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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

“The Christian World: A Global History”, by Martin Marty

288 pages, Modern Library, ISBN-13: 978-0679643494

Attempting a one-volume history of anything that has existed for over 2000 years is no small task – NOW try to keep it brief. In The Christian World: A Global History, Martin Marty emphasizes the spiritual side of Christianity with the institutions promoting the same taking a backseat. You won't find a tremendous amount of information about individual churches or creeds, but you will meet an interesting array of characters, like Origen Adamantius, a scholar and early Christian theologian who decides to go the extra mile in curbing his instincts by following the dictates of Matthew 19:12:

For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Yikes. With material like this the early part of the book glides along. Marty has an eye for a good vignette and a good quote, like the nun who responds to a monk who averts his gaze when he sees a group a nuns: “If you had been a perfect monk, you would not have looked so closely as to perceive that we are women” (I believe that’s the early Church equivalent of “in your face, holy boy”). Then things bog down a bit and Marty seems to lose a bit of his spark, churning out lines like, “It was unholy Christian holy war”. Now really; for one thing, what “holy war” isn’t unholy? This is just the start of a catalog of atrocities committed by men and women allegedly to act in the name of a religion and is hardly a newsflash. On the other hand, this occasional heavy-handedness seems to me to be the result of trying to tell all sides of the story in a limited space rather than axe grinding. All in all this is a solid effort, more history of Christianity as a faith rather than a historical force. It didn’t leave me wanting to read more, nor did I feel like I have the topic well-covered now, but I did learn a thing or two, and really, what more can one ask of a “concise” history?

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