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The Formation of Christendom (Princeton Paperbacks) Paperback – August 1, 1989

ISBN-13: 978-0691008318 ISBN-10: 0691008310 Edition: Reprint
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This exceptionally learned, remarkably broad, and lucidly written study represents a milestone in our understanding of the culture of late classical antiquity and of early medieval Europe. Examining both Muslim and Christian heirs of the Roman Empire, Herrrin explores faith as a material force in early medieval society. As the ancient world collapsed, religious faith rather than imperial rule became the feature with which Christians and Muslims defined their worlds. The adaptability of both to local needs provided the dynamism necessary for their expansion. Herrin sees Byzantium as the central force in the development of both Europe and Islam: Byzantium checked the Muslim challenge to Western Christendom but failed to confine Islam to Arabia. Certain to provoke discussion, this fine comparative history is essential for both research and general collections. Bennett D. Hill, St. Anselm's Abbey, Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"The main argument of Judith Herrin's The Formation of Christendom is that what she calls the 'initial particularity' of Europe is to be sought in the period between the fourth and the ninth centuries. . . . Herrins's scholarship is unerring, her scope is wide and her style fluent. . . . The treatment of the so-called iconoclastic controversy, the dispute over the veneration of images in Christian worship which convulsed the Byzantine world in the eighth century, is sparkling. . . . Debate about where modern Europe came from . . . will be enriched by this civilized and accomplished book."--The Economist

". . . Herrin follows some magnificent themes with the lucid dispassion of a good detective."--Thomas D'Evelyn, The Christian Science Monitor

"It is [the] binding together of distant past and immediate present which makes Judith Herrin's scholarship so exciting: she can convince the reader that the roots of Western distinctiveness really do lead all the way to forgotten episcopal meetings in small towns in Asia Minor in the fourth century."--Michael Ignatieff, The Observer

"...a learned, challenging, and gracefully written interpretation of the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages."--Robert L. Wilken, Commonweal

"Judith Herrin has produced an ambitious, learned, lucid, and instructive book."--Alexander Murray, The Times Literary Supplement

"...it will no longer be possible to hop from pagan antiquity to Carolingian Europe as if nothing had happened in between. Judith Herrin has laid her sheet of paper over the map of that 'dark' age and rubbed and rubbed until the rich web of connections and cracks has shown through."--Marina Warner, The Independent

"This is a serious and powerful book....a grand synthesis on a scale few people would dare now to attempt, ranging across diverse societies with considerable assurance."--Christopher J. Wickham, The International History Review

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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (August 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691008310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691008318
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,042,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is an unbelievably comprehensive history of a little-known topic. For those not well-schooled in Late Antique, Early Christian, and Early Medieval history, Ms. Herrin's book is a tough introduction, assuming knowledge on a wide range of topics. Nonetheless, the overall narrative is fascinating and lack of background should not prevent one from enjoying it. This book's main thesis - that the Late Antique and Early Medieval developments in Christianity explain modern Europe - is carefully and thoughtfully displayed. In addition, the prose is sharp and often elegant. Overall, Ms. Herrin's is an astounding accomplishment to read - both for the specialist and the layman.
Nonetheless, anyone who undertakes this book must be prepared to make a serious commitment to its rigor and density. Ms. Herrin is not patient in her presentation. You either get it or you don't. I spent many hours looking back to passages that I thought I had understood. Still, a delight. Highly, highly recommended.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By David E. Blair on September 28, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is no book available that I know of that could replace this work in the library of any person more than casually interested in the history of the Church, late antiquity, and the early medieval period. With all due respect to Peter Brown, Averil Cameron and others too numerous to name, the breadth and depth of this massive undertaking are awe inspiring. The author, Judith Herrin, is Professor of Late Antiquity and Byzantine Studies at Kings College of the University of London. Covering the period from 400 Ce until 850 Ce she meticulously and methodically explains the interactions of the East and the West both temporal and religious. With the advent of Islam, the author detects an irrevocable fracturing of the Mediterranean world into three distinct but interactive sectors. Herrin clearly states in her conclusion, "I have presented Byzantium as an essential factor in the development of both the West and Islam." After careful consideration of this work, this reader fully accepts her conclusion that Byzantium was a defining factor in the development of the feudal and modern Western world.

The interaction of the Eastern Roman Empire after the fall of the West with the polities that replaced it are carefully developed. With equal adeptness, Roman papal relations with the East are detailed. With much of the West and North Africa becoming Arian Christian including most of Italy, Rome was reduced by continuous warfare to a theological center fighting for its life and influence. It is from that beginning that the author starts her analysis and synthesis of events that culminate with the crowning of a new emperor in the West, Charles the Great, on December 25th in 800 Ce by Pope Leo III. The Mediterranean was still precariously a "Roman Lake" during the rule of Theodosius the Great.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Dougal on January 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
'The Formation of Christendom' by Judith Herrin is an excellent resource for those interested in the crucial, much-maligned period when the Roman Empire fell apart, Byzantium and Islam arose, and the Roman Church gained institutional and intellectual primacy in western Europe. It should be essential reading for those allegedly educated many who think the Renaissance somehow erupted full blown in the 15th century without the important previous groundwork outlined here. True, it's not easy reading, but then again, this is not a beach novel. Particularly fascinating to me is the clear presentation of the relationships between political power and what now seem like obscure, even laughable, theological controversies. They were more serious and far-reaching than I would have imagined. Terrific book!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By S. Pactor VINE VOICE on August 2, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
You have to admire Ms. Herrin's careful and resourceful scholarship about an era that is shrouded in mystery. Herrin focuses on the transistion from "late antiquity" to the early middle ages, aka from about 550 AD to 850 AD. She is specifically concerned with answering the question of "what makes western europe different?" Her answer is that western is europe is unique in its division of power between temporal and spiritual authority (i.e. church and state). Does her answer sound familiar?

Herrin delves into the gradual seperation of Rome from Constantinople both in terms of theology and military force. On the former subject, you had better be prepared for a ton of information on the debate over iconclasm v. iconophilism. The later topic is a bit easier to grasp: Byzantium was pressed by Islam, which led to an abandonment of military responsibility in the area surrounding Rome, which led to the Popes soliciting assistance from the Franks, which led to the Holy Roman Empire, more or less.

It's an interesting subject, and this is a well written book, but at a nearly five hundred pages, it takes a great deal of rigor to penetrate.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By "showdntell" on February 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book that filled the gaps in my knowlege concerning the history of eastern christendom. Judith Herrin explains how the issues of Monotheletism, Iconoclasm, and the ideological struggle between the Papacy and Constantinople affected relations between both eastern and western "Europe". Her book is a close analysis of this struggle, spanning all of the early Middle Ages until 843. If your knowledge of the issue of iconoclasm is vague, then Judith Herrin's book is the one to buy. Her narrative is engaging, coherent, and thoughtful. It is a good synthesis of the developments of the Oecumenical Councils too. Her explication of the Franco-papal alliance and its influence on eastern christendom is what I found most illuminationg. The Afterword has a nice personal touch as well.
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