Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071 (The Church in History) Paperback – 1 Jan 2007
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This book covers the iconoclastic controversy, the dispute between Patriarch Photius and Pope Nicholas and the estrangement between Constantinople and Rome (= Great Schism of 1054, etc) in the 11th century.
This book has several aspects which prompt me to recommend it to other readers. First, it attempts to cover both Western and Eastern history during this period, which is very rare. Most histories written in the west almost entirely ignore Eastern Christianity, and most eastern histories seem to seriously neglect the West. Louth acknowledges this problem, and sets out to produce a work encompassing both. Unfortunately, he does not quite succeed. The book is very obviously more concerned with Eastern Christianity than the West. For example, the entire rise of the Carolignian empire is discussed in the context of the iconoclism controversies, as if its main importance was its impact on the controversy in the East. Events in the West are frequently discussed not for their own sake, but to shed light on something happening in the East. Despite this, Louth has done a better job of including both West and East than I have seen in any other histories of this period, so it is still a significant notch above anything else you will find.
Another very helpful feature of Louth's book was an intermingling of historical and theological histories. General history and theology are frequently separated, and Louth nearly seamlessly ties together policital and historical devolopments with ongoing theological struggles.
A third aspect I very much appreciated was Louth's continual return to the development of monasticism. While he again focused mostly on monasticism in the East (though he does discuss Western monasticism, just not in much detail), his account of the growth of monasticism was both readable and insightful. It was very nice to see the growth of monasticism presented as it developed in the context of other historical events/controversies rather than being relegated to a separate section at the end of the book.
The only real complaints I have against this book is its unfortunate tendency to focus on the East more than the West and the ridiculously lengthy sentences in which it is written. Now, I am not an advocate of short sentences. I like long sentences, but Louth's writing makes Paul's run-on sentences look short. To write this review I simply opened the book at the beginning to find an example, and look at this sentence from page 2:
"The beginning makes some sense, for at the end of the seventh century the West consisted of the Christian kingdoms of Merovingian France and Visgoth Spain, both of which were to face Muslim invasions in the next fifty years, with most of Visgothic Spain yielding to the Moors to from what eventually became the Umayyad Caliphate of Corduba, together with a Lombard presence in Italy, arleady beginning to encroach on Byzantine territory and threatening the power of the papacy in Italy, and an emerging Christian nation in England, though this was to begin with less a political reality than an idea in the mind of the learned Northumbrian monk, Bede, still a child in 681."
Good grief, that sentence has nine commas! Don't you think a period could have fit in there somewhere? The whole book is like that, and it gets tremendously tedious to figure out which thoughts go with which when there are that many commas. It got the point that I started counting the commas in sentences to see how many he could get. The recond was fifteen (and that sentence also included a semi-colon and a colon). The book is very readable apart from the extreme length of the sentences (and the confusion resulting from the vast numbers of commas), and it does not seriosly detract from the book, but it is very annoying.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book to someone interested in the period. There are certainly better histories of the West for this time period, but as far as I know you won't find a better one that combines both Western and Eastern history together.
At the same time it was also a period of Byzantine growth, with Byzantium once again the most powerful Christian empire, if not the empire it had been in Justinian's day.
Andrew Louth, Orthodox priest and professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at Durham University, carefully follows many of the crucial events of this four-century period, including the two periods of iconoclasm in the East, the rise of the Carolingians in the West, the monastic reforms that reshaped Christian life and civilization in both East and West, the mission activities that brought Christianity to the north and east of Europe, and the crisis in relations between Rome and Constantinople that culminated in the break of communion between the two patriarchates.
Yet, as Louth points out, the break was far from complete in 1054:
"To contemporaries of the event, and for many years after, it did not seem that anything had changed in 1054. Tensions between East and West were long-standing, and they occasionally flared up, but for the most part Christians of East and West acted as it they belonged to a common cumene. This was particularly true ... among the monks..."
One of the chief issues of division in the early eleventh century was the question of whether the eucharistic bread should be leavened or unleavened. Other points of dispute included the celibacy that had been imposed on priests in the West, and the West's introduction of the Filioque into the Creed.
Might patient dialogue have restored unity? No doubt. But it has yet to happen. In both East and West today, there are many who would rather die than see the Great Schism ended.
For any reader who wishes to better understand the divisions we still live with, but also the possibility of finding common ground that might at last restore our shattered unity, this is an essential book.
The main benefit of this book, in my mind, is how he carefully interweaves the history of the Church in both the East and the West during this period. Although it was a time of growing division that eventually led to schism, Fr. Louth demonstrates how many similar currents flowed in both East and West during this time, such as monastic reform.
Finally, for those of us in the West, he also introduces us to characters that most are unfamiliar with: St. Theodore of Stoudios, Patriarch Photios, St. Symeon the New Theologian and other lights of the East. Knowing these men sheds light on Christian Tradition in new and important ways.
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