Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.
The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World (original 2017; edition 2018)
by Catherine Nixey (Author)
The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey (2017)
No current Talk conversations about this book.
When I returned from a trip to Italy in late 2018, I wanted to learn all the classical things and watch all the documentaries on the Italian Renaissance. This book was one of my leftover library hold binges from January and I really enjoyed such an unusual perspective on the rise of early Christianity in ancient Rome.
Nixey presents research and writings from the point of view of the pagans and the so-called heretics who watched as their temples, sculptures and way of life were slowly eroded away by the new fad called Christianity.
As a causal reader of history, this was fast-paced, interesting and well-written. Nixey has a sardonic sense of humor that some could translate as a deep bias against Christians. And, to be fair, there are a few passages where she refers to these early Christians as uneducated, barbarians (but also, to be fair, this is in the context of when they’re burning thousands of scrolls and mutilating statues of Roman gods.)
Overall, a fascinating book and one I would recommend to other readers who enjoy diverse and provocative perspectives on history.
Intolerance of Certitude
Catherine Nixey has written a useful cautionary on what happens when a group certain, unreasoning, and unmovable in its faith gains power. While the idea that dominance can lead to intolerance isn’t new, and that Christians aren’t the first to wield dominance and power indiscriminately and often brutally, it is rare that a group will hold sway as long as Christianity has managed. As Nixey illustrates, such divine certitude when commingled with temporal authority can be costly in intangibles, such as stifling diverse intellectual life, and tangibles, including not only art but in the ability to lead a satisfying life that might diverge from the (restrictive) norm. While some reviewers more steeped in ancient history point to Nixey’s selective assembly of facts that portray early Christians as an intolerant and philistine bunch and polytheists as at least inclusive, her larger point of the destructive power and cost of willful ignorance is well taken, especially in the shadow of today’s eruptions of lunacy. And, it doesn’t hurt that her writing moves things at an electric pace. If a volume about religion and antiquities can ever be called a page turner, this is it.
When a belief system, pretty much anything based wholly on faith, gets stripped of it theological razzle-dazzle and then lampooned with wit, it can certainly appear foolish. And it’s here that some may object to Nixey’s style, for she does have lots of wit about her, and she knows how to rally the wit of the ancients to her cause. Where she does this most entertainingly is Chapter Three, “Wisdom is Foolishness.” If you ever thought the ancients a dry, dusty lot, you’ll not want to pass up this chapter, which you could probably take in leaning against the shelf in your local bookstore or library. Nixey discusses the influential physician and philosopher Galen (a goodly portion of his vast writings managed to survive and influence the West via the Arab world, another story) in the context of empirical knowledge versus Christian blind faith. But the chapter really entertains when she offers up Greek philosopher Celsus’ argument against Christianity. Theodosius II and Valentinian III (400s) banned Celsus’s The True Word (178), so no complete copy survives outside of what Origen of Alexandria quotes in Contra Celsum (248), his multivolume refutation of Celsus. A sample will give a measure on both Nixey and Celsus:
“The Creation story itself takes a particular bashing. Celsus disdains the idea of an omnipotent being needing to piece out his work like a builder, to make so much on one day, so much more on a second, third, fourth and so on—and particularly the idea that, after all this work, ‘God, exactly like a bad workman, was worn out and needed a holiday to have a rest.’”
How different would our world be today had Christians exercised a modicum of tolerance in their ascent to dominance? Well, that’s a question best answered by speculative fiction. Reality is that we live in a world missing a sizable portion of our past thanks to blind faith.
Ahhhh. How to review this book? Nixey does her best to get her point across on how the human interpretation of Christianity stomped out the classical world. She does a pretty good job and makes a believable case. She does not hesitate to point the finger at both sides. This is a dark book and slightly depressing, but it is also a book on history and that can be expected. The problem is that she appears to get a little too angry and that diminishes her sincerity. She has good references for further research. She proves that she is literate and able to tackle the subject. Some of the events are horrific and saddening. The hypocrisy of the church is well documented. The chapter on the Circumcellions is quite gritty.
An interesting but frustrating story about the end of the pre-christian Roman intellectual world, about 100AD to 500AD, as what was at that time an authoritarian monotheistic religion enforced its beliefs. Described by Peter Frankopan on the cover of my edition as “provocative and troubling”, I am unsure if he is commenting upon the subject matter or the presentation of this book.
I suppose that I am disappointed that a book that is potentially so interesting is written so stridently, in such an unbalanced way. It feels as if the author is protesting too much, whereas a more considered survey and comparison of the christian and non-christian sources regarding early martyrs for example, would be much more persuasive. The doubts don’t arise over the arguments she makes so much as the way in which she makes her arguments.
The book has a scholarly apparatus in having fifty pages of bibliography and notes to the text, but polemical in its delivery.
The arguments made would also benefit from an analysis of why non-christians in generality had to accept the destruction of their temples, although the author notes occasional violence of non-christians upon christians after Constantine made christianity the official Roman religion. It would also be interesting to learn why, although a few subsequent Roman emperors were non-christian, most were christian and enacted legislation to persecute non-christians.
As Nixey puts it at the end of chapter fifteen, “The intellectual foundations for a thousand years of theocratic oppression were being laid”. But the author does not explain why society accepted this change, just that in particular cases, violent christians threatened civil authorities, claiming that religious authority was superior. I understand coercion on an individual basis, but not what weakened Roman civil authorities so that they could not take action against the christian bishops and monks when they broke civil laws.
Of course that changes once the Roman emperors become christians and introduce successively more authoritarian laws, but there is little or no discussion of how and why this happened.
Although very readable, Nixey is not a professional historian, and she advises that this book was originally envisaged as partly a travel book. I will have to find a book that provides a better analysis, because it is an interesting subject.
Offers a history of the rise of Christianity in the classical world that focuses on its terrible cost, in terms of violence and dogmatic intolerance, that helped bring upon the dark ages. "A bold new history of the rise of Christianity, showing how its radical followers ravaged vast swathes of classical culture, plunging the world into an era of intellectual darkness. In Harran, the locals refused to convert. They were dismembered, their limbs hung along the town's main street. In Alexandria, zealots pulled the elderly philosopher-mathematician Hypatia from her chariot and flayed her to death with shards of broken pottery. Not long before, their fellow Christians had invaded the city's greatest temple and razed it--smashing its world-famous statues and destroying all that was left of Alexandria's Great Library. Today, we refer to Christianity's conquest of the West as a triumph. But this victory entailed an orgy of destruction in which Jesus's followers attacked and suppressed classical culture, helping to pitch Western civilization into a thousand-year-long decline. Just one percent of Latin literature would survive the purge; countless antiquities, artworks, and ancient traditions were lost forever. As Catherine Nixey reveals, evidence of early Christians' campaigns of terror has been hiding in plain sight: in the palimpsests and shattered statues proudly displayed in churches and museums the world over. In The Darkening Age, Nixey resurrects this lost history, offering a wrenching account of the rise of Christianity and its terrible cost."--Jacket.
No library descriptions found.
Amazon Kindle (0 editions)
Audible (0 editions)
CD Audiobook (0 editions)
Project Gutenberg (0 editions)
Google Books — Loading...
Melvil Decimal System (DDC)270.1Religions History, geographic treatment, biography of Christianity History of Christianity Apostolic; Nativity to Constantine
Is this you?
Become a LibraryThing Author.
She has started with her conclusion and worked backwards cherry-picking sources and omitting anything that would contradict her thesis.
The idea that the early Christian Church systematically destroyed ancient knowledge is simply a myth. Christian texts considered heretical could be condemned to the flames but not works of ancient philosophy and literature. The infamous library of Alexandria was destroyed by the Roman invasion at the time of Cleopatra; what existed thereafter was not considered particularly important by the ancients themselves.
All the ancients texts we have (without exception) are the result of copying by monks and churchmen until the advent of the printing press. Outside the deserts a papyrus scroll will barely last a generation without careful preservation. There isn't a single major settlement of the ancient world which hasn't been sacked (often multiple times) over the centuries and papyrus is very flammable. Quite frankly it's astounding that so much has survived at all and for that we have the Church to thank.
Archaeology confirms that the vast majority of pagan temples were simply abandoned when the substantial funds needed for their maintenance dried up after wealthy benefactors adopted Christianity. They were then used as quarries for building material and nature took its course. ( )