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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Well Argued Thesis
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...
Published on 23 Sep 2009 by Sir Furboy

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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
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. No disrespect to tour guides, but it doesn't encourage the idea that you're about to read a heavyweight piece of philosophical writing. Then you get to the bibliography and are told to use google to find the...
Published on 17 Dec 2008 by Mr. C. E. Moreton


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Well Argued Thesis, 23 Sep 2009
By 
Sir Furboy (Aberystwyth, UK) - See all my reviews
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
By 
Dr. Richard M. Price (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State (Hardcover)
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? However debatable certain features of this book as a work of history (and to say they are debatable is not to assert they are simply wrong), we must thank Freeman for pressing us on this vital question.
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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
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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 "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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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.

I found this book wonderful for many reasons; one of those is that I had studied, in isolation, some of the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, so the way the author has blended these together into a history of Thought and Religious Thought and the move away from the Greek philosophical traditions, for me opened up a whole new way of considering these elements in a more homogeneous whole.

This is an absolutely wonderful book; I have never read such a clear and insightful analysis of the Trinity and the Nicene Creed; topics which, you'd have to admit, are not easy to digest, and which the author has brilliantly laid out for a careful reader to be able to understand and appreciate. The critical hinge date of AD 381 suggested by the author is very carefully and thought-provokingly argued. This book is certainly one to be read by anyone interested in the history of the Western and Eastern Churches, and the divergence of the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Totally utterly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AD 381: Charles Freeman, 21 Oct 2010
By 
G. BUTLER "Graham" (UK) - See all my reviews
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AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State
This is one of the most intellectually stimulating books I have read for many years. The combination of narrative and analysis makes it an exciting and satisfying volume. It is very relevant to our own times, when intolerance has become a serious problem. It is interesting to see how dogmatism and political expediency can combine. I have since read Charles Freeman's other books referred to in this listing - The Closing of the Western Mind and the New History of Early Christianity, with equal pleasure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Passionate history, 12 May 2013
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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 the great minds of the age. Freeman's passionate contrasts between the intellectual good guys and bad guys left me wondering if all the bad guys were quite as bad as they are portrayed, but the passion he brings to his subject carried me right through to the end.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Those Ghastly Christians!, 26 Jun 2008
By 
Guy Mannering (Maidenhead, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State (Hardcover)
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 doctrine. Can you imagine the like today in say a modern sports club? An opinionated discussion about footie maybe,or in the City perhaps the Footsie? Shortly after finishing this book I embarked on Richard Hutchinson's The Last Days of Henry VIII and yet again in Tudor England we find the highest and lowest in the land passionately squabbling about Christian doctrine and often settling their disputes in the most horrible ways. I can't help thinking what a tragedy it was for mankind that for over 1200 years the finest intellects of the western world devoted themselves to sterile debate on the unprovable. And what a ghastly bigoted lot most of those early Christian fathers were irrespective of what side of the doctrinal fence they sat on. When the neo-platonist female philosopher and mathmetician Hypatia,arguably the finest intellect of her age but of course a pagan, was torn to pieces by a mob in early 5th c. Alexandria it was almost certainly at the instigation of a christian cleric.
This book is I think unlikely to prove compulsive reading for those with a casual interest in history even though it is clearly intended for popular consumption. You have to be interested in the late antique world, the history of Christianity or the history of ideas. That said, I found this book an engrossing read that brought into sharp focus much that I had encountered in various other works on late Roman history.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Theodosius the Bad, 17 Dec 2008
By 
Mr. C. E. Moreton (Poole UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State (Hardcover)
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. No disrespect to tour guides, but it doesn't encourage the idea that you're about to read a heavyweight piece of philosophical writing. Then you get to the bibliography and are told to use google to find the primary sources yourself!
Mr Freeman clearly has a point to make in this book. He gives a fair summary of intellectual debate within Christianity over the relationship between God and Jesus revolving around the Arian heresy and the Nicene creed. But he is concerned to show that the Emperor Theodosius used the Council of Constantinople of 381 to impose the Nicene Creed on the whole church and that the consequence of this esentially political decision was the annihilation of free speech and open debate in the church until Abelard and Aquinas.
My main problem with his analysis is that he seems to assume that if Theodosius had not acted as he did, then this debate would have continued as a fascinating intellectual exercise, whereas in fact most of the parties to it were equally intolerant of each other and that whoever casme out on top would have inmposed their view with equal determination. Also, Freeman's determination to pin the blame on Theodosius and imperial politics is somewhat undermined by the major roles he allots to Bishops Ambrose of Milan and Augustine of Hippo, both pilloried for their roles in driving out religious debate and instilling the fear of hellfire into doubters.
Overall it seems to be a case of having a perfectly arguable thesis but to have sought to drive it to extremes without worrying too much about the factors referred to in Dr Price's excellent review. Perhaps it's rather naive to try to apply modern concepts of free speech to the 4th and 5th centuries.
In sum, this is a worthwhile read provided you recognise the fact - admitted by the author - that the book is somewhat polemical, though I also agree with another review which says there are some pages which are too readily skipped - which should not be the case in a book of only 200 pages of actual text.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Theological archaeology, 9 Mar 2014
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Freeman writes about a topic that invites a Michael Caine type response: "not a lot of people knew that." Although potentially drier than dust the author can keep up the pace and avoid being too bogged down in theological nit-picking. Think of it as part history, part political conspiracy thriller and next time you drop in on a village church in the 1,000 best churches and you can see it in a new light.
One word of warning:Freeman's follow-on next book, The Closing of the Western Mind, has had some critical reviews from experts in the field who say that he reached a conclusion about the western church and then proved it by leaving out the evidence that contradicted his theory.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very compelling storytelling, 1 Jan 2014
First of all, I thoroughly recommend this book - Freeman is an excellent story teller and interweaves a compelling argument with the available evidence. As noted in the review by Dr. Price, there are areas where Freeman's thesis is `insecure', but, as Price says, that doesn't mean wrong. Like other reviewers, I do not have the academic training in this area to make my own judgement on some of the minutiae of the argument.

Freeman tells a story of bigotry, dogmatism, bullying, persecution and opportunism in the development of Christian doctrine. We should all be grateful we live in a society where books such as this are able to be written and published. The book neatly interweaves the decline of the Roman Empire with the development of Christian ideology, particularly around the Holy Trinity. For me, the development of Christian orthodoxy was the most interesting part of the book. Freeman describes how a tradition of rational and logical inquiry, inherited from the Greeks, into the nature of God and Jesus was slowly replaced by an orthodoxy enforced by oppression and heresy. For a rationalist, such as I, this makes the story ultimately depressing. As ever, history is made by the bullies and opportunists, not the intellectuals.

Finally, a word about the author. It would be usual in a book of this nature to include a mini biography of the author, if only to establish his credentials in order for readers to take his work seriously. I have 3 works by Freeman none of which include a biography. All we know is that he is a freelance historian. Web searches yield only a little more information - e.g. that he was Head of History at St. Clare's which is a college for overseas and not part of the University. I suspect Freeman has been the victim of `intellectual snobbery' in the past, Price refers to him as a `non-professional'. Does this matter? Not for me, AD 281 has 20 pages of notes and multiple references and is clearly well researched. There are areas where, even to the lay reader, Freeman is interpolating and adding his own interpretation - but that's the nature of this type of work even for academics. I am certainly looking forward to reading the other works by Freeman that I have.
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AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State
AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State by Charles Freeman (Hardcover - 7 Feb 2008)
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