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on 4 September 2014
Wow, just when we thought Islam was complicated with the various factions of Sunni and Shia fighting each other all over the world, and among themselves too, this history of Christianity shows a birth of a religion even more fractured than the basic split in Islam over the succession to the Prophet Mohammed.

I suppose it is just luck that there is not much infighting today (well the sort with guns) between the various beliefs in Christianity and new factions and beliefs are still emerging. Could this be because the Christians have sated their blood lust against each other many years ago or do we take the old view that in war both parties claim that God is on their side. Mohammed never claimed to be a man of peace and indeed his religion was founded on his successful wars against the surrounding tribes. Jesus came as a man of peace and, arguably, more have been slain in the name of Christianity than any other cause.

This is a very well written book and it is not difficult to read despite being an outstanding piece of scholarship. However, the sheer weight of information and the complexity of the disagreements between the various factions with the resulting schisms that have made the Christian Church what it is today make the book something that needs to be read slowly and with total concentration in order to understand the complicated links between one theory and the next which are all that one can call the ever-changing beliefs in these religions.

I have started to re-read this book it is so good but you would have to be a divinity student not to intersperse this with something a little more lighthearted.
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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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on 19 June 2016
It doesn't matter whether you have a faith or not, if you want a better understanding of factors influencing these belief systems, then this is the book for you. I was woefully ignorant about the emergence and development of faith before reading this. The author does not set out to prove or disprove the case for faith, but represents the facts as we know them. As an atheist, I found the book fascinating and wanted a better understanding about how and why faith occurs. There is no doubt, that it has helped me to clarify my own position on this most fundamental of subjects. To have written this book , is a monumental achievement and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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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 25 March 2018
Like Gibbon's decline and fall, .MacCulloch combines deep insight, a fascination with ideas and good humour to produce a profound exploration of his faith. The unravelling of doctrine and explanation of how religious belief has evolved gives Christianity a texture and richness often ignored by other commentators.
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on 20 February 2018
Great writer, so really interesting book, but buy the DVD set also, as it is easier to remember the enormous amount of information MacCulloch packs in! I'm using the book for references when writing and to fill in the detail when researching something.
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on 18 August 2016
Very wordy but very informative - if you want a introduction to Christianity this is not the book for you as it covers the history extensively and in depth
If you're looking for a comprehensive historical book which explains all aspects of Christianity in depth then this is the one
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on 15 June 2016
This may well be a 5 star book, I'm not really qualified to judge it. Coming to it as a layman, I found it extremely hard going. It assumes you already know a fair amount regarding doctrines, terminologies etc. I am finding "Christian Theology an Introduction" by Alister E McGrath to be a far more accessible meta narrative suitable for a beginner. Diarmaid MacCullochs accompanying DVD series is also much easier to digest.
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on 22 November 2015
Taking into account all areas of historical study and not merely the history of the church, I consider Diarmaid MacCulloch to be, by a wide margin, the finest scholar writing today. He combines vast learning with a sharpness of perception and a clarity of thought and exposition. While never resorting to over-simplification, he manages to make clear the puzzling and the opaque. In addition to all that, his mischievous humour makes his work eminently readable and even (despite the complexity of his subject) entertaining. Of all people, he is the one whom I (though terrified by his intellectual power) would most like to meet!
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on 22 December 2013
This is a superb book which is at the same time both academic and eminently readable. The author knows his subject well and conveys his information in a fresh and engaging manner. Whatever period of Christianity the reader is interested in -(in my case mainly the early church) - the information is there. But this tome doesn't just cover the history of the church in the west but all the eastern churches as well. It is an absolute gold mine.
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