Top critical review
7 people found this helpful
Good in parts
on 3 January 2013
Freeman's work is useful for understanding the development path of orthodox Christianity. The Christianity of the gospels is seen as focused on a Kingdom of God that was expected to be manifest within the lifetimes of many of Christ's listeners. Sometime after the gospels were written, it became apparent that the Kingdom of God could not be expected within any particular lifetime, and there was a shift of emphasis towards the physical resurrection of Christ. The emergence of Christianity as the official and majority religion in the 4th and 5th centuries led to a further shift of emphasis. In the early centuries, acceptance of Christ and baptism were sufficient to qualify as being saved in the approaching Kingdom of God. However, under the orthodoxy of St. Augustine being a Christian was still necessary, but no longer sufficient, for being saved. This was now predetermined by God.
The less satisfactory aspect of this book seems to be a factor in common with other examples of US academia's approach to the subject, in which there is an implicit assumption that only those writings and figures leading to the triumph of orthodox Christianity need to be taken seriously. Gnosticism is seemingly dismissed because it was not a single belief system, although the same was also true of the rest of early Christianity. Simon Magus is barely mentioned. Manicheism is not connected to later heresies in Europe. The influence of mystery religions is barely touched on. The greater importance and different nature of baprism in the early centuries deserves more comment. Finally, there is a surprising historical determinism in the treatment of Christianity's move to dominance in the 4th century. From the look of it, Christianity got lucky on at least three occassions, first with Constantine's choice of the religion, secondly with the early death of Julian the Apostate and finally with Theodosius's close-call victory at Frigidus in 394. The latter perhaps the most tantalising because of the shallower roots of Christianity in the Latin west. Some attempted comment on how assured the triumph of Christianity was by the mid and late 4th century could have added value to this book.