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AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State [Paperback]

Charles Freeman
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
Price: 15.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

5 Feb 2009

In AD 381, Theodosius, emperor of the eastern Roman empire, issued a decree in which all his subjects were required to subscribe to a belief in the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This edict defined Christian orthodoxy and brought to an end a lively and wide-ranging debate about the nature of the Godhead; all other interpretations were now declared heretical.

Moreover, for the first time in a thousand years of Greco-Roman civilization free thought was unambiguously suppressed. Yet surprisingly this political revolution, intended to bring inner cohesion to an empire under threat from the outside, has been airbrushed from the historical record. Instead, it has been claimed that the Christian Church had reached a consensus on the Trinity which was promulgated at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381.

In this groundbreaking new book, Freeman argues that Theodosius's edict and the subsequent suppression of paganism not only brought an end to the diversity of religious and philosophical beliefs throughout the empire but created numerous theological problems for the Church, which have remained unsolved. The year AD 381, Freeman concludes, marked 'a turning point which time forgot'.

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AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State + The Closing Of The Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason + A New History of Early Christianity
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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico (5 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845950070
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845950071
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 23.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 261,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Even if theology and ancient history are subjects you avoid, you should not miss this book. It's lucidity and critical challenge are a feast for the mind" (John Carey Sunday Times)

"Astonishing... Breathtaking... The sad history of heresy-hunting starts here" (Paul Cartledge)

"Freeman has a talent for narrative history and for encapsulating the more arcane disputes of ancient historians and theologians" (Mary Beard Independent)

Book Description

A provoking - and timely - examination of one of the most important moments in Church history.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Well Argued Thesis 23 Sep 2009
This book is an interesting review of the situation in the reign of Theodosius, with a thesis that the council of Constantinople led to a shutting down of an age of toleration and critical thinking, ushering in the dark ages.

There is much to commend the book, and the case is well argued using suitable source material. However, to my interested layman's mind (I have read a fair bit on the history of the age), the thesis fails ultimately because of the tendency to focus too much on some specifics and to think more highly of the previous situation than is deserved. The golden age of critical thinking and toleration is asserted, but it is not at all clear that such really ever existed. Neither is it clear that the decrees of Theodosius can be blamed for closing it down.

I note the review above by Dr Richard Price, which reveals some specific issues. As this is beyond my field, I would defer to his knowledge - guardedly because we should never believe anyone just because they are an authority. But the reader of this book must ultimately decided for themselves whether the author has actually discovered something the other academics have all overlooked or whether he has perhaps overstated the case a little.

Ultimately though this is a very interesting book as a starting point of a greater debate and re-evaluation about the early church history. Why should we let the academic world have all the fun with that debate?
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Original and challenging 11 Feb 2008
This book is a phenomenon - a study of doctrinal conflict in the Christian Church of the fourth century that is written not for scholars, not for students, but for the general public. It would be easy for professionals to point out various aspects of Freeman's treatment that are insecure - the over-estimation of the novelty of the decrees of Theodosius I (379-95) against heretics and pagan practices, the claim that he prematurely suppressed the Arian debate when in fact it had already become tiresome and unproductive, the pillorying of Nicene orthodoxy as oppressive when in fact it provided what has remained the decent minimum of common Christian belief ever since, the mistake of supposing that laws against heresy and paganism necessarily implied persecution when in fact they were primarily concerned to please God, and finally the unconscious clericalism of thinking that the leading role taken by the emperor was usurpation. But if we professionals leave the writing of non-academic books on this subject to non-professionals, we have no right to complain if they don't quite say what most of us would have said (particularly since 'we' are not in uniform agreement!). Surely we should thank Freeman for airing these matters in public, and for raising a major question that historians of doctrine too often ignore: was the price of Christian orthodoxy too high? Was the greater clarity gradually obtained over the Christian doctrine of God an adequate compensation for the restrictions on the freedom of debate that developed gradually in late antiquity (rather than suddenly under Theodosius I) and have remained a reality in most of the Christian churches (in varying degrees) ever since? Is Christianity, which claims to be based not on reason but on revelation, inevitably the enemy of intellectual freedom? Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten History of the Church 23 Mar 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellent and well-researched book about a preiod in history that is largely ignored or forgotten. The impact on Christian Doctrine of the decisions of the Roman emperors to govern the empire is largely ignored. The decision by the emperor Theodosius in AD 381 to implement Constantine's Nicene formula of Christianity, and to call all other ideas and doctrines heresy, has had a profound and lasting effect on Christianity ever since. To be denounced as a heretic in those days carried very severe punishments, so other ideas were submerged under the emperor's edict. Heresy and orthodxy were at the mercy of imperial political decisions.

A very well-written book and accessible to the layman. A must read for the serious student of Church history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AD 381 21 Jun 2013
By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER
The thesis of this book, broadly, is that with the edict of Theodosius I in AD 381 that all the Empire's subjects were required to subscribe to an accepted belief in the Trinity, the long history of free thought and debate without fear of recrimination throughout Europe, but especially in the East, came to an end. The author builds up wonderfully to this critical point in AD 381 with a very clear and enlightening analysis of political and religious thought, and how Theodosius' aims as Emperor came to dictate his impositions on religion. Following a very thorough analysis of the Trinity, the Nicene Creed and all related matters, the author then shows how in the hundred years and more following Theodosius' edict and the Council of Constantinople, free thought became more muted. Also, how the impact of the Nicene Creed went to inculcate a State involvement in the Church, and how it was no longer acceptable to disagree with what may be considered `accepted' belief; to deviate was to be a heretic, and to be a heretic was to be punished. But the problem often was, as many found out to the ultimate cost, that it was possible to be orthodox at one time, and then to be considered heretical soon after. Political, religious, cultural and philosophical debate became narrower and more sharply defined, and the costs of being on the wrong side became more state-imposed through the blending of state and religious roles and authorities. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Theological archaeology
Freeman writes about a topic that invites a Michael Caine type response: "not a lot of people knew that. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Alan Hawkes
5.0 out of 5 stars Very compelling storytelling
First of all, I thoroughly recommend this book - Freeman is an excellent story teller and interweaves a compelling argument with the available evidence. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Euclidean Norm
4.0 out of 5 stars Passionate history
AD 381 makes arcane theological disputes surprisingly intelligible and compelling. Fortunately the book ventures well beyond AD 381 and provides fascinating portraits of many of... Read more
Published 15 months ago by James R. Modrall
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting book with many good observations
This book about religion and state in the Roman Empire during the 4th century AD is written by the British historian Charles Freeman, who is the author of several books about the... Read more
Published on 20 April 2011 by Torben Retboll
5.0 out of 5 stars AD 381: Charles Freeman
AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State
This is one of the most intellectually stimulating books I have read for many years. Read more
Published on 21 Oct 2010 by G. BUTLER
3.0 out of 5 stars Theodosius the Bad
It's disconcerting when an author uses the Preface to what is intended as a serious historical work to emphasise that he is a tour guide rather than an academic. Read more
Published on 17 Dec 2008 by Mr. C. E. Moreton
3.0 out of 5 stars Detail, Detail
A thought provoking read with lots of obscure detail but, and it's a big but, it drags along. For me it doesn't flow well and I found myself skipping pages. Read more
Published on 13 Dec 2008 by A. Taylor
4.0 out of 5 stars Those Ghastly Christians!
In late 4th century Constantinople the masseurs at the public baths, as they pummelled your body, debated vigorously with each other and their clients the finer points of Christian... Read more
Published on 26 Jun 2008 by Guy Mannering
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