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History of Christianity Paperback – August 1, 1979

3.9 out of 5 stars 93 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Malcolm Muggeridge New Statesman (London) Paul Johnson's study of Christianity, from his namesake Apostle to Pope John XXIII, more particularly in relation to the role in world history of the Roman Catholic Church and other institutional manifestations, can only be described as masterly. It combines a great wealth of scholarship, including many fascinating byways as well as the main highways, with a vigorous, confident style, a kind of innate intensity which carries the narrative along so that it rarely falters and is never dull.

W. H. C. Frend The New York Review of Books His is a tour de force, one of the most ambitious surveys of the history of Christianity ever attempted and perhaps the most radical. In eight sections, with a great range of reading and a knowledge that is never made tedious, he tells the story of the rise, greatness, and decline of Christianity.

Richard Marius The Christian Century Paul Johnson, an English Roman Catholic, has given us the best one-volume history of Christianity ever done.

Michael McCauley Commonweal That the history of Christianity can be lucidly surveyed in a single, comprehensive volume of 556 pages is no small accomplishment. To Paul Johnson's credit A History of Christianity neither skimps on significant details or wallows in scholarly fussiness. Johnson provides a panoramic overview of events which have shaped our twentieth century Western lifestyle far more than we realize....For economy of style combined with a sympathetic understanding of the nearly 2000 years of Christianity's conflicts as well as its glorious achievements, Johnson's History is exceptional.

J. Enoch Powell The Daily Telegraph (London) It is astonishingly well done.

Robert Kirsch Los Angeles Times Johnson has written a readable and provocative history based more on politics, economics and social and cultural facts than on theology....[He] bases his account on modern scholarship, achieves objectivity without aridity, arrives at the present age after examining the recurring cycles of religious response to situations.

Mayo Mohs Time An ambitious, magisterial and ultimately positive book.

Martin E. Marty The New York Times Book Review A reliable if hard-edged story of the public church.

From the Back Cover

It is now almost 2000 years since the birth of Jesus Christ set in motion the chain of events which led to the creation of the Christian faith and its diffusion throughout the world. During these two millennia Christianity has, perhaps, proved more influential in shaping human destiny than any other institutional philosophy, but there are now signs that its period of predominance is drawing to a close, thereby inviting a retrospect and a balance sheet. In this book the author has attempted to survey the whole history in one volume.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (August 1, 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684815036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684815039
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Yalensian VINE VOICE on January 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
Given the two millennia which the history of Christianity fills, Johnson's work is necessarily limited in what it covers and in the detail it devotes to certain topics. In a book of this nature (one designed for a general readership), much is left out. But the "spine" is there, and Johnson traces the development of the Church from the time of Christ (with some brief background information on Jewish sects before Christ) through, approximately, Vatican II and Humanae Vitae.
The Catholic Church is more the topic of the book than is Christianity in general. Perhaps this results from the age of Catholicism versus the age Protestant denominations. After all, for three quarters of the period covered, the Catholic Church was virtually alone on the scene, at least as far as Western Europe (Johnson's focus) was concerned. But even in the post-Reformation era, Protestantism receives attention that pales in comparison to that given Catholicism. And the Eastern Orthodox churches are mentioned virtually not at all after the 1054 split, except to compare the Church's adherence to Latin while the Orthodox churches accepted the native tongues of its members. All of this is fine, of course, but the title is somewhat misleading in this regard. A better title might have been "A History of Catholicism" or "A History of Christianity in the West."
That said, this is still an excellent book, and the material it includes is examined excellently. Theological doctrine and debates necessarily enter the story (such as the Trinity and the Pope's infallibility), but this is not a history of doctrine and its development.
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Format: Paperback
Johnson's history of christianity is simply a masterpiece. The book will not let down the reader that not only want to learn about the rise and evolution of christianity but also wants to take some lessons out of it. Written with sincerity, though Johnson is an english catholic, the book describes the most important periods of christianity depicting the major trends and changes in the history of the religion that shaped the spirit of the western culture. Johnson's chronicle starts with the birth of a jew in an obscure corner of the Roman empire and ends when Paul VI becomes pope, and so it leaves the reader without almost the last 30 years of history. However, this book is a must read: the way Johnson gathers the facts of history together in order to describe the main trends and seizures is magnificent. Therefore, through a pleasant reading, one learns, for instance, the evangelization of Europe, the struggle for power between the pope and the european rulers in the middle ages, the causes and consequences of the reform and the wars of religion, how the secularization process started in the western world during the XVIII century, and many other things. The books shows also the evolution of the philosophical and social perspectives on christianity, from Agustin to John XXIII, and through the work of personalities like Thomas, Inocentius III, Beckett, Erasmus, Luther, Pascal, Locke, Leon III, Pius X, among others. Finally, two strengths must be emphasized. First, the book shows how the history of the last 500 years of christianity has been shaped by two antagonical forces: on one side, humanist and liberal forces (developed by people like Erasmus and John XXIII), and on the other side, ultra-conservative and retrograde forces (represented by Pius X for example).Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Paul Johnson is easily the best pop-historian writing today. He's so good, his books almost qualify as serious academics- really the only thing that keeps them "popular" literature is their astonishingly ambitious scope, far too wide to facilitate truly serious study. But it is this breadth of scope which I love most about them. Johnson writes these sweeping studies of peoples, movements and centuries that provide a framework for understanding that is simply invaluable. In his History of Christianity, he has done it again.
I've heard that Johnson is Roman Catholic, but he doesn't come across that way in his book. He's very unbiased toward any one tradition. But that's not to say he's an impartial observer. He alternately lambastes and praises almost every major figure in church history from Augustine to John Calvin to the spineless Pius XII.
The narrative is constructed as a tension between the forces of humanism in the church, and the more conservative elements. Both sides have had their problems, often springing from dogmatism and overzealous application of their own philosophies to the lives of others, through the instrument of the state. Of all the personalities treated in the book, his favorite seems to be Erasmus, who he sees as almost the ideal Christian- intellectual, but with conviction, open-minded, but with a foundation for his thought.
There's not much pre-A.D. history provided as background in the book, but this doesn't detract from the quality of the history that is given. I assume that A History of Christianity takes up where Johnson's History of the Jews left off, so I plan on reading it before long. My only real regrets about this book are that it doesn't deal more with the Eastern Orthodox church and that it ends in 1970.
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