert M. Grant, “The Passing of the Church: Comments on Two Comments on a Strange Theme,” Church History 30:3 (December 1961):482-483. William A. Clebsch, in his “History and Salvation: An Essay in Distinctions,” published in a collection of essays entitled The Study of Religion in Colleges and Universities, edited by Paul Ramsey and John F. Wilson (Princeton University Press, 1970):40-72, commented on Nibley’s arguments for the apostasy in “The Passing of the Church” as follows: During the early 1960’s there arose in the pages of Church History a brief but in retrospect fascinating argument, which I will trace briefly. The argument not only revolved around the question of the continuity of the Christian church but also involved a more fundamental question about the very survival of the church through its early history. On the basis of his study of patristic writings, Hugh Nibley scored all church historians since Eusebius for describing rather than questioning the survival of the church through the early centuries. That Nibley took a Mormon’s viewpoint on the nascent Christian movement does not make any easier the defense of its identity and continuity against his attack.