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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding survey by a gifted writer.
Robert Louis Wilken's "The First Thousand" years is an exemplary survey of Christianity's first millenium. Wilken starts with the life of Jesus and follows an approach encyclopedically organized around topics and geography to close with the Christianization of the Slavs in the 10th Century. Along the way, he touches on chapters devoted to architecture, christological...
Published 19 months ago by Peter S. Bradley

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43 of 55 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars finely written but same old territory
I am a huge fan of Wilken's book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. I found it to be one of the most elegant and profound expositions about the early church that I have ever read.

But this new book, which I was looking forward to as a kind of grand synthesis, is something of a disappointment. 100 pages in I find myself wondering...
Published 20 months ago by VA Book Lover


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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding survey by a gifted writer., November 25, 2012
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This review is from: The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (Hardcover)
Robert Louis Wilken's "The First Thousand" years is an exemplary survey of Christianity's first millenium. Wilken starts with the life of Jesus and follows an approach encyclopedically organized around topics and geography to close with the Christianization of the Slavs in the 10th Century. Along the way, he touches on chapters devoted to architecture, christological issues, the rise of Islam, music, China, India, Northern Europe, Justinian and Charlemagne.

That's a lot of ground to cover. Wilken is a wonderful prose stylist and his writing is graceful and informative. He also brings his own perspective to the survey and so we are treated to insights and topics that readers don't normaally get in usual surveys. For example, those familiar with Wilken's previous works will greet the discussions of Celsus [from The Christians as the Romans Saw Them] and the Cappodocian Fathers and Maximus the Confessor [from The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God] like they were renewing an acquaintance with old friends.

As a survey, Wilken does cover some familiar ground - and strangely he does repeat information provided under one topic when he moves to tangentially related topics - but by and large Wilken's choice of topics is new, particularly in the decision to give non-European Christianity the attention it deserves. Thus, Wilken does emphasize how much of the Christian heartland of the first thousand years was outside of Europe and how at the close of the first millenium, Christianity, which had spread throughout the Middle East and Persia and Egypt and North Africa, found itself under Muslim rule. Wilken also compares the Latin approach to spreading Christianity, which brought the high culture into the Latin language, with the Eastern approach, which invented new alphabets for new languages and translated the sacred texts into those languages. I filed away a bunch of different factoids, e.g., "Copt" is a corruption of "Aegypos," i.e., Egyptian, with the first and last syllable lopped off by the Arabic invaders; and, Charlemagne's theologians were opposed to the veneration of icons, and although they were brought around to agreeing that it was not idolatrous, the residual distrust of the practice is a reason why icons never really caught on in the West; and it was a Christian philosopher named Philoponus who first injected the notion of a latent inertia into Aristotle's physics. (See p. 254.) We also get a perspective on the slaughter of Christians in Jerusalem by Zoroastrian Persians and how the long tradition of Syriac-speaking Christians gave way to the even longer tradition of Arabic-speaking Christians (who in some Muslim countries may well be in their last days.)

Wilken is exceptionally good at introducing us to the characters that make up this history, and, like any good survey, the introduction can spark the imagination and interest to wander off any of a number of departure points. Wilken's simple explanation of the what was at issue in the Nestorian controversy is also worth the price of admission. One caveat I will note is that this book lacks footnotes. We don't know what sources Wilken is citing. This is a problem insofar as I would like to follow up on some of his quotations from learned authorities. This is the second book I've seen with that feature. Perhaps the notes are on some website, but I could not find a reference to them. I don't know if this is a new trend in scholarship, but for those of us who are interested in following up on the material, it is disconcerting.

On the other hand, a nice feature of the book is that it includes five or six pages of maps, a chronological chart with key names and events and some nice color photos. For what it's worth, Wilken's observations about architecture intrigued me so much that I was induced to locate websites with pictures of the great mosque in Cordoba and an interactive 360 degree "virtual tour" of the Hagia Sophia. I'm not much of an "architecture buff" but it was awe-inspiring to think, for example, that I was looking at a place where Justinian once walked.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent Book from Prof. Wilken, November 13, 2012
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Bill (Hartford, CT) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (Hardcover)
If you enjoyed Prof. Wilken's "The Spirit of Early Christian Thought" and "The Christians As the Romans Saw Them," then you will almost certainly enjoy this book, intended for the general reader but crammed with interesting information about the Church's growth and struggles during its first millenium. Written with the engaging style and narrative flow of his earlier books, Prof. Wilken covers an immense amount of territory--geographic, religious, and historical--in a book that is relatively short for the scope of its subject matter, including forays into the evangelization of far-flung areas such as Central Asia, India, and China. The author is adept at placing important events in their full context. See, for example, how adroitly he places the events surrounding Christ's birth in Palestine within the context of both the Roman Empire's temporal power and the Pax Romana. The several chapters he devotes to the rise and rapid spread of Islam confirm his belief that this new religion posed the greatest threat to Christianity during its initial thousand years. Some professional reviewers have credited this book as Prof. Wilken's "tour de force." IMHO, that's a well-deserved appellation!
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43 of 55 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars finely written but same old territory, November 14, 2012
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I am a huge fan of Wilken's book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. I found it to be one of the most elegant and profound expositions about the early church that I have ever read.

But this new book, which I was looking forward to as a kind of grand synthesis, is something of a disappointment. 100 pages in I find myself wondering why he wrote the book. Nothing is new, and at 359 pages it moves at a brisk pace where much detail is lost -- indeed, where the gaps yawn like chasms.

The delay in the book's publication suggests that the author felt the need to digest the vastly more complicated narrative of this 2010 history Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. They are different beasts, though.

The more apt comparisons are two classics: The Early Church (The Penguin History of the Church) (v. 1) and The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000, 2nd Edition (The Making of Europe). What I cannot figure out is why or how Wilken supercedes either of these classics. Whatever his ambition, he doesn't succeed. Sure, the writing is elegant, but both Chadwick and Brown are hard to surpass.

My advice: stick with the classics.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relevance is its Most Amazing Characteristic., December 29, 2012
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This review is from: The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (Hardcover)
For this non-expert Catholic, this text was an extraordinary learning experience. What made is so was the way that Robert Wilken organized his text in such a way that each chapter's relevance to what we think, believe, and practice today adds to impact of every chapter.

What we see in this text is the effort of different early theologians, popes, etc. to wrestle with the unplumbable mystery of the Incarnation, and how each of these thinkers perceived it with differing emphases which led to different practices, and devotions, and styles of art and architecture, etc.

Which leads me to what I consider to be the most important line in the whole book, which occurs on page 133, and is attributed to Symmmachus, a Roman senator, where he says: "What difference does it make by what wisdom a person seeks the truth? We cannot attain to so great a mystery by one path."

To the practicing Christian, this book offers so much. We see in its early chapters Jesus' and his immediate followers emphasis from the beginning on community, and on building a community. We see the beginnings of Christian symbolism in the catacombs. With Constantine, we see the beginnings of Christendom, and the initial outlines of the tormented relationship between church and state. We see the origins of a theology of the Holy Spirit at Nicea, and the beginnings of anti-semitism, as well as of monasticism and asceticism - all as relevant today as they were then.

There are wonderful chapters on Eastern Christianity, and on the gradual emergence of the authority of the Bishop of Rome, and on the rise of Canon Law, and the historic implications of how the church dealt with Arianism, Donatism, and Pelagianism, and on rise of Islam with all its profound implications.

In short, this is a fabulous read. I suspect that there is no better history of the Christianity's first thousand years than this.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History from a unique perspective, March 16, 2014
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Wilkin presents Church history of the first millennium from a different perspective than from West looking to Europe as the center. The perspective of Oriental Christianity is at once fascinating and sobering. Although it was clear there was ample scholarship behind this work, it was an easy and delightful read, well written, and accessible to most people. Fr. Jerry Brown
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good, even mind-bending history of Christianity's first 1000 years...., July 17, 2013
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I'm neither a scholar who has read many early histories of Christianity nor a novice. I was led to this book by an extensive and enthusiastic review in the New York Review of Books, this by a well-known scholar in the field. Over the years, I've read bits & pieces of Christian history, though my knowledge of non-Western/non-Latin Christian history was quite limited. And as an ex-historian (musicologist), I've often felt my lack of overview.

This book is a delight. As many reviewers have noted, it's well-written without being dumbed down. Wilken has made each brief chapter fairly stand-alone: centering on a key idea, person, and/or aspect of Christian organization, worship, or geography. It's not Euro/Latin-centric, because in the first 1000 years, Christianity wasn't Euro/Latin-centric. Most Christians then spoke Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopean, Arabic and other languages. Yes, the European world is included, but it's given its proper place, showing what influenced it as well as how it became distinctive.

Most chapters are written around a great person or two, who is placed in his AND her social, cultural, economic, political, and geographic contexts. The chapters are liberally sprinkled with illuminating quotes, often whetting my appetite for more reading. I felt, in some ways, I got to know the people, their concerns and their situation, as well as what was most vital about them.

Yes, I know it's not like reading a book on, say, the great Syriac-speaking hymnist St. Ephrem, or the Council of Nicaea and the follow-up Council of Constantinople, or what happened to half the Christian population when they were conquered by Moslems over the course of just a few hundred years. But I got a good start, and I have a quick review that I can go back to, if I want.

And while there are no footnotes, a sad omission, there's an appendix that lists good specialized histories and, particularly nice, another appendix of recommended English translations of most key figures.

What did I find mind-bending? The sheer diversity of Christianity's first 1000 years: its many different pathways of development; the vast scope of its geniuses, heroes and villains; its great expansions and equally great contractions. While I had some knowledge of Christianity's first 200 years, and some grasp of Western Christianity's first 500 years, there was still so, so much that I hadn't known or even suspected.

(By the way, I read the Kindle edition, and it was almost entirely free of errors -- I noticed only one or two.)

So if you find yourself curious about a geographically, intellectually, culturally inclusive overview of Christianity's first 1000 years -- during which, as Wilken says, Christianity became the first global religion, spreading from Ireland and Iceland to Persia, India and China -- I recommend this book highly.

You'll not only learn something intriguing, I believe you'll also enjoy it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HISTORY ALIVE, May 7, 2013
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This review is from: The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (Hardcover)
The renown historian Wilkin at his very best. Many of us have labored under the misconception that "the good old days" were golden. This extremely well done history hits the "highs" and "lows" of the first 1,000 years of the Church. An extremely well done objective history.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to put down, March 20, 2013
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The author keeps his eye on the ball, proving the kind of gripping narrative that only mature scholars at their best can manage. Among the best overviews of Christian history up to Christendom that I've come across.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A new look at Christian history, December 24, 2013
By 
Thomas P. Rausch (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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A clear, inclusive, and informative survey of the first thousand years of Christianity, exceptional for its moving beyond the church of Europe to include the churches of Africa and the East, most of whom did not survive the rise of Islam. Especially interesting is Wilken's attention to the Church of the East and its missionary work.

Thomas P. Rausch, S.J.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This brings the faith to your doorstep...and then to your mind and heart., August 26, 2013
By 
LYLE RASCH (Cincinnati, OH USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (Hardcover)
Wilken does a superb job in dealing with the first 1000 years of Christianity. What impressed me is that he is scholarly--yet can write for the lay person and non-scholar too. There are "morsels and tidbits" in this history that will stay with you forever! Pastors will find great sermon examples here like I did. It is not a "pop" book by any means and I read it quite slowly and thoughtfully. But I couldn't wait to get back to it when I had to lay it down. History lovers will devour the book...and curious readers will be truly rewarded. Non-Christians will be interested in how Christianity became a world religion. A truly 5 star book!
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The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity
The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity by Robert Louis Wilken (Hardcover - November 27, 2012)
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