November 11th, 2012

church

November Books 6) A History of Christianity, by Diarmaid MacCullough

Having been reading various books by Karen Armstrong over the last couple of years, I feel like I have finally found the real thing. This magisterial and thorough book goes through Chrstianity's roots in Judaism and Greek philosophy, the life of Jesus and the immediate aftermath, and then the historical development of the movement that his followers became. I learned a lot; MacCullough's broad historical focus took us to places I had not really thought of before, like the early history of Christianity in Asia (including China), and explained to me stuff I thought I already knew about, like the Polish-Lithuania commonwealth (where MacCullough's account is much more lucid than Norman Davies'). He is lucid and non-judgmental, and usually manages to avoid taking sides (though this slip occasionally during the later discussions of Anglicanism). The triumph of the book is that he does avoid the Whiggishness of some approaches which take it for granted that two thousand years of history were somehow destined to bring us to the Anglican Communion (or Pope Benedict XVI, or whatever the author may support), and by putting the problems of the various churches today in the historical perspective of the viciousness of past debates, the entire situation becomes more comprehensible. It's very long but well worth it.

We have the DVDs of the TV series associated with the book as well, and I will try and make a point of watching them now.