All Christians can find their story in overview of first 1,000 yearsThe First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity, by Robert Wilken. Yale University Press (New Haven, Conn., 2012). 388 pp., $35."The First Thousand Years," a remarkably brief overview of half the Christian story by a prominent Catholic historian, is a refreshing new look at our common biography as Catholic Christians. Traditional histories have tended to privilege the European-centered Western developments, which are crucial in understanding contemporary Protestantism and Catholicism. However, a geographically, theologically and demographically balanced treatment like this one takes full account of Christianity as it spread to India, Africa, Armenia, Persia and Central Asia in the early centuries, and eventually to China and Mongolia while expanding into northern Europe and the British isles.We see the Syrian and Egyptian Coptic churches very much in the news, with the Syrian civil war and the so-called Arab Spring. What has not found its way into much of our news is the reconciliation that has taken place between these churches, divided from the Byzantine East and Latin West — Rome and Constantinople — since 451, and Catholic and Orthodox churches. This volume will be a handy way to understand the backgrounds of these churches, the divisions that have divided us and the bases on which reconciliation is developing. The Church of the East (Assyrian/Chaldean), the Armenians, the Ethiopians — as well as Copts and Syrians — are all churches with a dynamic past and rich heritage of resistance to adversity, and a shared ecumenical future based on dialogue and common hopes of restored communion.The book includes 36 brief chapters, useful maps and a short bibliography. It helps the reader to understand the developments that have made the church what it is today: the canon of Scripture, the formulations of the creeds, the emergence of bishops, the liturgy and sacraments, monasticism, and the rich variety of theologies in the Syriac-, Greek- and Latin-speaking worlds, as well as other cultures throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. The attention given to relations with Judaism and Islam are timely contributions, and essential elements in the story. Half the Christian world came under Muslim rule; many of the churches survive to this day and others did not.Chapters on the developments in architecture, music, art, governments, social ministries and institutions, and church and civil law give rich insight into the diversity and contribution of Christianity to the variety of cultures where it was received. The volume is particularly useful in expanding the perspective of those raised in their particular tradition, be it Western Protestant or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, to a time when there were as many Christians in the Persian Church of the East and its missions as far as India and Mongolia, as there were in Europe. It is also helpful in realizing how certain institutions, like church law, the role of the bishop of Rome among the bishops of the world, formulations of the Trinity and the Incarnation, developed in the time after the Bible and in dialogue with the cultures where Christians lived and worked.The developments of the relationship of the churches with the various civil powers — kings and emperors — is instructive, since Christians sometimes look back romantically to a time when the church was established by authority of the state. However, the relationships were always fluid, often conflictual, and never predictable: "The establishment of Christianity took place as much against political power as in collusion with it." From Ethiopia to Armenia, from Persia to Spain, the churches inculturated the Gospel in very different ways, with different challenges and different modes of spreading the good news.We can welcome this volume, both because it presents a new and readable perspective on our own story, but also because it tells the story honestly as it developed, so that it can be read by all Christians who can find in it a way of relating their particular church's narrative within the larger common account. This should be a helpful tool in reconciling communities who have been divided for centuries, both by culture and by how they have told the story of their relationship to follow Christians who tell the story differently. The thoughtful reading Catholic should take up this tale every few years and read a new history, to be enriched by what we have learned and what the scholars have to tell us about our family narrative.—Brother Jeffrey Gros, FSCHistorian argues successfully that West grew from chaotic 10th centuryThe Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century, by Paul Collins. Public Affairs Publishers (New York, 2013). 496 pp., $29.99.In "The Birth of the West," historian Paul Collins successfully highlights the tendency toward integration present among the 10th century's violent disintegration.First the disintegration: Monarchs held on by the skin of their teeth, as they had no real administration or concept of statecraft. Politics therefore returned to the local and often to the barbaric. Warlords waged constant campaigning across Europe, with power as the only currency.Even the papacy had lost sight of the larger picture of Christendom. The biggest problem it faced was, according to Collins, the "claustrophobic nature of Roman society ... a parochial, self-referential world in which the papacy increasingly became the plaything of local power brokers." In other words, the popes of the period were largely the creatures of the Roman clans constantly vying for power over the lucrative pilgrimage trade and taxation of the papal lands. St. Peter's successors therefore tended to get overly involved in this localized view, and left the church in the rest of Europe to itself. The author brings out the wickedness of these people quite vividly, relying on primary sources and historical episodes.All across Europe, the Carolingian Empire, established by Charlemagne and his father Pippin, was unraveling in the face of this localism as well as from the Viking raids from the north and Muslim raids from the south. Europe was a dangerous, anarchic place, and readers are introduced to the names and situations that reflect this.Collins cites the writing of the monk Paschasius Radbertus as "typical of the defeatism and despair that infected many in France" under Viking attack: "Who would have ever believed or thought possible that in our place and time we would be overrun by such fearful misfortunes? So today we are frightened as these pirate bands violate the borders of Paris and set on fire the churches of Christ on the banks of the Seine.... Who could have determined that such a glorious kingdom, so fortified, large, populous and strong would be humiliated and defiled by such a filthy race?"The only hope for integration came from the faith. Despite all the invasions and political fragmentation, Christendom as an idea remained and united the continent. It is here, in the hearts of the people and in the monasteries, that the author locates the tendency to pan-Europeanism, something that would grow in the 11th century and afterward. Ironically, given the unifying power of faith, the laity followed an eclectic mixture of Christian and pagan belief and practice. As well, "the borders between the terrestrial and non-natural worlds were permeable," the author observes, noting that death and disease, the weather and crop success or failure were up to God or other spiritual factors, including the people's sinfulness.Collins gives us repeated glimpses of the external, ritualistic nature of faith, such as the fierce competition among pilgrimage sites to attract visitors. The more ornately beautiful a relic's presentation, the more spiritual power that pilgrimage church possessed, folk believed. Collins shows why this sort of thing played such a vital role: "People felt that their lives were manipulated by irresistible forces, both good and malign, that needed to be propitiated."All this faith made the 10th century, despite the lack of political unity and coherence, an important period liturgically, as the Ottonian emperors of Saxony unified the Franco-Romanic liturgy, and as liturgical embellishment increased. Collins notes that the more ornamental priestly vestments reflected the increasing gulf between clergy and laity, though he fails to provide reasons for arguing so.Despite this concern for the political, Collins also discusses the popular culture and social issues of the time. People lived not under the shadow of institutions but within webs of personal relationships, including protective ones with a lord, that brought some level of integration at the local level. Most peasants were not serfs, though they did owe service for the protection they received. Not surprisingly, they lived close to the land in a hand-to-mouth existence."The Birth of the West," while bogging down on occasion with all the names and places thrown around, particularly in relation to politics, opens a strange world to us, even to Catholics typically enamored by the Middle Ages. The 10th century is well before the more commonly known eras and movements, such as the Crusades, friars, scholastics and mystics of the 11th to 14th centuries.Collins argues his main point successfully that these later centuries, and the modern world they created, grew out of the chaotic 10th century. This book will give readers a fuller understanding of the whole medieval period.—Brian WelterBook offers ethical framework for immigration reform debate Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration, by Kristin E. Heyer. Georgetown University Press (Washington, 2012). 198 pp; $29.95. Comprehensive immigration reform is a politically charged topic. As national debate heats up over federal legislation (recently introduced), talk on different sides of the issue often centers on cliches such as immigrants sneaking across the border to pursue the "American dream" and the need for tight borders to keep out cheap laborers and undesirables. For Catholics, the discussion has to go beyond this rhetoric to include examining the complex moral dimensions of the issue. "Kinship Across Borders" attempts to provide a Christian ethical underpinning to calls for new legislation that would bring out of the shadows the millions of people in the United States who are not here legally. It sympathizes with the plight of undocumented immigrants, making an ethical case for their full, legal incorporation into U.S. society. The ethical imperative draws heavily from the social teachings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, liberally overlaying these with the thoughts of feminist and liberation theologians. The book adds sociological, political and economic analysis to show that for decades people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border have been pushed and pulled by many forces outside of their control. Kristen Heyer is a professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University (and formerly at Loyola Marymount University), and she researched her topic well. Her book shows the devastating effect that current restrictive U.S. immigration policies have on family life by such practices as deporting parents who clandestinely crossed the border while often their U.S.-born children remain here. It points out the problems of people living in the U.S shadows without legal safeguards, forced to work for wages well below what a legal resident in the U.S. would receive. Then there are the problems specific to women whose odyssey to cross the border subjects them to sexual, physical and psychological abuse. Heyer also highlights how international economic policies and treaties often favor developed countries, increasing the poverty and joblessness in underdeveloped countries and causing people to risk dangerous border crossings to find work in the economically more attractive U.S. While providing a good ethical framework for judging the issue, the book has a major defect. It is too abstract and academic. It relies mostly on statistics and opinions. These are needed, but there are hardly any examples of real-life immigrants who are suffering the consequences of current policy. It talks about kinship and solidarity but few flesh-and-blood people appear to incarnate the statistics. Heyer does an admirable job in cross-disciplinary research so that the sociological, economic and political dimensions of the issue are framed ethically. But the language she uses can easily slip into jargon which reads more like a jumble of threads rather than a clear tapestry weaving together themes and ideas. The reader has to cope with sentences such as: "Whether marked by the 'Homo consumptor', the technological imperative, or globalization's need for victims, corporate globalization is driven by and sustains a belief system squarely at odds with a Christian relational anthropology, love command and transcendent 'telos.'" Luckily, Heyer also includes the thoughts of Popes John Paul and Benedict, offering the weight of official Catholic social teaching: People are more important than money or the profit motive; Globalization shouldn't improve the economic and political power of countries and transnational companies at the expense of people. She provides ample evidence from Scripture and official church teachings that immigrants deserve equal protection under law in the country in which they live, despite how they got there; and that the overriding biblical injunction is to welcome strangers rather than to reject them. As she notes, such an approach also makes it easier for immigrants to integrate and contribute to the society receiving them. While a reader may not agree with some of her political, sociological or economic analysis, Heyer provides a solid ethical framework for forming opinions on this crucial national issue. —Agostino Bono—CNSThe Reviewers:—Christian Schools Brother Jeffrey Gros is resident scholar in Catholic studies at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill.—Brian Welter is studying for his doctorate in systematic theology and teaching English in Taiwan.—Agostino Bono is a retired CNS staff writer who covered Hispanic affairs.
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