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Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years Paperback – February 22, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Where does Christianity begin? In Athens, Jerusalem, or Rome? How did the early creeds of the church develop and differentiate? What was the impact of the Reformation and the Catholic Counterreformation? How have vital Christian communities emerged in Asia, Africa, and India since the 18th century? Award-winning historian MacCulloch (The Reformation) attempts to answer these questions and many more in this elegantly written, magisterial history of Christianity. MacCulloch diligently traces the origins and development of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christianities, and he provides a more in-depth look at the development of Christianity in Asia and Africa than standard histories of Christianity. He offers sketches of Christian thinkers from Augustine and Luther to Desmond Tutu and Patriarch Bartholomew I. Three appendixes contain a list of popes, Orthodox patriarchs, and a collection of Christian texts. Assuming no previous knowledge on the part of readers about Christian traditions, MacCulloch traces in breathtaking detail the often contentious arguments within Christianity for the past 3,000 years. His monumental achievement will not soon be surpassed. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* MacCulloch signals the parameters of his prodigious scholarship when he brackets the Resurrection as a riddle no historian can resolve, then marvels at how belief in the Risen Lord has transformed ordinary men and women into martyrs—and inquisitors. Despite his refusal to affirm the faith’s founding miracle, MacCulloch demonstrates rare talent for probing the human dynamics of Christianity’s long and complex evolution. Even when examining well-known episodes—such as the Church Fathers’ fight against Gnosticism or the stunning conversion of Constantine—this capacious narrative opens unexpected perspectives. Readers encounter, for instance, surprising connections between Christian doctrine, on the one hand, and ancient Greek philosophy interlaced with Roman politics on the other. As the chronicle fractures into Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant strands, MacCulloch exposes unfamiliar but unmistakably human personalities who have shaped the worship of the divine. Readers meet, for instance, Gudit, a savagely anti-monastic Ethiopian queen, and Filofei, an irrepressibly ambitious Russian monk. Much closer to our time, we confront Christian enthusiasms that militarists harnessed in World War I, Christian hatreds that Nazis exploited in World War II. Concluding with the perplexities of evangelists facing an implacably secular world, MacCulloch leaves readers pondering a problematic religious future. A work of exceptional breadth and subtlety. --Bryce Christensen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
So, long story short, I think this is overall a great work of Church history that every serious student should probably read. Even if you disagree with MacCulloch, which I often find myself doing, he provokes thought and that is always a good thing. If you decide to read Christianity: the First Three Thousand Years just do yourself a favor and read a shorter, simpler introduction to Christianity first and, then, as you are reading the work always keep in mind that some of his assertions may be more personal opinion than scholarly consensus. With these two caveats in mind, I think any reader will enjoy the book and find it a gold mine of information.
The book either can be read profitably straight-through (for those with strong attention spans) or used as a reference source as the occasion arises. It helpfully contains extensive source endnotes, suggestions for further reading, and an index, plus page references for inter-related topics are noted parenthetically throughout the text.
That the development of Christianity might be treated historically at all may seem heretical to some. History seldom consistently comforts belief. MacCulloch points out, for example, that right off the bat "one of the greatest turning points in the Christian story" may have been that the last days, as apparently expected by many early followers of the movement, had not arrived by the end of the first century CE.
He emphasizes that certain major historical outcomes were contingent, not inevitable. For example, the victories of Christian over Islamic forces in 678 at Constantinople and in 732-33 near Poitiers helped shield the West from Islam and "preserved a Europe in which Christianity remained dominant, and as a result the centre of energy and unfettered development shifted west from its old Eastern centres." Later, he believes, the Church's response to Luther was unnecessarily heavy-handed, further dramatically re-shaping the West (not surprisingly, he is especially strong on the Reformation, the subject of his earlier well-received major work).
MacCulloch does not shy away from lofty theology, often a turn-off to some readers of religious histories. Indeed, he seeks to demonstrate how seemingly rarified theological controversies have sometimes stirred the masses. He provides ample discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity, the Chalcedonian controversy, disputes regarding the Eucharist, and the like, but never to the point of tedium.
He traces how theological emphases shifted over time, including the emergence of elements of Christian belief that had little or no Biblical foundation. For instance, he calls the concept of Purgatory, which had taken root by the 1170s, "one of the most successful and long-lasting theological ideas in the Western church. It bred an intricate industry of prayer: a whole range of institutions and endowments," financing priests to devote their time to saving souls.
MacCulloch attends to Christianity's engagements with worldly power and with political and societal issues. He provides plentiful material for readers to construct their own balance sheets of where Christians have stood through history regarding, for example, the roles of women, slavery and race, war and violence, concerns for the poor and the oppressed, religious tolerance, and (more recently) Fascism and Nazism.
MacCulloch points out that "doubt is fundamental to religion. One human sees holiness in someone, something, somewhere: where is the proof to others?" He notes, for instance, that while the nineteenth century is typically seen as a period of skepticism, it was a period "crowded with visionaries both Catholic and Protestant" when Christianity ambitiously spread its global reach.
Christianity has never been uniform. Its ability to mutate is one of its great strengths, particularly its ability to accommodate syncretist variations in non-European cultures. MacCulloch concludes with the observation that, "It would be very surprising if this religion, so youthful, yet so varied in its historical experience, had now revealed all its secrets."
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An Oxford scholar can't be that remiss.Read more
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