CHRISTIANITY IN EUROPEAN HISTORY by William A. Clebsch

CHRISTIANITY IN EUROPEAN HISTORY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A lucid schematic study, scholarly in substance but readable and briskly paced, of the interactions between Christianity and Western culture. Clebsch (Religious Studies, Stanford) wants to get beyond the reductive limitations of both Church historians and their secular critics, to ""narrate the past appearances of new and changing forms of humanity as they christianly expressed themselves."" He divides the period since the beginning of Christianity into five basic eras, each of which is marked by two modes of religious life expressing the human dreams, desires, and capacities of that era. Each religious mode in turn derives from a distinct vision of Christ. Thus, from the appearance of Jesus till the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, the era of ""citizenship,"" we have martyrs and monks. From 476 to 962, a period of chaos, we have theodicy (e.g., Boethius) and prelacy (Gregory the Great) in the Germanic kingdoms. From 962 to 1556, an age of unity, mystics and theologians in the Holy Roman Empire. From 1556 to 1806, an age of allegiance to the territorial monarchies, moralists and pietists. Finally, the era of autonomy in the modern nations--1806-1945--gives rise to activists and apologists. i This simple progression of dialectical types is obviously too neat and abstract, but it suits Clebseh's purpose admirably: he is not trying to boil down a thousand monographs into an old-fashoned sweeping survey. He offers instead the broad outlines of a fresh approach to religious history, avoiding both supernaturalist views of experience and attempts to demythologize the religious sensibility of earlier generations. At the same time Clebsch's narrative has plenty of color and biographical detail. A splendid introduction to the Christian past.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1979
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press