*Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years*

by on April 14, 2010 at 8:06 am in Books, History, Religion | Permalink

The author is Diarmaid MacCulloch and here is one excerpt:

…it was small wonder that the preoccupations and character of Ethiopian faith developed on very individual (not to say eccentric) lines.  It was the Ethiopians, for instance, who meditated on various Coptic apocryphal accounts of Pontius Pilate and decided that the Roman governor who presided over Christ's crucivixion should become a Confessor of the Church, to be celebrated in their sacred art and given a feast day in June and a star place in the liturgy at Epiphany, the greatest feast of the year, when the priest intoned a phrase from the Psalms which was also an echo of his words: "I will wash my hands in innocence."  The Copts and Ethiopians did not forget Pilate's complicity in the death of Christ, but in retelling his story they made him realize the full extent of his guilt, and they brought a symmetry to his fate by making him die on a cross…

I can't remember the last time I read a book that was so chockful of information and offered such a steady flow of interesting, substantive points.  Virtually every sentence counts and as a result the book is quite slow to read — in the good sense.  The writing flows very well.

It promises you 1016 pp. of text but in "real terms" you are getting much, much more.  If you are only going to read a few books on European or religious history, this probably should be one of them.  It is broadly in the Paul Johnson mode but better researched, more serious, and less subjective, though it is ultimately subjective nonetheless.  Overall I would describe the author as sympathetic to Christianity and he comes from an Anglican background, although I am not sure how "formal" a Christian or Anglican he is, at least not from the vantage point of p.346.

If there's any danger in buying this one, it's that the book is better than you are.

Nonetheless you can purchase it here.  You can find a good review here.

1 razib April 14, 2010 at 8:48 am

i’m definitely going to read this. his *the reformation* really made an impact on me, and i still remember a lot of what i learned in that….

2 anon April 14, 2010 at 8:57 am

If there’s any danger in buying this one, it’s that the book is better than you are.

Tyler, you are such a card.

redemption is possible even for the man who crucified our God and Redeemer.

That is a Christian lesson.

3 dearieme April 14, 2010 at 9:12 am

We’ve been watching his TV documetaries on this topic. Recommended.

4 Candadai Tirumalai April 14, 2010 at 9:18 am

In Rowan Williams’ review of “A History of Christianity today”
I was struck by this sentence: “…Aquinas would have seen
every page he wrote as seeking to hold the philosophical and
the …personal together, and Dante’s Paradiso (the third book
of the Divine Comedy) sets out what it was like, imaginatively
and spiritually, to sense the dimensions of faith as essentially
one.” The Archbishop of Canterbury is probably among the most
learned ever to hold that position.
Incidentally, Dairmaid MacCulloch is at Oxford University; so
is Richard Dawkins.

5 Sam Bishop April 14, 2010 at 11:57 am

FYI Diarmaid MacCulloch is not a Christian. His father was an Anglican minister and he is a “candid friend” of Christianity in his own words. However, he cannot understand how a loving God could have let the Holocaust occur and so he cannot have the faith required to be a Christian.

The book was accompanied by a TV series in the UK in which he explains his position.

6 vanya April 14, 2010 at 1:14 pm

However, he cannot understand how a loving God could have let the Holocaust occur

That seems like a pretty weak argument. If you believe in free will and moral agency then why would you think God would step in to prevent the Holocaust? In the sordid scope of human history the Holocaust is nothing special, just one of the many thousands of times human beings have been brutally slaughtered in mass numbers in conditions of extreme pain and terror. There are women and children being killed in Congo right now, probably as I write this, in horrific ways that would make a gas chamber seem merciful by comparison. If the Holocaust alone is enough to make you lose your faith in God then your faith must have been based on a very naive understanding of human nature.

7 Gabe April 14, 2010 at 1:53 pm

my faith was destroyed by my logic.

My mind does not believe in God. I cannot tell my mind what to believe…it just believes what it thinks makes sense. I can lie to people about what it tells me, but that doesn’t change what I really believe. I’m told that God could send me to hell for this(maybe that is a lie), for if he gives me proof I will believe in him(God). Yet if God is real then he made my mind like this(I certainly didn’t make it this way), I said my prayers EVERY night as a youth and prayed for his help in making me good.

The idea that god to send me to hell because of how HE made my brain leads me to beliee that there is not god as described by the Christians.

I having nothing against religion, but the monotheist do seem to be jerls. Why did montheism win out over polytheism?

If you view religon as a tool to control the masses(which I do) then I’d argue that monotheism is a more powerful tool.

8 internet incarnate April 14, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Ah, great. An internet religion debate. Never seen one of those before. Love it. Changing countless minds since 1995.

9 lorena April 14, 2010 at 11:15 pm

@vanya

what does free will have to do with death, misery, and suffering from natural causes such as earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.?

10 Roy April 15, 2010 at 12:55 am

This is not my opinion, but I once read a Jack Chick tract that used the “failure” of the holocaust as its supreme example of God’s covenant with the Jews.

http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/1000/1000_01.asp

It is amazing what can be conceived of in the name of religion

11 TomG April 15, 2010 at 3:42 am

Ok so $45, but if we’re worth but $29.95 – can only be a net-plus toward self-valuation (according to a sage). Likening its purchase to “danger” is actually quite revealing, attitudinally at least. Cheers.

12 Anderson April 15, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Favorite quote from MacCulloch’s Reformation, p. 406:

Pope Paul V was perfectly serious when in 1606 he furiously confronted the Venetian ambassador with the rhetorical question “Do you not know that so much reading of Scripture ruins the Catholic religion?”

… Cf. Stendhal in The Red and the Black (Scott Moncrieff tr):

‘In fact,’ thought the abbe Pirard, ‘here is another instance of that fatal tendency towards Protestantism which I have always had to rebuke in Chelan. A thorough, a too thorough acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures.’

13 Rob April 17, 2010 at 8:46 am

“MacCulloch selects books distinguished by blasphemous pasts”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303828304575180132080712778.html?mod=WSJ_latestheadlines

14 Anthony April 30, 2010 at 12:42 pm

TomG – it’s $19.95 at Amazon right now.

15 silver Tiffany July 6, 2010 at 12:09 am

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