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on 18 April 2014
Well I for one did read this book end-to-end and very swiftly, considering its length and my lack of free-time. I found it absolutely riveting and it gives an excellent summary of the full history of Christianity; covering all the main denominations, events and places. It does not shy away from the complex theological debates that influenced many of the disputes (in tandem with the politics). It does of necessity move back and forth in time and place, but it is generally well cross-referenced. There is a full glossary and further reading suggested. The author writes from a particular perspective and does frequently give his own judgements, but he is very up front about it. (We all have our own perspective but are not all so honest about it!) He is fond of the Anglican Church but not afraid to criticise it, just as he is keen to highlight the great positives in the history of Catholicism as well as the negative aspects. He also seems to write from the perspective of a non-believer (who is intimately familiar with the Anglican Church). This allows him a certain "historian's distance", but also leads to certain assumptions and statements that seem unjustifiably hyper-critical of Christian belief. Despite this, I found the text to be highly educational; and in spite of the hefty size, this tome frequently feels all too brief. (E.g., Bernadette Soubirous is swiftly dismissed in about sentence or two.) That cannot be avoided given the scope of the subject matter. However, I often read a sentence that stated or alluded to a very interesting fact, almost as an aside; but that carried no further explanation, and left me wondering as to the actual details. Finally, as the author often writes in long, complex sentences; one does have to occasionally re-read sentences to correctly comprehend them.

In summary, though, this is an excellent, informative and interesting overview of the history of human Church organisations. It covers most of what you should know as a cultural inheritor of this wide-reaching legacy. It may of necessity lack depth in places, but is should show how relevant, interesting and indeed fundamental this subject is to a proper understanding of our history and culture. Hopefully, it will also lead to further study.
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on 21 March 2015
Excellent overview of the roots and offspring of Constantian Roman imperial religion. Takes the reader from Judaism to Greek philosophy and explores the thinking of the Roman period. Also explores the origins of Protestantism, Catholicism the Orthodox church and the minority movements across the world. . A respectful history from a very good historian. Well written and easy to follow. Packed to the last page with interesting information. Recommended reading for University and the lay reader !
I was quite amazed at Mr Maculloc's intellectual and academic ability. . Highly recommend it to the Christian and those who are interested in the history of the magisterial church. My uni Church history class read this as standard and all thought it was very informative and well written and packed with a great deal of in depth research.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 25 November 2010
I'm what you might call a slightly bewildered agnostic, but I've always had a particular interest in Christianity. So much of its own history - fragmented, argumentative and hypocritical - has always seemed to be at odds with much of Christ's core message, and I've never quit understood how so many Christians can fail to see that contradiction in their own faith's history. But this book, which is surely destined to become a classic in the field, goes a long way to explaining why Christianity has had so many schisms, so many sects and splinter groups, reformations and counter-reformations.

It is an immense book, and justifiably so - such a complicated history, ranging across the entire globe and spanning more than two thousand years, could scarcely be anything less, but it rarely flags or fails. It is a difficult history to tell, particularly when the major Churches begin to establish themselves - the early African churches, the Ethiopian Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church - and it becomes impossible to tell the full history in any meaningfully chronological way.

But it's well-worth the challenge, particularly in the areas not usually focused upon in the West - such as the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. I personally found it particularly interesting to see the history of Christianity as a whole and how all the different Churches that seem so far apart relate and respond to one another; and particularly how the various trends in religious attitudes and behaviour have evolved and changed over the centuries.

It's hard to tell MacCulloch's own position from this book, and that's another mark in its favour. If I had to tell, I'd say the overall tone is one of fond and perhaps somewhat bemused affection, tempered with a healthy dose of enlightened scepticism. It makes for a lively and engaging read, although not one to be entered into lightly.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 November 2010
An encyclopaedic account. The story is often told with freshness and offers some unusual perspectives and countless nuggets (and indeed whole slabs) of fascinating information.

Provocatively subtitled "The First THREE Thousand Years", it begins with two substantial chapters about the thousand years before Christianity, describing the cultures out of which Christianity arose: one chapter is about Greece and Rome and the other about Israel; and already we are warned that these roots will imply tensions within Christianity. There will be further tensions as differing and opposing strands develop, and these are beautifully brought out.

Most western readers will be much more familiar with the story of the Western churches than with that of the Eastern ones. Yet the Eastern Church covered the areas where Christianity originated; it was greatly boosted after the Emperor Constantine, after having legalized and favoured Christianity, had moved his capital to Constantinople; the Western Empire succumbed to the barbarians while the Eastern Empire remained in existence for another thousand years. For a time, therefore, what MacCullough calls "the centre of gravity" of Christendom lay in the East, and it was the Muslim conquest of so much of the area that tilted it to the Latin West, described by MacCullough as being originally "the poor relation of the Greek- and Semitic-speaking Churches of the East" (p.290). The passionate theological disputes in the Western Church (Athanasianism versus Arianism) were complicated enough. Today one cannot but be amazed by the passion, bitterness and persecutions engendered by these doctrinal differences which had so much less bearing on how Christians should lead their lives than had the later differences between Catholicism and the various branches of Protestantism in the West.

But the disputes in the Western Church were simple compared with those in the Eastern Church. Possibly because I am so much less familiar with the latter, I found them much harder to follow and remained bemused by the theological disputes (Monophysite, Dyophysite, Chalcedonian), muddied as they were by the convolutions of politics. The same applies to the dense and chunky chapters on the later history of the Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire and in Russia, studded as they are with names and events with many of which most western readers will be unfamiliar. But I also feel that these chapters do actually lack the engagement with which the story of the western churches is told and read more like the result of MacCulloch's dutiful reading.

We return to the West with the more familiar story of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation and of the wars and persecutions which followed. There is an account of the imposition by force of Christianity in Latin America in the 16th century, despite the protests of Dominicans and later of the Jesuits at the violence involved; but by the 18th century the attempts by one denomination to impose itself on others have largely been given up, at any rate in most of Europe.

It is a different story in the 19th century colonial empires of the western powers, where Catholics and Protestants vied with each other to impose their beliefs - usually now by persuasion rather than by force - on non-Christians. But Christians would also be in the forefront of the movement to abolish slavery. (There can be few major omissions in MacCullough's book; but one of these is the role played in the colonization of southern Africa and later of New Zealand by the relationship between the Evangelical Sir James Stephen, Undersecretary at the Colonial Office, the missionaries, and the settler interest represented by Edward Gibbon Wakefield.)

While Christianity expanded massively in the colonial empires in the 19th century, the main thread in the story of Christianity in Europe itself from the 18th century onwards is the challenge to the churches and indeed to religion in general of secularism and of unbelief. While in one sense this period sees the retreat of Christianity, MacCullough shows that this is by no means the whole story, and he documents the many different response of churches and sects to the challenge. It certainly was a surprise to me to learn that there are nearly four times as many Christians in the world today as there were in 1900.

All the same, while in, say, 16th and 17th century Europe religious issues were common currency, I was struck by how marginal to the major currents of history are 20th century stories like that of the Ecumenical Movement, which have impinged on the consciousness of only a small minority even of professing Christians.

The most vigorous, influential, varied, flamboyant and emotional Christianity these days is not in Europe, but in the United States (where it is also politically very powerful) and in Africa, for the most part conservative and firmly against any liberalization of social life (in respect of homosexuality, abortion, women clergy). By contrast, many churchmen, especially in Latin America, involved themselves with radical social movements (Liberation Theology).

I have selected here only a very few aspects of a richly packed text of a thousand pages, which ranges in time over three millennia and in geography from Latin America to Korea. There are, for instance, particularly good chapters tracing the story of Methodism from its origins in the Moravian Pietists of Germany through Wesley in England and then to the black churches in the United States.

It is truly a monumental achievement.
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on 23 October 2010
This is quite simply a magnificent book. MacCulloch's scholarship, and his ability to synthesise and organise a vast amount of material, are truly remarkable. But equally impressive are the wisdom, humanity and occasional acerbic wit that he brings to the task. Time and again his approach results in a different and enlightening perspective on world history. As an non-believer, I feel that he is scrupulously fair to (and hence equally critical of) all sects and forms of Christian belief, now and in the past. But I imagine that this will sometimes make the book uncomfortable reading for some more ardent believers! Above all this is a terrific read, and one of the most engrossing history books I've yet come across.
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on 8 November 2017
I am sure the content is excellent, however a 1200 page volume in this form factor is virtually unreadable, the print is tiny. Really disappointed.
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on 5 December 2017
just perfect!
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on 27 April 2010
After all the plaudits which have been heaped upon this book, it seems presumptious of me to say anything. When I first saw it in a bookshop, I was overawed by its size, but after reading one particular review I was convinced that I should attempt it. The amazing amount of information is presented in an accessible form and it is a joy to read. There is a comprehensive bibliography; in some cases, one has the feeling that bibliographies are added to lend credibility to what may be a dubious 'agenda' to the book, but here that is not the case. Unfortunately, without access to a university library, it can be more tantalising than helpful. The illustrations are carefully chosen, and do their purpose:they illustrate the text appropriately. Perhaps my most positive comment is to say that no-one need, or should, be detered by the size; it would not be possible to do justice to the subject in anything less.
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on 3 January 2010
Its 1000 pages are probably not for the faint-hearted, but MacCulloch's book obviously will take you much deeper than his recent excellent TV series, and I'm glad I persevered with his book. He is very interesting on the early centuries of Christianity, its links with ideas and philosophies from Greek and Roman times, and its many forms and the way it spread eastwards initially. Certainly he demolished the impression of a Rome-dominated church that many of us may have of pre-Reformation times. For me he explained very clearly many concepts and ideas I'd come across in earlier reading - about heresy, for instance - and showed me many interesting connections and links which had never occurred to me. What came over most strongly, however, for me, was just how quickly the essentials got lost or were overshadowed by sordid politicking and jostling for power and influence by those who found Christianity a convenient tool for advancing themselves. Then when well-meaning people repeatedly tried to re-connect with the roots of the faith, lo and behold, they were heretics!

I know I oversimplify; there's so much in this book that every reader will get something different from it. And ultimately comes the affirmation that there is clearly something in the original message that has led to its survival...
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on 1 August 2011
When I was younger, I read voraciously. Now, I baulk at 1,000+ pages books like this but find that a small section each day, accompanied by a single malt, goes down well. However, after `getting into it', I got to the stage where people say, `I couldn't put it down.' Several bottles later, here are my views.

One of the best things about this history, written in the author's usual witty style, is the treatment of Miaphysite (monophysite) Eastern Christianity and the suggestion that the HQ of the Church could just as easily been Baghdad as Rome. The standard Church History that I was taught at uni. went straight from the early church to Rome and the Western churches, with the Orthodox being treated as some sort of exotic species.

Contrary to the received idea that we owe astronomy, maths and medicine to Islam's recovery of ancient knowledge from the Orient, this book suggests that it was Christians working in Arabic countries who did so.

Contrary to woolly liberal thinking, the author points out that Pelagius was not some amiable foil to the strict St. Augustine. Pelagius was stern and every Christian would have to live a monastic lifestyle to earn salvation. Augustine allowed for a messy world and encouraged Christians to be involved in its compromises.

The detail and precision, sometimes stultifying, of Western theology may be because Eastern Christians could get bureaucratic jobs whereas, in the West, people `interested in clear rules and tidy filing systems' tended to become clerics `who would previously have entered imperial service, or who had indeed started out as officials in it, now entered the Church as the main career option available to them, when in the East they still had the option of imperial bureaucracy. The Western Church has remained notable for the presence within its clerical ranks of a great many who re interested in clear rules and tidy filing systems. Western canon aw was one of the West's intellectual achievements long before its systematization in the twelfth century, and Western theology has been characterized by a tidy-mindedness which reflects the bureaucratic precision of the Latin language: not always to the benefit of its spirituality."

It is refreshing to see the case being argued that the Gregorian Reformation, with the eclipsing of the power of warlords, the establishment of the parish system and care for the poor is as significant as the Protestant Reformation.

There are some images that will be hard to delete from my memory, such as a holy woman called Agnes imagining swallowing the foreskin of Christ: the skeptic who defecated in the Lourdes grotto punished by Our Lady with a night of acute diarrhoea; the Max Ernst painting of Our lady giving the young Jesus a good slapping for being naughty to his friends.

It is ironic that synodical government in the Church of England owes its origins to the desire of anglo-catholics for freedom from state control, given that many claim it has no authority to permit the ordination of women.

The current obsession, in the Anglican Communion, with `issues in human sexuality' is often traced back to the time in which African converts believe in the Bible more than their missionary teachers. The author spells this out graphically.

I enjoyed reading about Bishop Horsley, who thought that Christians should not try to convert Hindus and Muslims, though I am not sure to what extent that was out of respect for pluralism or to sensitive issues about deals done to ensure co-operation with British rule.

He outlines newly-formed churches, such as that in Korea, that had few priests and relied on lay leadership. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned for older churches as the clergy shortage starts to bite.

It came as a surprise to learn that there may be more Christians in China than in any other country.

One gripe: The Feast of Christ the King never falls in December. (p. 931)

The excellent bibliography is extremely helpful for following up issues. It is up to date: indeed some works have not been published yet.
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