A Short World History of Christianity
- Thanks to J. M. for the suggestion via The History Place group.
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Title: A Short World History of Christianity
Author: Robert Mullin
Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press
Date Published: March 18, 2008
Price: $ 19.77
Review by George Weigel in Catholic World Report:
I canât remember precisely when I fell in love with history, but it
was surely in the first innings of my reading life. Granted, this was
easier in the days when history was written and taught as, well,
history â" meaning drama, heroes and villains, great arguments, wars
and revolutions, and all that other dead white male stuff.
I was fortunate in my third grade teacher, the estimable Sister Miriam
Jude, S.S.N.D. (then a postulant known as Sister Florence); she had
sold World Book encyclopedias on the side during her days as a
Philadelphia public school teacher and talked my parents into buying a
set. Thanks to the World Book, I was off to the historical races.
Then there were Random Houseâs âLandmark Books,â wonderful
history-for-young-readers, written by real historians, not overly
dumbed-down, and costing around $1 for a hardback. I owned dozens and
read more than a few of them several times. Thus prepared, high school
and college history were fun, not drudgery, and to this day, reading
good narrative history is a never-failing pleasure.
History, that is, like Robert Bruce Mullinâs A Short World History of
Christianity, recently published by Westminster John Knox Press. It is
no easy business, getting two millennia of Christian history into 283
readable pages. But Mullin has done the job in a readable style that
makes the fruits of his impressive ample scholarship available to a
Mullin is a master at sketching brief portraits of key figures in the
Christian story. He neatly disentangles the great â" and often daunting
â" trinitarian, christological and mariological controversies of the
first centuries in a thoroughly accessible way.
Unlike many, perhaps most, historians of Christianity, he understands
that the Christian contest with Islam has been a defining experience
of Christian history, ever since the armies of Islam broke out of the
Arabian peninsula and swept across what was, in the seventh century,
one of the vital centers of the Christian world â" North Africa. His
description of the accomplishments of the often-deplored Middle Ages
is both just and enlightening, as are his depictions of the
Reformation, the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the European wars of
religion. His attention to the tremendous missionary expansion of
Christianity in the 19th- and 20th-centuries is a useful reminder, in
this Pauline year, that great Christian missions didnât stop with St.
Paul â" or St. Francis Xavier, for that matter.
Whatâs the relationship between the story told so well by Mullin and
the history I inhaled with those World Books? When history was taught
properly, the sequence was usually organized by chapter headings that
read something like âAncient Civilizations,â âGreece and Rome,â âthe
Dark Ages,â the Middle Ages,â âRenaissance and Reformation,â âthe Age
of Reason,â âthe Age of Revolution,â âthe Age of Science,â âthe Space
Ageâ or some such. From a Christian perspective, however, that is
history read on its surface.
For there is another way to schematize the human story. Its chapter
headings would run something like this: âCreation,â âFall,â âPromise,â
âProphecy,â âIncarnation,â âRedemption,â âSanctification,â
âProclamation,â âthe Kingdom of God.â
That story â" the biblical story, if you will â" does not, however, run
parallel to the ârealâ story as taught in the history textbooks. The
story that begins with âCreationâ and culminates in âthe Kingdom of
Godâ is the human story, read in its proper depth and against its most
ample horizon. For the central truth of history is that history is
His-story: the story of Godâs coming into time and our learning to
take the same path that God takes toward the future.
In A Short World History of Christianity, Robert Bruce Mullin offers
us, not a theological interpretation of history but a concise
narrative of the Churchâs life in the world â" the Churchâs life
between âRedemptionâ and âthe Kingdom of God.â To know that story is
to see how, in specific personalities and communities, both the Spirit
promised to the Church and the ancient enemy have been at work,
shaping what the world regards as âhistory.â Itâs a story every
literate Catholic should know.
Weigel is a distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public
Policy Center in Washington, D.C.