- Paperback: 252 pages
- Publisher: Overlook Press; Reprint edition (26 Jan. 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1590202872
- ISBN-13: 978-1590202876
- Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.7 x 2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,457,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State Paperback – 26 Jan 2010
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The book argues a) that the Emperor Theodosius imposed a single version of Christianity at the Council of Constantinople in 381, and that b) this imposition was a critical turning away from freedom of thought, and from a reliance on reasoned argument.
The author's argument about Theodosius' key role make sense: Christianity had vaulted very suddenly to its place as Rome's dominant religion, and it is not surprising that the emperor tried to shape its direction. It was just 68 years earlier, in 313, that Constantine issued an edict of toleration for the faith: before then Christianity was a persecuted religion, existing in many separate congregations, and developing many different approaches to key problems of the faith. Once the faith came out into the open -- and, indeed, came to a central role -- fissures and divisions became vividly clear. These contributed to civil disorder, and Theodosius did not like disorder.
The argument that this specific decision shut down a free-wheeling culture of debate is perhaps too narrow. I haven't read the author's "Closing of the Western Mind", but I intend to. My impression from reviews is that "Closing" focusses on Constantine's support of the Church, which moved it from outsider status towards a role as state religion. This process was intensified under Thodosius, and the logic of an imperial autocracy pushed the Church towards a single, codified set of beliefs. It seems to me that the process, the politicization of the Church and the sacralization of politics, was well underway before Theodosius. I will be better able to comment after reading Freeman's earlier book.
Be that as it may, this is a very valuable book. First, it clarifies key issues in the development of Christianity. Secondly, it underlines the interaction between political forces and systems of faith -- something that not begin in 381, and hasn't ended today. Finally, it's a good read. I read it right after "Jesus Wars", which is a more nitty-gritty discussion of a slightly later phase in the intra-Christian conflicts that were addressed, but not resolved, in 381.