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Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe
Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe
by Charles Freeman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 23.64

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that has been widely welcomed, 1 Aug 2011
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I enter reviews of my own books with reluctance. For two months my publisher, Yale University Press, has been trying to enter the enclosed reviews under Editorial Reviews. Every attempt has failed and it seems impossible to contact a person at Amazon. Yale have agreed to my suggestion that I should use my reviewer status to enter them myself. I will withdraw this 'review' as soon as they appear under Editorial Reviews. I am pleased to have received good reviews from both the Christian and secular press as well as prominent medievialsts such as Jonathan Sumption. Even so I give myself 'four stars' on the grounds that every book I write can always be better than it is! Charles Freeman.

"Superbly put together and elegantly written book, the first proper history of the cult of relics ... a marvellous study."--Catholic Herald

"[A] fascinating book... the cult of relics was the motive force of the great medieval passion for pilgrimages.--Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph (Seven)

"...a nuanced, scholarly and richly entertaining introduction to the subject of medieval Christian relics. It is a treat.' Jonathan Wright, The Tablet

"In this work he examines the medieval enthusiasm for miracles.....of crucial importance in trying to understand the medieval mind."--Church of England Newspaper

"....this remarkable, in many ways shocking, study places them at the very heart of medieval life."--Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

"Charles Freeman covers a huge sweep of history con brio in this book on the significance of Catholic relics."--Simon Scott Plummer, Standpoint

"Charles Freeman's new book is absorbing, wide-ranging and rigorous, while remaining constantly accessible.'"John Cornwell, author of Newman's Unquiet Grave: the Reluctant Saint

"Wonderfully written and inviting.......[Holy Bones, Holy Dust is] a model for how history is to be written."--Thomas McGonigle, ABC of Reading

"Recommended to scholars who will appreciate this comprehensive history, as well as to buffs of medieval history."--David Keymer, Library Journal

."It's no easy feat to encapsulate these subjects [of medieval history] , and yet Freeman . . . pulls it off with great authority and insight."--Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times

"Freeman's book is a timely reminder of the extent to which relics were once central to mankind's sense of identity."--Nick Vincent, BBC History Magazine

"Holy Bones, Holy Dust offers a readable and ambitious panoramic history of medieval society, politics and religion,"--E.L Levin, History Today

"It is rare that a book about medieval history can keep the attention of any apart from scholars or, perhaps, live-role-play gamers. Holy Bones benefits from being both exceptionally well written and having a strangely attractive subject matter." Tim Perry, Christianweek.

"Shrewd and readable . . . a serious attempt to understand a phenomenon that was common to every country, class and educational level in Christian Europe over a millennium and a half." Jonathan Sumption, Literary Review.

"The first general history of relics in English . . . Freeman is an excellent narrator . . . he loves to tell a good tale . . . . an enjoyable and informative book." Andrew Butterfield, The New Republic.

"The strength of this book is its compelling sense of storytelling. The book organizes and delivers an overview of the rich work produced by scholars in the last twenty years. Celebrated scholars such as Peter Brown, Caroline Bynum, Eamon Duffy, Patrick Geary, Miri Rubin, André Vauchez, and many others are allowed to "speak" through the author. In chapters where the scholarship is particularly rich and focused--such as those on Byzantine relics and the Crusades, those on the rise of Gothic architecture, on the issues of the resurrected body, or the history of papal canonization --Freeman's ability to write exciting narrative sweeps one along. Generally there are big themes--politics, religion, conflict, and resolution--but there also are many telling anecdotes and a sense of the personal and the touchingly human." Cynthia Hahn, The Catholic Historical Review, April, 2012.


Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe
Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe
by Martina Bagnoli
Edition: Hardcover

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sumptuous and informative catalogue, 8 July 2011
This is a wonderful catalogue to a subject not nearly as prominent as it should be in histories of the Middle Ages. ( I was amazed when I began my own researches into the subject that there was no single history of relic cults in English and it is possible to find histories of the medieval Church that hardly mention relics.) Relics pervaded everyday life, providing glittering shrines, the hope of miracles and even, through the intercession of the saints, the possibility of salvation. Resources were poured into reliquaries and some of the finest are on the display in the British Museum exhibition
The catalogue is beautifully presented with colour illustrations of each exhibit and scholarly descriptions of the provenance and meaning of each one. There is wonderfully intricate work in gold and enameling with precious stones added in to create even greater effect. The relics themselves, often teeth or bits of bones, are overshadowed by the opulence. All this is well shown in the catalogue.
The themes of the exhibition are well explored in a number of essays by leading experts. I was especially drawn to Martina Bagnoli on 'Materials and Craftsmanship' and Cynthia Hahn on `The Spectacle of the Charismatic Body'. Eric Palazzo was also very good on `liturgical space' although I wished he had extended his discussion onto the Gothic period- was the Gothic style developed to show off relics and the accompanying processions in more light?
I was not sure why the blurb talked of `no equivalent book on this fascinating subject' - the authorised catalogue to a unique exhibition has by definition no equivalent. As a result Treasures of Heaven has a completely different focus and purpose to my own book on relics which is more of a historical overview ( an attempt to fill that gap!) and is in no way an 'either or' competitor to it. ( I would not be praising it so highly if it were!)
I hope this exhibition highlights the crucial importance of relics in the Middle Ages. We have neglected the central role they played for far too long. I shall certainly treasure this reminder of an important exhibition. .


The Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion (Cambridge Companions to Religion)
The Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion (Cambridge Companions to Religion)
by Peter Harrison
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.99

12 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not as advertised on the packet!, 14 Dec 2010
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Readers buying books online are very dependent on the description given out by the publishers. The blurb that Cambridge UP have provided suggest that this is a comprehensive introduction to the issues relating to religion and science. Of course, the vast majority of scientists would probably argue that religion has nothing to do with science - at least until a religious group challenges a research programme of theirs! One would certainly expect this view to be represented here and some study of the grounds on which religious groups challenge scientific research, on embryos, for instance. So one would expect some discussion of science and ethics and the degree to which the ethics of religious groups should be given a privileged place in formulating research in science. Then again, one needs to consider religious movements, both Christian and non-Christian, that insist on beliefs which are clearly not supported by science (creationism, for instance). Many religious believers claim that the findings of science do not conflict with their beliefs. This is tricky ground as science is moving so fast that such a view may quickly become dated in individual instances. This does bring us to the heart of the problem. Science has ways of asserting and defending its `truths' which are public and subject to challenge by other scientists. Many hypotheses fail and can be shown clearly to fail, others gather strength from further research and so slowly a greater understanding of the natural world evolves. It is hard to see theology doing anything compatible. What theological truths, accepted by the mainstream theological community, have been achieved over the past fifty years and how do these compare with the achievements of science? How might this reflect the necessarily changing relationship between the two? Is there any scientific evidence for the existence of any kind of force outside the universe as we know it and if not is there any other kind of evidence to support the idea?
I raise these questions as they would seem among those that the blurb promises and anyone with a general philosophical interest in the subject might expect to find covered. Then the book actually arrives. The first surprise is that the essays are almost all on Christianity. This can be justified one the grounds that `religion' covers so many diverse forms of human behaviour and belief that `religion' is too broad a topic, but why is there no mention of this in the blurb? It means too that many perspectives are excluded. There is virtually nothing on the foundations of scientific thinking in the Greek world or Arab science. (Praising Christians for accepting classical learning in the sciences, as David Lindberg does here, implies that there was something special about science in the classical period and it is a pity that its achievements are not covered here. The Greeks showed that one could think scientifically without a religious perspective and so deserve a place in the debate. )
The next problem is that the book largely deals with the issues from a `Christianity is not in conflict with science' angle. This is an issue that deserves space and must be tackled in a comprehensive book of this nature but surely not as exclusively as it is here. The editor, Peter Harrison, sets out the approach of the book in the Introduction. `In so far as there is any general trend [in the historical relations between science and religion], it is that for much of the time religion has facilitated scientific endeavour . . .Thus religious ideas inform and underpin scientific investigation, those pursuing sciences were often motivated by religious impulses, religious institutions frequently turn out to have been the chef sources of support for the scientific enterprise and, in it enterprise science established itself by appealing to religious values'. Could we apply this to the foundations of scientific thinking in the Greek world, Darwinism and particle physics?
This does not mean that the essays in support of Harrison's hypothesis are not often interesting. John Evans does provide an interesting sociological discussion of the relationship between science, religion and bioethics. Ronald Numbers provides a workmanlike account of the rise of creationism, Jonathan Topham is stimulating on natural theology and the sciences, as is Jon Roberts on `Religious reactions to Darwin'. It is useful to have a summary of Simon Conway Morris' thesis that intelligent life may be programmed to emerge. If one wants a theological defence that the universe has a purpose then John Haught provides it - bringing Teilhard de Chardin (read by many of us in the 1960s!) back into the limelight. Yet here is the problem. If, as Haught argues, the universe is evolving towards more beautiful minds and a `more intense beauty' (p. 274), then how can one approach this as a scientific claim? Overall the improvements in the human condition do not seem to be as a result of human minds evolving, so much as scientific knowledge being applied to everyday problems. So a `comprehensive' discussion should surely include the objections to Haught's views. Steven Weinberg is mentioned in the essay and he has argued his case for a purposeless universe eloquently - it is a pity that he was not given room to respond. This is true of many of the essays which provide traditional religious views but are not countered by the objections to them.
The more I read this book, the more I felt that it belonged in `Theology', not even as a `Companion to Religion', as here advertised given its narrow perspectives on religion. The real problem is that the blurb is so misleading and it is hard to understand how it could have been written by anyone who had read the book. I cannot believe that anyone who has read in this field would be unaware of the many cogent and well supported objections to the views expressed here which makes the description 'comprehensive' completely inadequate. So this is a problem for Cambridge University Press to address. My two stars are mainly aimed at the publisher! As the book stands it will be of little use to students of the relationships between science and religion in general because they will be only provided with very limited perspectives, most of which are from one angle, that Christianity is necessarily supportive of science.


Early Christian Books in Egypt
Early Christian Books in Egypt
by Roger S. Bagnall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 24.83

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to the subject., 2 April 2010
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Early Christian studies is an enormously difficult area. The sources are so indequate but the pressures to highlight and perhaps adapt evidence to suit a Christian agenda often means that evidence is taken much too far. Roger Bagnall's book is expecially welcome as the distillation of an acknowledged authority's immense range of knowledge in the complex area of early Christian papyri and codices. It provides an excellent introduction to some of the problems about dealing with the dating and analysis of papyri as a whole. Bagnall casts doubt on the early dating of many Christian papyri. He also examines the cost of books and shows how unlikely ownership would have been outside the wealthy elite or institutions.Again he questions the assumption that Christians were somehow responsible for bringing in the codex ( at the extreme end of this claim, though Bagnall does not mention it, it has been said that without Christians we would not have had books!). Bagnall shows how the codex first appears in Rome in the first century AD and its spread to Egypt seems to have been part of Romanisation. The assumption that Christians were some kind of counter culture (and thus anti-Roman) has blinded us the the fact that they may actually have adopted some forms of cultural change coming from Rome.
Bagnall's scholarly tone becomes more emotional when he lays into the late CarstenThiede's attempt to date a fragment of Matthew's gospel to the first century. Bagnall shows how, if one followed Thiede's linking of texts to the Herculaneum library, one would actually have a fragment of a gospel text written before Jesus had been born (p.32). (Thiede seems to have made the mistake of assuming that because the library was enveloped in 79 AD all the papyri in it must have been of that date when in fact they were already old by that time.)
So this book serves as a useful book for anyone wanting an introduction to early Christian texts . Bagnall shows that the surviving material from Egypt is so fragmentary that much of what is said about it can only be speculative. This is far from the impression given by some (though certainly not all) biblical scholars who are utterly convinced they know exactly what happened in the Christian communities of the early centuries. Unfortunately their voices tend to be louder that those of scholars such as Bagnall.


After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory
After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory
by John Casey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 22.50

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing and beautifully written book, 29 Mar 2010
This is a wonderfully written and thoughtful analysis of views of the after life, from poets and philosophers as much as religious leaders and this gives it great breadth.
One has to remember throughout Casey's book that there is not a shred of evidence for the existence of an after life but it seems to be human nature to speculate on what it might be. How a society or religion envisages the afterlife actually tells you a great deal about that society. The closing sentence in Casey's book is `Our image of heaven and hell is finally an image of how we judge ourselves'.
Casey begins with the Jesuit view of the torments of hell from James Joyce's Stephen Dedelus but then he is on to the more congenial views of the ancient Egyptians. Casey concludes ` that it is hard not to admire the sanity, balance and humaneness of the view of things we can take from ancient Egypt'. The Egyptians do serve as a paradigm. If you do imagine a judgement after death, one can suggest the fairest way to effect this. First,one must have a set of values that make sense in terms of living in a humane society, are clearly known to all and are realistically achievable. Then one must have unfettered free will in order to be able to choose to achieve them. Then there must be a fair judgement process. The Egyptians achieved these 3,500 years ago these and so deserve Casey's support. As he warns us, later societies evolved more primitive beliefs.
However, thankfully, Casey is far too sophisticated to be polemical. He works his way through Mesopotamians, Greeks and Romans before coming to Christianity. He notes the conflicting traditions in the New Testament over whether people are naturally evil or can use their free will to escape damnation and contrasts `the humane heresy of Origen', with his insistence of free will and the ultimate salvation of all, with Augustine's view, as it developed into Christian orthodoxy in the west, that free will is limited and human beings are so burdened with original sin that salvation cannot be expected. We can understand why Casey intimates that these are primitive views in comparison to those of the Egyptians. ( Casey reminds us that one of the 'joys' of heaven,according to Aquinas and his followers, was being able to watch the wicked burning in hell.) We are then led into Dante's Inferno. Hell is designed to be very nasty indeed. Casey is good on Dante (punishment in hell selected to fit the crime) and reminds us throughout this book of the power and imagination of his vision in the Divine Comedy. There is an excellent chapter on Predestination.
So we go on to Purgatory - `Rome's Happiest Inspiration' as Casey calls it- a sidestepping of scripture ( that provides no basis for the doctrine and so makes Purgatory an impossible belief for Protestants) that gets Catholics off the hook of an eternal punishment for most.
Next comes a study of views of heaven - again Dante gets good coverage. I liked Casey's study of the contrast between the medieval heaven ( after Dante) where you did nothing but contemplate the majesty of God (and presumably the sufferings of others in hell), and the Renaissance heaven that had gardens and even conversation -though as one later Protestant Reformer suggested that this would be with Paul, Augustine, Luther, Zwingli and Calvin, I am not sure that this would have been much fun ( well, if it was the younger Augustine, rather than the gloomy older one , it might be, but I doubt whether many women would have been happy with this selection).
There are some wonderful Blake engravings of the soul meeting the body at the Last Judgement that suggests it as some form of erotic experience and Casey notes how the more tortuous forms of hell get discarded (though not with James Joyce's Jesuits).
By placing dfifferent traditions together, Casey highlights the bizarre and seemingly grossly unfair nature of Christian afterlives in most orthodox Christian traditions. It is salutary to realise that humane ideas about eternal punishment are not an Enlightenment development but were there in Egypt three thousand years ago. An absorbing book that reaches far above the banal nature of writing on many of these issues by rival Christian/ atheist polemicists.
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The Sepulchre of Christ and the Medieval West: From the Beginning to 1600
The Sepulchre of Christ and the Medieval West: From the Beginning to 1600
by Colin Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: 32.64

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine work of scholarship, 15 Jan 2010
This is a marvellous book, not least for its breadth of scholarship. Morris shows how the 'Holy Sepulchre', the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem, became honoured ( first by a basilica built by Constantine), the focus of pilgrimage and then in the medieval west as as shrine that could be recreated in round churches and models ( there is a fine one in the basilica at Aquileia in north-eastern Italy). The shrine underwent many vicissitudes with short periods under Christian rule and longer periods under Muslim rule ( that did not necessarily stop pilgrimages- there was an important revival with many good surviving accounts- in the fifteenth century). Morris steers us expertly through all this and is particularly good at showing the different ways Jerusalem was presented in the Christian imagination. I found some other valuable sources I had not come across before, notably on the glory of martyrdom and promise of eternal life for those who died fighting the pagan.
This is the kind of thoughtful, well presented and penetrating history that is found all too seldom. It deserves wider readership by those interested in either medieval or Christian history.


The Italian City-State (from Commune to Signoria)
The Italian City-State (from Commune to Signoria)
by Philip Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 169.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing and important study, 27 Aug 2009
It is a tragedy that this book remains so expensive and does not appear in a cheaper paperback edition. For those of us who spend time nosing around the back streets of medieval and Renaissance Italian cities, it is the bible on the subject before 1300. Jones captures the vitality of city life and places it earlier than the traditional Renaissance dates to the the twelfth century. He destroys the myth that the first universities were founded by the church (although some ecclesiastical influence remained) and shows how they were orientated towards the secular needs of the city state. ('The main university movement . . .was the enterprise supremely of communes. . . .In sharpening contrast with transalpine universities [ e.g. Paris and Oxford], but in close accord again with native tradition, Italy's state-directed studia were developed and designed as schools of civic ,vocational training, first in law next in medicine . .' ( p. 449-50)) This is why medical advance , such as it was in this period, was to be found in Italy rather than elsewhere. ("From the thirteenth century Italians advanced learning [in medicine] along new lines, incorporating and developing from what at first may have been public forensic purposes the scientific study of surgery and anatomy, based for the first time since antiquity on dissection and demonstrations' ( p.452-3))He is good on how secularisation gradually diminished the power of the institutional church in every day life ( this destroying another myth, that of the overwhelming power of the church over all aspects of life in the middle Ages) and how important areas such as education and social welfare were brought under the control of the commune. This led to much higher rates of literacy than elsewhere in Europe. The surviving Datini archive (Prato,1363-1410) contains 600 account books and 120,000 letters from their branches extending across the known world (p. 202). Can one think of an equivalent family archive outside Italy in this period? This is not to say that people were less religious, only that the church did not have power to control life in the way that it did in other parts of Europe. Much church building was overseen by lay commissioners and the clerics were often subject to city law. The Inquisition was simply banned from Venice and it was the city courts there who decided what was or was not heresy. Early civic humanism ( and Jones dates this to before Petrarch) led to a great pride in the way the cities presented themselves and Jones shows how this had spinoffs in areas such as surveying, map making and hygiene e.g. a lot of practical science was stimulated. A great deal of the book is about attitudes to practical politics. ' The communes contributed powerfully to the rebirth of systematic, and more especially republican, political science: the notion of the state as natural, secular, and self-sufficient, of man as citizen and patriot, and of the merits of the active life, particularly political life, participation and service in a self-governing civitas.'( p. 460) This was an important contrast to the monastery as the ideal way of life. There is, of course, a great deal on the growth and impact of commerce on social structures, with new bourgeois classes emerging to find their place in the sun.
Of course one should not idealise, Jones also shows how there was a growth of despotism in many cities - he suggests that about half the Italian cities were ruled by despots by his closing date of 1300. There were, of course, endless factional disputes in other cities. Yet, even despotism varied from the malign and tyrannical to the genuine patrons of arts and sciences in the ducal courts. Jones shows just how much was achieved before 1300 and his central point that we wait too long in time before applauding Italian progress is backed by a mass of convincing evidence.
Those who think the Middle Ages were ignorant and backward should somehow get hold of a copy of this book. It is long and detailed and it helps to know some of the cities on the ground ( to see, for instance, how the secular buildings, Siena is a wonderful example, created their own centres apart from the older 'church' areas) but anyone who wants to see the more advanced end of the Middle Ages in the field of practical rational thought should persevere with it. All too often historians of medieval science get fixated with Paris and seem hardly aware how much more advanced life was in Italy. Jones' achievement is to show that it all took place much earlier than we once thought and how important a stimulus civic humanism was. Tragically again, Jones died before what I believe was to be the follow-up volume appeared.


Science and Religion, 400 B.C. to A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Copernicus
Science and Religion, 400 B.C. to A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Copernicus
by Edward Grant
Edition: Paperback
Price: 15.24

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A welcome introduction with limitations, 27 Aug 2009
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Edward Grant is one of the leading historians of science and so this overview of western science to 1550 is welcome. Grant surveys the three main contributors, the Greeks, Islam and the Middle Ages. Each had an important contribution to make.
On his first page Grant makes the point that the dialogue between religion and science goes back to Plato and Aristotle with their very different ways of finding certainty. Do you concentrate on finding empirical evidence from which to understand the material world or is there an immaterial world which can be grasped by reason? It is important to start here as often such debates get fixated on Christianity, Galileo and Darwin. If one starts with the two opposing stands of Aristotle and Plato one has a much more far ranging and satisfying debate whih goes beyond the relatively narrow perspectives of the Christians versus Dawkins.
There is a good chapter on Aristotle, in Grant's view ` probably the most significant figure in the history of Western thought up to the end of the sixteenth century' (P. 37). Despite errors in his observations ( and this has been the case with most scientists throughout history) Grant shows us that the ways in which we understand what nature is and how to appreciate and study it is due to Aristotle. It is a massive legacy. In his Chapter Three Grant shows how the Greek tradition of empirical thought spread through a variety of disciplines and was still powerful in the second century AD. Galen and Ptolemy are two giants to whom he gives appropriate accolades. He looks at the ambivalent attitudes to `science' in the early Christian world and later in Islam, which, of course, made impressive contributions of its own which Grant details ( pp.230-43)
With the fall of the Roman empire, Grant notes the nadir of western European thought until its revival in the twelfth century. He also notes the contrast between the vitality of Greek intellectual life in the second century AD and then its gradual decline in the Byzantine theocracy so that despite some intellectual renaissances ` no significant works were composed that had any detectable influence' in the empire (p. 229). I suspect that Byzantine scholars might disagree with Grant here.
As Grant makes clear (p.24) ` Science in the late ancient and medieval periods was radically different from modern science'. It would be interesting to know how far western rationalism would have progressed from its tentative reappearance in the twelfth century without the coming of Aristotle to the rescue. Inevitably the rediscovery of Aristotle got everyone shaken up, even if his thought was often subordinated to Christian dogmatism. Grant is good at how his impact infused western thought and was successfully integrated into Christian theology by Thomas Aquinas.
In Paris theology continued to rule as supreme but this did not prevent natural philosophers. in the arts faculties, doing interesting work in areas that did not concern the church. Yet, as one of the more talented natural philosophers, John Buridan, put it when he came up against a contradiction between God's power and reason ` I yield the determination of these questions to the lord theologians ,and I wish to acquiesce in their determination `. ( p. 211). Grant is excellent on the way that angels became to natural philosophy what fruitflies are to modern genetic research. Although no medieval discussion apparently discussed angels on pinheads, natural philosophers did discuss whether God could create an infinite multitude of angels within an hour. Yes, he could, argued Gregory of Rimini ( p. 210) There were wonderfully convoluted debates on how angels, as immaterial objects, could move. Do they move instantaneously or is there a period of transition between them being in one place and another, a mid-point of their progress (pp. 213-5)? What kind of space does an angel, which is, apparently indivisible, occupy? Despite this bizarre way of doing 'science', Grant argues that it did lead to some form of progress. It is hard to say how much and whether it would ever have freed itself from the entanglements of theology. Fashions come and go and it is now fashionable to decry those who are critical of scholasticism but there were some pretty odd pathways ( divine embryology - the science of the conception of Jesus is one of them) which needed to be closed off and be replaced with mainstream thinking on the real world ( e.g. following the tradition of Aristotle) before genuine progress could be made. Too much natural philosophy was concerned with meeting the challenges of Christian dogma.
There are three areas I would have liked to see more on.
1) Robert Bartlett (The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages) has shown how the popes' determination to control the authentication of miracles led to a debate on where the boundaries between the natural and supernatural lay. This led to much more thought about the natural world. How far benign (angels) and malign ( Satan and the devils)forces affected the course of nature was another religious issue which led to more discussion on the natural world- perhaps as a bizarre way of doing science as using angels as models but least it got people thinking about the natural world. (The revival of interest in the natural wrld gathered pace in the sixteenth century, not the medieval world)
2). Grant says virtually nothing about the specific contributions of the Italian universities. Philip Jones in his monumental study of the Italian City-State (see my review on Amazon)has destroyed the myth of the church founding the first universities. They were under the control of the local communes and were very much more vocational than universities in the north. That is why medical studies developed faster in Italy as medicine was highlighted as a prestige vocation. So was law with equally important results. James Franklin in his absorbing The Science of Conjecture notes that 'the essential idea that one applies reasoning to texts to understand them had been developed by the school of commentators on Lombard law in Pavia by about 1050' e.g. in Italy outside a university- he sees this as leading directly into the university of Bologna with its famous law faculty (p.15-16). Civic humanism not only gave greater confidence to the individual (look at the arrogance of Brunelleschi in thinking he could put a dome on Florence cathedral- he showed he could!) but encouraged cities to smarten themselves up and exploit economic opportunities. Jones identifies the practical results in statistics, mathematics, cadastral surveying and map making. The first mass production of spectacles was in Florence. Here is the application of scientific thought to everyday lives which , contra Grant, could be seen as the foundation of modern science. ( Of course, nowadays we can see how the Aristoteleian approach has won out over the Platonic by adding immense value to human life - it was not so clear in this earlier period just how massive a contribution science would make to human well-being - one more reason for sharing Grant's view on Aristotle and perhaps extending it later than the sixteenth century.) Sixty per cent of books on science imported into 15th century England came from Venice, a city given only a bare mention by Grant.
3) Grant mentions Copernicus as the end point of his study but does not discuss his contribution. Was he the heir of medieval thought or, as Michael Hoskin and Owen Gingerich argue in the Cambridge History of Astronomy, maker ` of one the greatest intellectual leaps known to the history of science'.I would have appreciated Grant's thoughts as it remains unclear to me exactly important the Paris and Oxford natural philosophers were even in the relatively narrow fields of 'science' that were their concern. Were they simply supplanted by a great intellectual leap ( by someone who had studied first in Italy, if not in astronomy- as had Albert the Great and Aquinas, of course, before they went to Paris).
So there is a great deal of interest in this book and some absorbing discussions but I can never understand why historians of medieval science spend so much time on Paris and Oxford and virtually none on the practical advances made by science in the Italian peninsula during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. There is never any discussion of how and why the commune governments of the Italian city states were much more conducive to scientific advance 'on the ground' than the monarchical states of northern Europe ( not least,perhaps, because they were able to avoid being dominated so much by the church).I would argue that a comparison of the two, with at least as much space given to Italy, should be the central theme of any book on science in the later Middle Ages. The tragedy is that Philip Jones' The Italian City-State is so impossibly expensive despite being recognised as the 'bible' on the period before 1300 where he shows just how much advanced thinking was under way.


Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered
Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered
by Peter S Wells
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.06

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Case not proven., 16 Jun 2009
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There is a place for a readable introduction to the centuries immediately after the fall of Rome. At a scholarly level the subject is now well covered by historians such as Chris Wickham, Julia Smith and Michael McCormick but theirs are hefty books and daunting to the newcomer. Wells hopes to fill the gap and his thesis is that standards of living and cultural activity continued to flourish after the fall of the empire. He is right to concentrate on the immense amount of new archaeological research which sheds a little light on what was once Dark. Even so it is still very little and Wells fails to quantify it. He ignores the vast amount of evidence (see Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of the Rome and the End of Empire for some of it) that standards of living fell even below pre-Roman times. I am working my way through Chris Wickham's The Inheritance of Rome, a vastly more scholarly book and more heavily nuanced. Wickham talks continually of 'simplification' which seems an excellent way of stressing the lack of sophistication in so many areas of life without being pejorative about it - so 'Archaeologists see very substantial simplification in post-Roman material culture in the fifth to seventh centuries, which, in some cases- Britain is one example, the Balkans another, is drastic; only a handful of Roman provinces, Syria, Palestine and Egypt did not experience it.' Wells challenges this 'simplification' but he does not provide substantial enough evidence to counter it and he makes too many generalisations. He gives a quotation about Charlemagne summoning a few scholars to educate himself (p. 186) and then goes on 'This passage from Einhard's Life of Charlemagne reveals the intellectual richness of Charlemagne's empire at the end of the eighth century' to prove his point. It doesn't at all-it only refers to one remarkable man and a couple of scholars- Wells needs to show there were many empire wide sites where active scholarship ( in the sense of new learning , not merely the recopying of ancient Christian texts) , was going on. In his section on Scholarship and Writing we get no one later than the earlier Bede ( who stands out for his rarity as an independent scholar as much as for his own intellectual achievements). Alcuin gets a brief walk-on part under Education. (All too often one reads of monasteries being centres of scholarship but when one examines the evidence it usually means no more than a centre of craftsmanship -centred on illuminating manuscripts of traditional texts- very rarely is there any evidence of innovative intellectual achievement.)
I always bring out one example from two archaeological sites next door to me in Suffolk. The Hoxne hoard,from the end of the Roman empire, had 14,000 coins, the Sutton Hoo treasure from c. 625 , forty and these seem to have been prestige items. It seems to give some sense of the economic collapse which had taken place.
In short, a readable and interesting book whose thesis needs to be taken with caution. Wells does avoid one mistake made by many in the 'life went on getting better and better once that decadent Roman empire was out of the way' school. He doesn't argue that any technological change or any signs of a reviving economy occurred because this was a Christian society. When wealth began flowing back into Europe ( stimulated McCormick argues by the Islamic economies) the church was too busy putting its share into magnificent but ultimately unproductive prestige buildings. It was left to the more secularised and opportunist Italian city states to begin transferring material goods into a revived cash (florins and ducats) economy -and they certainly got round the obstructions of the church -or even exploited them as Venice did in the Fourth Crusade- when they needed to!
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The Resurrection of Jesus: The Crossan-Wright Dialogue
The Resurrection of Jesus: The Crossan-Wright Dialogue
by Robert B. Stewart
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.29

0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing except for Segal., 20 Dec 2008
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This is a series of essays reflecting on a debate between Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright on the Resurrection of Jesus. Neither is totally convincing ( and I have read most of Wright's book on the Resurrection) and here they fail to define their differences systematically. I have to say that I am not sympathetic to Wright when he argues that there are no other historical explanations for what the gospels tell us than a supernatural one of a risen fleshly Jesus. One could write a whole book on dead people who have been seen alive by others after their recorded deaths. The gospels are late, fragmented and contradictory and a historian would simply be happy to leave the question open, as is the case with the vast majority of events in the past. There are thousands upon thousands of miracles ( both pagan and Christian) recorded in ancient sources and the historian has no way of differentiating between those ( if any ) which are 'real' and those which are the result of imagination and hope. I don't think many historians would be happy with the way Wright uses history in his account. Yet Crossan is weak when he says that there was no burial. Why not have a burial, the removal of the body by Caiaphas, the hushing up of the guards by a bribe, and the leaving of a priest or priests in the tomb (these figures are recorded in each of the gospels and must be explained in a better way than saying they were just angels) to tell the visiting women that Jesus has risen but they must go back home ('he has gone before you into Galilee' e.g. out of Caiaphas' jurisdiction) in order to see him? It would certainly serve Caiaphas' problem of avoiding further unrest from Jesus' followers. Evidence for all this can be found in the gospels but I would still not regard it as solid enough to say that it was what happened.
For me this book was worth buying for one essay alone, that by Alan Segal. He sorts out the differences between the risen Christ as conceived by Paul (the earliest testimony) and as 'seen' by the disciples and shows that there are two different traditions which are often wrongly conflated as one (e.g. that Paul saw a fleshly Jesus). He takes Wright and his supporters to task for misusing history. The most sensible and learned contribution to the debate I have read for ages.


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