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The Closing of the Western Mind Hardcover – 22 Aug 2002

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd; annotated edition edition (22 Aug. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0434008532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434008537
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.6 x 4.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 351,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Enjoyable and illuminating. . . . Clearly and plausibly argued . . . full of fascinating detail." -"The Boston Globe"
"Entertaining. . . . An excellent and readable account of the development of Christian doctrine." -"The New York Times Book Review"
"There is much here to admire. . . . It is a panoramic view that Freeman handles with grace, erudition and lucidity." -"The Washington Times"
"A triumph. . . . Engrossing. . . . Successfully realized. . . . Wholly admirable. . . . Freeman is to be congratulated on a broad-brush approach that throws the main issue into sharp focus. . . . [He] has added a new level of understanding." -"The Times Higher Education Supplement
""A fascinating account." -"The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"
"Engrossingly readable and very thoughtful. . . . Freeman draws our attention to myriad small but significant phenomena. . . . His fine book is both a searching look at the past and a salutary and cautionary reminder for us in our difficult present." -"The New York Sun
"
"One of the best books to date on the development of Christianity. . . . Beautifully written and impressively annotated, this is an indispensable read for anyone interested in the roots of Christianity and its implications for our modern worldview. . . . Essential." -"Choice
"
"Engaging. . . . Refreshing. . . . A memorable account. . . . The author is always interesting and well informed. Freeman's study moves with ease between political and intellectual history. . . . The cumulative effect is impressive." -"The Times Literary Supplement
"
"A fine book for a popular audience that enjoys history, clear writing, and subject matter that reflects our owntime." -"Houston Chronicle
"
"The narrative is clear and fluent, the nomenclature is studiously precise . . . and the theological conflicts of the fourth century are analyzed with . . . subtlety." -"History Today
"
"Ambitious, groundbreaking. . . . In the tradition of . . . Karen Armstrong's A History of God . . . a scholarly history that is accessible, passionate and energetic." -"Hartford Advocate
"
"Freeman has a talent for narrative history and for encapsulating the more arcane disputes of ancient historians and theologians. . . . He manages not only to make these disputes interesting, but also to show why they mattered so much. It is a coup that few books on the early church pull off." -"The Independent
"
"Engaging and clearly written." -"The World and I
"
"[A] lucid account of an intellectual and social transformation that continues to shape the way Christianity is experienced and understood." -"The Dallas Morning News
"

"From the Trade Paperback edition."

Book Description

'Entertaining... An excellent and readable account of the development of Christian doctrine' New York Times --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 69 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 18 Nov. 2003
Format: Paperback
I really liked this book. Written from the perspective of a historian (rather than, say, a theologian), it traces the radical change in outlook of western culture between the fall of the Roman Empire and the replacement of much of its former authority by new church structures. Among the most interesting elements is his treatment of how the Emperors (both Roman and Byzantian) used the church for their own political ends, but were in turn used by the church - a relationship that approached symbiosis, but again not without its traumas and conflicts as well.
The author also does an excellent, and in my view very fair, appraisal of the early church philosophers and movements. He neither idolizes nor vilifies such early bastions of Christianity as Augustine, and even the crisis over the Arian heresies (to modern eyes both tragic and farcial) are treated carefully. Overall the book doesn't paint the prettiest of pictures of the early church, and certainly exposes how many of the dogmas that one would think (if you have a Catholic or Othodox background at least) have been eternal but in fact owe most of their existnace to 3rd or 4th century politics than they do any divine revelation.
Top marks from me, and a very fulfilling read for anyone interested in late classical or early medieval history, as well as *everyone* interested in Christian theology.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By "ellen_colin" on 19 Sept. 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a deeply interesting book that is detailed, well researched by very readable. It deals with the often deeply negative (and occaisionally positive) effect that Christianity had upon thought and ideas in the the late Roman Empire (hence the title) and much of Western thought to the present day, The author does this through examining what key figours had to say including Ambrose, Jerome (a serioudsly strange man in my view) and Augustin. Of particular interest is the often hidden/forgotten views of the late paganists and, so-called, heretics. Paganism took a lot longer to die out than early Christian historians would have us believe. Well worth reading for beleivers and non believers alike.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 19 May 2012
Format: Paperback
The book traces the history of how the pursuit of empirical reason, which was one of the most fruitful characteristics of the Greek world, was, between the time of St Paul and the end of the fourth century (where Freeman effectively ends his account) first attacked and then closed down by Christianity. That theme is sometimes obscured by acres of narrative material which, interesting and well-told though it is, has no relevance at all to the theme promised by the title.

The Western Mind (here meaning the Mind of Europe and Asia Minor) was not exactly "closed" during that period, and Freeman's title talks about the CLOSING, not the CLOSED, Western Mind. For most of the period the Western Mind was open to some subtle and sophisticated thinking and, much as the Church tried to prevent it, to vigorous argument and dissent. True, these were rarely empirical or about this world, but, entirely and fruitlessly unempirically, concerned themselves with such questions as the nature of Christ, over which the Western Mind ties itself into knots by trying to reconcile differing biblical texts and the doctrine of the Trinity, none of them resting on any verifiable data. Freeman explains that, coupled with the fear of eternal punishment for "error", that accounted for a level of bitterness in debate that was unknown in the philosophical debates in the Greek world. It meant that, while the minds of individual theologians were often closed, you could hardly say that of "the Western Mind" collectively until the end of the fourth century, by which time the Church had effectively suppressed all heresies. It is only in the 12th and 13th centuries - after the end of the book - that new heresies arose.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By ShiDaDao Ph.D on 3 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback
Charles Freeman has written a very interesting book about the movement away from philosophical speculation to a theological dominance based entirely upon the notion of faith. Indeed, this book is subtitled 'The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason'. The ancient Greek era of philosophy is thought to run from around 585BCE to 529CE - the later date being the time of the banning of the teaching of Greek philosophy in Athens, by the Christian Roman emperor Justinian. Between this time and around 1450CE - the date of the European Renassiance - thought based upon logical structure - be it idealist or empiricist - was abandoned for a purely religious way of viewing the world.

The paperback (2003) edition contains 470 numbered pages, and includes an Introduction, an Epilogue and 20 chapters. A sample of chapters include:

Chapter 1 - Thomas Aquinas and 'The Triumph of Faith'.
Chapter 5 - Absorbing the East, Rome and the Integration of Greek Culture.
Chapter 10 - 'A Crown that lurks in corners, shunning light': The First Christian Communitiies.
Chapter 15 - Interlude: Quintus Aurelius Symmachus and the Defence of Paganism.
Chapter 20 - Thomas Aquinus and the Restoration of Reason.

Greek thought, and the culture that emerged from it, was as superior as today's modern culture in the West. Around a thousand years of faith based thinking led to a rupture between European culture and its Greek roots. The Renassiance and the later Enlightenment re-introduced the philosophical, political and medical knowledge of ancient Greece which had, ironically, been preserved within the Islamic scholarship tradition. This is a very good book of history and philosophical perspective. The points made are thought provoking and vital, as they address the development of an entire culture. Superb.
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