History of Religions


The Closing of the Western Mind : The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason by Charles Freeman

A very worthy read: While addressing the roles of the Platonic, Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian initial influences in the formation of Christian doctrine and their sublimation, this book also ties together significant historical events from the time of Ancient Greece through the year 500AD to prove that the Christianity as practiced today is ultimately a Christianity formed outside of the parameters intended by Christ.

The author exposes the significant role of the Roman Emperors and the Byzantines as the actual dictators of church doctrine in both East and West; in light of the evidence their role cannot be denied. Along the way we look at the role of the Apostles, especially Paul, and the influence of the Church Fathers, and Doctors including Ambrose, Athanasius, Augustine and many others. A discussion of Gnosticism is notably absent, however Arianism is discussed extensively. The use of bible quotations, historical reference quotes of Church Fathers and Doctors, and quotes of the Imperial Decrees, especially those of the Church Councils throughout the text paint a vivid picture of the growth and establishment of a theocratic government that sublimated philosophical pursuit and reason for the sake of church unity and national unity. The author illustrates that successive Emperors actually dictated a Trinitarian dogmatic theology that eclipsed not only "pagan" thought, but the actual teachings of Jesus Christ.

In light of the research and well-documented conclusions of the author it cannot be denied that the religion practiced by the majority of Christians today is in error. While other books have been written in the same vein, this book and the authors conclusions are particularly well supported by primary sources. Every page is packed with historical facts; if not completely conclusive the book is a very well written revisionist historical work and a must read for any recovering fundamentalist Christian. Also see other reviews on Amazon, but ignore the publishers weekly review (which sounds like fundamentalist rheotric, especially in light of currnet scholarship re:Paul and his Gnostic leanings) and decide for yourself. Jessika

Written by Charles Freeman:
I am grateful for the care with which Amazon readers have reviewed my book whether they have agreed with my argument or not. The reviews are worth a reply.

My thesis is that Christianity was heavily politicised by the late Roman empire, certainly to the extent that it would have been unrecognisable to Jesus. Note the linking of the church to the empire's success in war, opulent church building and an ever narrowing definition of what beliefs one had to hold to be saved. (Hand in hand with this went an elaboration of the horrors of hell, a radical and unhappy development which can only have discouraged freedom of thought.) My core argument is that one result of the combination of the forces of authority (the empire) and faith (the church) was a stifling of a sophisticated tradition of intellectual thought which had stretched back over nearly a thousand years and which relied strongly on the use of the reasoning mind. (Italics Mine)

I did not depend on Gibbon. I do not agree with him that intellectual thought in the early Christian centuries was dead and I believe that the well established hierarchy of the church strengthened not undermined the empire. After all it was the church which survived the collapse of the western empire. Of course, Gibbon writes so eloquently that I could not resist quoting from him at times but my argument is developed independently of him and draws on both primary sources and recent scholarship.

On the relationship between Christianity and philosophy I argue that there were two major strands of Greek philosophy , those of Plato and Aristotle. The early church did not reject Greek philosophy but drew heavily on Platonism to the exclusion of Aristotle. In the thirteenth century Christianity was reinvigorated by the adoption of Aristotelianism, notably by Thomas Aquinas. It seems clear that Christianity needed injections of pagan philosophy to maintain its vitality and a new era in Christian intellectual life was now possible. I don't explore it in this book. Even so, when one compares the rich and broad intellectual achievements of the `pagan' Greek centuries with those of the Middle Ages, it is hard to make a comparison in favour of the latter. Where are the great names? (The critic who mentioned the ninth century philosopher Erigena should also have mentioned that he was condemned as a heretic.)

When one reads the great works of second and third century AD thinkers such as Plutarch, Galen, Ptolemy and Plotinus, which are remarkable for their range and depth, one cannot but feel that much has been lost in the west by the fifth century. Something dramatic happened in the fourth century. In 313 Constantine brought the traditional policy of Roman toleration for different religious beliefs to its culmination by offering Christians (who had condemned the pagan gods as demons) a privileged place within the empire alongside other religions. By 381 the Christian emperor Theodosius when enforcing the Nicene creed condemns other Christians as `foolish madmen.. We decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious names of heretics . . .they will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation, and in the second the punishment which our authority, in accordance with the will of heaven, shall decided to inflict'.If this is not a `closing of the western mind' it is difficult to know what is. It goes hand in hand with a mass of texts which condemn rational thought and the violent suppression of Jewish and pagan sacred places. There is no precedent for such a powerful imposition of a religious ideology in the Greco-Roman world. The evidence of suppression is so overwhelming that the onus must be on those who argue otherwise to refute it.

Some readers have related my book to the present day- I leave it to them to do so if they wish -it is important to understand ANY age in which perspectives seem to narrow and religion and politics become intertwined as they certainly did in the fourth century. After all American Christianity was founded by those attempting to escape just such political straitjackets. Christianity has never been monolithic or static. In fact,as my book makes clear, one of my heroes is Gregory the Great who, I believe, brought back spirituality, moderation and compassion into the Christian tradition after the extremes of the fourth century. It is the sheer variety of Christianities which make the religion such an absorbing area of study.

I hope Amazon readers will continue to engage with my arguments whether they agree with them or not. Keep the western mind open and good reading!

Charles Freeman

N.B. Amazon insist I award my book some stars! I have chosen ''four' because since I wrote it I have come across a lot of new material which I think could improve its argument further.

Documents of the Christian Church

by Henry Bettenson, Chris Maunder
Primary Source Text

Since its first publication in 1967, this collection of writings from the most important moments in the history of Christianity has established itself as a classic work. Now incorporating a wealth of new material, this new edition will be an essential reference source for anyone interested in the history of the Christian Church.

While retaining the original material selected by Henry Bettenson, Chris Maunder has added a substantial section of more recent writings. These new entries illustrate the Second Vatican Council; the theologies of liberation; Church and State from 'Thatcher's Britain' to Communist Eastern Europe; Black, feminist, and ecological theology; ecumenism; and inter-faith dialogue. The emphasis on moral debate in the contemporary Churches is reflected in selections dealing with modern issues such as homosexuality, divorce, AIDS, and in-vitro fertilization. With the publication of this new edition, Documents of the Christian Church provides insights into the whole 2000 years of Christian theological and political debate.


Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (Penguin Classics)
by Eusebius, G.A. Williamson

Primary Source Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Greek

The authenticity of Eusebius's "Church History" is beyond dispute. Every new discovery shows anew the conscientious, careful and intelligent use of the libraries of Caesarea and Jerusalem.

In his Church History or Ecclesiastical History (Historia Ecclesiastica), Eusebius attempted according to his own declaration (I, i. 1) to present the history of the Church from the apostles to his own time, with special regard to the following points:

(1) the successions of bishops in the principal sees;
(2) the history of Christian teachers;
(3) the history of heresies;
(4) the history of the Jews;
(5) the relations to the heathen;
(6) the martyrdoms.

He grouped his material according to the reigns of the emperors, presenting it as he found it in his sources. The contents are as follows:

* Book i: detailed introduction, on Jesus Christ
* Book ii: The history of the apostolic time to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus
* Book iii: The following time to Trajan
* Books iv and v: the second century
* Book vi: The time from Severus to Decius
* Book vii: extends to the outbreak of the persecution under Diocletian
* Book viii: more of this persecution
* Book ix: history to Constantine's victory over Maxentius in the West and over Maximinus in the East
* Book x: The reestablishment of the churches and the rebellion and conquest of Licinius.

In its present form the work was brought to a conclusion before the death of Crispus (July, 326), and, since book x. is dedicated to Paulinus of Tyre who died before 325, at the end of 323 or in 324. This work required the most comprehensive preparatory studies, and it must have occupied him for years. His collection of martyrdoms of the older period may have been one of these preparatory studies.

for more info see:

A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam
by Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong, one of Britain's foremost commentators on religious affairs, traces the history of how men and women have perceived and experienced God, from the time of Abraham to the present. From classical philsophy and medieval mysticism to the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the modern age of skepticism, Karen Armstrong performs the near miracle of distilling the intellectual history of monotheism into one superbly readable volume, destined to take its place as a classic.



The Secret Teachings of Jesus : Four Gnostic Gospels

by Marvin Meyer (Translator)
Book Description
4 revealing Christian texts founded in 1945 in Egypt which provide invaluable information about the character of the early Church and the Gnostic Christians within the Church.


The Gnostic Gospels
by Elaine Pagels
Gnosticism's Christian form grew to prominence in the 2nd century A.D. Ultimately denounced as heretical by the early church, Gnosticism proposed a revealed knowledge of God ("gnosis" meaning "knowledge" in Greek), held as a secret tradition of the apostles. In The Gnostic Gospels, author Elaine Pagels suggests that Christianity could have developed quite differently if Gnostic texts had become part of the Christian canon. Pagels argues that Christian orthodoxy grew out of the political considerations of the day, serving to legitimize and consolidate early church leadership. Her contrast of that developing orthodoxy with Gnostic teachings presents an intriguing trajectory on a world faith as it "might have become." The Gnostic Gospels provides engaging reading for those seeking a broader perspective on the early development of Christianity. --F. Hall


The Early Church (Penguin History of the Church, 1)

by Henry Chadwick

Examines the beginning of the Christian movement during the first centureis AD, and the explosive force of its expansion throughout the Roman world.



History of Religious Ideas: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries Vol 1.
by Mircea Eliade, Willard R. Trask (Translator) Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries. For the historian of religions, every manifestation of the sacred is important: every rite, every myth, every belief or divine figure reflects the experience of the sacred and hence implies the notions of being, of meaning, and of truth.

A History of Religious Ideas: From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity Vol2.

by Mircea Eliade, Willard R. Trask (Translator)

A History of Religious Ideas : From Muhammad to the Age of Reforms
Vol.3. by Mircea Eliade, Diane Apostolos-Cappadona (Translator), Alf Hiltebeiten (Translator)

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