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Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years…
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Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (edition 2011)

by Diarmaid MacCulloch

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,810317,050 (4.23)1 / 74
We live in a time of tremendous religious awareness, when both believers and non-believers are deeply engaged by questions of religion and tradition. This ambitious book ranges back to the origins of the Hebrew Bible and covers the world, following the three main strands of the Christian faith, to teach modern readers how Jesus' message spread and how the New Testament was formed. We follow the Christian story to all corners of the globe, filling in often neglected accounts of conversions and confrontations in Africa and Asia. And we discover the roots of the faith that galvanized America, charting the rise of the evangelical movement from its origins in Germany and England. We meet monks and crusaders, heretics and saints, slave traders and abolitionists, and discover Christianity's essential role in driving the Enlightenment and the Age of Exploration, and shaping the course of World Wars I and II.--From publisher description.… (more)
Member:Toneicya
Title:Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years
Authors:Diarmaid MacCulloch
Info:Penguin Books (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 1184 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:Christ, religion, Jesus

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Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch

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English (29)  Dutch (2)  All languages (31)
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Almost five hundred pages into this tome, and we have barely crossed into the second millennium! This is a detailed, unhurried sort of account of the 2000 odd years of Christianity (3000 if one co-opts the previous, Hebrew age of the Old Testament), encompassing a truly astounding time span and geographical spread. For a reader like me who was not born in the community, nor grew into the faith, this account does not serve to enlist one's sympathy or understanding. The main response is one of surprise, that a religion which was supposed to be based on compassion and forgiveness, has given rise to so much sheer violence and brutality. Much of that was apparently directed at fellow-religionists who happened to favor a slightly different cosmic outlook. It passes all comprehension how grown men could be ready to break bones and strip off flesh to impose their own version of such abstruse ideas as the nature of god and the soul. The author affords one explanation, almost in passing: when the Roman Empire (the original, before the Holy one) was broken up by the northern tribesmen a few centuries after Christ, the deposed Roman gentry needed some alternative structure to find a political role for themselves... and what better than an organized religion to do so! So the Christian church developed into a fighting, and conquering, force, rather than a motley crowd of fearful vegetarians like some others.

A line about the style: it is clear and direct, making it easy to read. On the minus side, however, is its immense length, over a thousand pages of close spaced and small type (in the edition I have). This demands the investment of a sizable chunk of one's life, in an enterprise that finally yields little instruction or enlightenment, and strains one's sense of optimism about human civilization. This makes it a less than ideal means of understanding the Christian faith and its history. ( )
  Dilip-Kumar | Jul 3, 2021 |
This kind of book is exactly why the adjective "magisterial" was invented. It's so learned, engaging, and comprehensive that by the time you finish it your mind feels full. It's nothing less than an attempt at a truly "ecumenical" (pun intended) history of Christianity, covering not only its temporal history, which as you can tell by the subtitle goes back much farther than the BC-AD line, but also all of the different denominations, their doctrinal disputes, the major figures, philosophical lineages, and how the various Christian faiths changed and were changed by the countries they touched. If that sounds just a little too ambitious to be doable, let me say that MacCullouch pulls it off magnificently. He seems equally comfortable recounting the most well-known events in Christianity, like the Council of Nicaea and the Reformation, as he does delving into the most obscure sects and controversies, and he is admirably even-handed when he gets into the weeds of the many, many schisms and splits Christianity has undergone since before the ink was dry on the very first epistle.

I think I found the controversies most interesting: Miaphysitism vs. Diaphysitism, Monophysitism vs. Nestorianism, Arianism vs. Trinitarianism, transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation, iconophilia vs. iconoclasm, faith vs. works, making the sign of the cross with three fingers vs. making it with two, and more, in an unbelievable, one might say miraculous profusion. I enjoyed reading about them not because I'm a smug atheist (although I am), but because even though these violent, frequently lethal disputes seem maddeningly pointless all these years later, they bring home how nobody is exempt from the unquenchable human need to split hairs and make mountains out of molehills. Someday many of the issues I care about will be totally irrelevant, and even though I can claim that at least I'm not wasting my time arguing over just how many loaves and fishes got multiplied or the proverbial angels dancing on a pin, it's humbling to see all these obviously smart people like Aquinas and Augustine spend their time on Earth wrestling with Big Questions through the medium of theology. Who can say what will seem ridiculous thousands of years in the future, and aren't we still dealing with many of the same questions of meaning and purpose that troubled these ancient people? It really helps put your own concerns in perspective, although quite frankly it's tough not to feel smug when you're reading about the sacred towel Mandylion, or some of the weirder cults like the Skoptsis, who had mandatory castration for initiates (!!!).

Where MacCullouch's curating and narrative genius really shines through is in knotting together all these narrative threads across millennia and continents into the full story of one of the most influential ideas in world history. Time and time again a group of people will try to freeze their belief system into an orthodoxy, and then it will fracture under the weight of numbers, or through contact with another group, or from some lone individual convinced they've gotten a True Revelation. Then to these spiritual arguments you add the political dimension - the Byzantine Empire in particular was frequently crippled by religious arguments, but the lesson about the perils of entangling spiritual and political power is universally applicable. I finished this book on Easter Sunday, interestingly enough, and although I'll still never be able to understand how people can believe that someone magically came back from the dead, I think I have a greater appreciation for how this need for mystery and worship has endured over time. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
I had to a set a no-Wikipedia rule in order to actually get through the book - it was full of fascinating topics that set the stage for more reading. But some themes came through clearly -- the diversity of belief across time and geography and the universality of violence across the same. ( )
  poirotketchup | Mar 18, 2021 |
Christian Faith and Change
This is a one volume history of Christianity. That’s not an easy task, even in a volume with 1184 pages. The author succeeds in it, beginning with the origins of christian faith (greek and judaic thought) and examining the constitution and development of the Christian Church in the West and in the East. Diarmaid MacCulloch argues that the longevity and success of the Christian Faith is derived in great measure to its capacity to accommodate change. Dogmatism and fanaticism, history shows, didn’t always prevails. The book emphasizes the main facts in christian’s history and explains the history’s backgrounds of their development. This
is an enlightening work, specially for the students of Christian Church and beliefs. ( )
  MarcusBastos | Sep 6, 2020 |
HOOOOOOOOLLYYYyyyyyyyy MOTHER of God ( )
  JackMacPW | May 26, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Ultimately, despite a few hiccoughs, MacCulloch proves a learned and genial guide to the welter of Christianities that come within his purview. And, on a generous reading, every bit of this unruly efflorescence of Christian life is precisely the story MacCulloch wants to tell, since it proves “a vital lesson to learn for modern Christians who wish to impose uniformity on Christian belief and practice which has never in fact existed.”
 
It is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive and surprisingly accessible volume on the subject than MacCulloch’s. This is not a book to be taken lightly; it is more than 1,100 pages, and its bulk makes it hard to take anyplace at all. Want a refresher on the rise of the papacy? It is here. On Charlemagne and Carolingians? That is here, too. On the Fourth Crusade and its aftermath? Look no farther.
added by eereed | editNew York Times, Jon Meacham (Apr 1, 2010)
 
Sprawling books like MacCulloch's pose a unique challenge. His admirers know him best for his penetrating work on the theological divisions that led to the Reformation schisms. But with this book, he has shown his readers that he can hold our attention over the long-haul as well. [...] Every home should invest in a copy of this fine book. You won't finish it in a single session, but you will find yourself reading it for years to come.
 
Diarmaid MacCulloch, one of the best historians writing in English, has tackled with verve the gargantuan task of telling the story of the world’s largest faith community over the whole of its history. [...] MacCulloch has given us a model of lucid and sympathetic exposition, vast in scale, wide in coverage, and conspicuously fair-minded: this is a generous book, in every sense of the word.
added by Widsith | editThe Telegraph, Eamon Duffy (Oct 11, 2009)
 
The great strength of the book is that it covers, in sufficient but not oppressive detail, huge areas of Christian history which are dealt with cursorily in traditional accounts of the subject and are unfamiliar to most English-speaking readers [...] Yet the book as a whole is dull, and a struggle to read. [...] Despite overcrowding, I shall keep this book on my shelves, for reference. But I can’t imagine anyone reading it for pleasure.
added by Widsith | editThe Spectator, Paul Johnson (Sep 26, 2009)
 

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Diarmaid MacCullochprimary authorall editionscalculated
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For Philip Kennedy Faithful friend, who has managed to persist in affirming a Christian story
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In seventeenth-century England, there lived a country parson called Samuel Crossman. A rather reluctant Anglican of Puritan outlook, he spent most of his ministry in a small Gloucestershire parish, whose chief hamlet is delightfully called Easter Compton, though briefly at the end of his life he was Dean of Bristol Cathedral.
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‘Who is so silly as to believe that God, after the manner of a farmer, planted a paradise eastward in Eden, and set in it a visible and palpable tree of life, of such a sort that anyone who tasted its fruit with his bodily teeth would gain life?’ Origen might be saddened to find that seventeen hundred years later, millions of Christians are that silly.
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We live in a time of tremendous religious awareness, when both believers and non-believers are deeply engaged by questions of religion and tradition. This ambitious book ranges back to the origins of the Hebrew Bible and covers the world, following the three main strands of the Christian faith, to teach modern readers how Jesus' message spread and how the New Testament was formed. We follow the Christian story to all corners of the globe, filling in often neglected accounts of conversions and confrontations in Africa and Asia. And we discover the roots of the faith that galvanized America, charting the rise of the evangelical movement from its origins in Germany and England. We meet monks and crusaders, heretics and saints, slave traders and abolitionists, and discover Christianity's essential role in driving the Enlightenment and the Age of Exploration, and shaping the course of World Wars I and II.--From publisher description.

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