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Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianisation of the Roman World (Canto original series) [Paperback]

Peter Brown

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28 Aug 1997 Canto original series
The Christianisation of the Roman world lies at the root of modern Europe, yet at the time it was a tentative and piecemeal process. Peter Brown's fascinating study examines the factors which proved decisive and the compromises which made the emergence of the Christian 'thought world' possible: how the the old gods of the Roman Empire could be reinterpreted as symbols to further the message of the Church. Peter Brown also shows how Christian holy men were less representative of a triumphant faith than negotiators of a working compromise between the new faith and traditional ways of dealing with the supernatural worlds.

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Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianisation of the Roman World (Canto original series) + Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire (Curti Lectures)
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'A brilliant book, by a scholar to whom church historians are already deeply indebted, providing ample material for further debates.' The Expository Times

' ... the treatment is fresh and independent'. The Times Literary Supplement

Book Description

Peter Brown's fascinating study examines the factors which proved decisive and the compromises which made the emergence of the Christian 'thought world' possible: how the the old gods of the Roman Empire could be reinterpreted as symbols to further the message of the Church.

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FACED BY A TOPIC AS LABYRINTHINE AS THE PROBLEM OF Christianisation, it is a relief to begin with a person for whom the problem apparently caused little trouble. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Erudite, elegant and satisfying 27 Feb 2000
By Scott Darby - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A brilliant analysis of the slow process of Christianising the Roman Empire. Brown writes in a learned yet clear manner, and addresses one directly as if in conversation. He guides the reader through his own considerations over the years, and displays not only his incomparable understanding of this topic, but also his interesting shifts of belief in different areas, as well as challenging or developing the theses of other scholars. A deeply personal and stimulting read, especially for those who enjoyed his 'World of Late Antiquity' and 'Augustine of Hippo'.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Fascinating and Resourceful" 12 Feb 2002
By Johannes Platonicus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Peter Brown's "Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianization of the Roman World" is a work well-worth its weight in perspective, since it breaks with the customary norm of interpreting the rise and triumph of Christianity through a medium of objective analysis. Brown ignores the inevitable vicissitudes of recorded history and offers a much more personal, subjective, and systematic account of the triumph of Christianity. To Professor Brown, Christianity gradually emerged and ascended amongst a world deeply rooted in traditional Pagan "common sense" belief systems. This process involved a shift in how upper-class Roman society conducted religious and political institutions; these institutions were in turn viewed by the general public, and at last Christianity was accepted and validated by the consensus of both stratums of society. Brown concludes and confirms his view by pointing out the profound effect that the holy men of the fifth and sixth centuries had upon people of all walks of life. This, from Brown's perspective, proves that Christianity needed to have a firm hold upon the psyche of the late Roman world and not merely upon the social and cultural levels. In other words, Constantine's revolution was only half the story. This work is clear and concise, and definitely has something to offer to both scholars and general readers alike.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pagan/Christian interface- not so tidy as you may think 26 Mar 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a gem of a book. Short enough to read in an afternoon, but so packed full of ideas and primary source material that you will return to it repeatedly in your research.

Chapter 1 details the "triumphalist" approach to understanding the suppossed triumph of Christianity ofver paganism, a la Eusebius, but that the defeat of Adrianople shook the beleif in an ordered and understandable "god on our side" worldview. According to Brown, Augustine had a more sober view of reality, which was pessimistic about "this age", and which eventually overtook the former idealism. Augustine laments the encroachment of pagan practices as converts streamed in, akin to Cato the Elder's lament about foreigners in Rome.

Chapter 2 explores the intorlerance for alternate theologies and beliefs in the Theodosian Age, a truly sad chapter in Christian history (IMHO). What is refreshing to me is how Brown points out that in the midst of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish activites there was a greater than expected (or currently understood and taught) amount of civility and respect. Remember, keeping the empire together was their main priority. So it was the upper class, moreso than the church or state, setting the tone of practice.

Chapter 3 examines the idea of the holy, the saint. Reminescent of paganism, the holy man interceeded for all regardless of religion or creed. Such a man allowed the newly chrsitened, or reluctanly conjoled, to make a familiar trainsition into the new religion.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, succinct, but perhaps a little overpriced. 5 Aug 2011
By Kirialax - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a tiny little book divided into three essays and is an easy read in an afternoon for those somewhat initiated in the subject. It is important to point out that these are academic articles, and this is not a general history of the period with a focus on Christianization. Those unacquainted with the basics of this period may find too many unfamiliar names being tossed around to get to the real meat of this book. The first essay "Christianization: Narratives and Process" discusses how Christianity was melded by and how it reshaped fundamental ideas of how the universe functioned, and how this would vary between the "Eusebeian" east and the "Augustinian" west during the medieval period. He explains how Christians understood paganism and authority, and how pagans reacted to the success of the Christians. The scope is wide, the writing is masterful, and Peter Brown's expertise on the subject ensures that this particular essay is an important one. The second essay deals with just how far intolerance can go, and he argues that the traditional explanation of a rather intolerant post-Constantinian empire is not entirely accurate. He also explores the question of just what intolerance was, and argues quite convincingly that the means of intolerance was the important factor. Paideia played a major role in this, and this entire chapter feels like a very succinct summary of Brown's Power & Persuasion Late Antiquity: Towards A Christian Empire. The final essay is an expansion on Brown's seminal "Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Antiquity" article published in 1971 in the Journal of Roman Studies. He comments on criticism of his earlier article and refines the points made by making some concise and important arguments on how the late antique holy men were viewed and how they related to paganism. I'm not totally sure how he arrives at the conclusion that Symeon Stylites was accepting the surrender of the pagan gods, but the salient points of the article remain clear enough, and it remains a fine addition to the original article and a good conclusion to this little book.

The one and only criticism I have with this book is its price. The content is excellent, although the central article is expounded at greater length in a book $10 cheaper than this one. For only some 80 pages of reading, this book costs as much as two average popular history books. Given its size, I'm not sure that this is entirely fair given the generally reasonable price for some of Brown's other works.
5.0 out of 5 stars Erudite, elegant and satisfying 27 Feb 2000
By Scott Darby - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A brilliant analysis of the slow process of Christianising the Roman Empire. Brown writes in a learned yet clear manner, and addresses one directly as if in conversation. He guides the reader through his own considerations over the years, and displays not only his incomparable understanding of this topic, but also his interesting shifts of belief in different areas, as well as challenging or developing the theses of other scholars. A deeply personal and stimulting read, especially for those who enjoyed his 'World of Late Antiquity' and 'Augustine of Hippo'.
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