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Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years

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In Jesus Wars, highly respected religious historian Philip Jenkins (The Next Christendom) reveals in bloody detail the fifth century battles over Christianity’s biggest paradox: the dual nature of Jesus Christ, as both fully human and fully divine. Jesus Wars is a must for the bookshelf of those who enjoy the work of Jared Diamond, Karen Armstrong, N.T. Wright, Elaine Page In Jesus Wars, highly respected religious historian Philip Jenkins (The Next Christendom) reveals in bloody detail the fifth century battles over Christianity’s biggest paradox: the dual nature of Jesus Christ, as both fully human and fully divine. Jesus Wars is a must for the bookshelf of those who enjoy the work of Jared Diamond, Karen Armstrong, N.T. Wright, Elaine Pagels, and Alister McGrath, as well as anyone interested in early Christian history.


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In Jesus Wars, highly respected religious historian Philip Jenkins (The Next Christendom) reveals in bloody detail the fifth century battles over Christianity’s biggest paradox: the dual nature of Jesus Christ, as both fully human and fully divine. Jesus Wars is a must for the bookshelf of those who enjoy the work of Jared Diamond, Karen Armstrong, N.T. Wright, Elaine Page In Jesus Wars, highly respected religious historian Philip Jenkins (The Next Christendom) reveals in bloody detail the fifth century battles over Christianity’s biggest paradox: the dual nature of Jesus Christ, as both fully human and fully divine. Jesus Wars is a must for the bookshelf of those who enjoy the work of Jared Diamond, Karen Armstrong, N.T. Wright, Elaine Pagels, and Alister McGrath, as well as anyone interested in early Christian history.

30 review for Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years

  1. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Honestly, I struggled a bit to get through this. The history is convoluted, involving dozens of religious, civil and military leaders over hundreds of years, and the intricate political machinations are dizzying and difficult to keep track of, not to mention the complicated theological disputes about the Trinity, Christology, and Mary. Dr. Jenkins includes maps at the beginning and several appendices that list the dramatis personae, briefly explain the outcomes of the several councils, and defin Honestly, I struggled a bit to get through this. The history is convoluted, involving dozens of religious, civil and military leaders over hundreds of years, and the intricate political machinations are dizzying and difficult to keep track of, not to mention the complicated theological disputes about the Trinity, Christology, and Mary. Dr. Jenkins includes maps at the beginning and several appendices that list the dramatis personae, briefly explain the outcomes of the several councils, and define the beliefs of various groups, but a more visual representation of the timeline would have been helpful, too. In my simplistic understanding, I believed that the Council at Nicea was the main event where orthodox Christian theology was settled. In actuality, that council, held in 325, was just the first of several major councils that redefined "orthodoxy" in an almost constant back-and-forth between various centers of power and influence. Dozens of schisms multiplied the number of churches and belief systems within Christianity. "At least since the apostles left Jerusalem, at no point in Christian history has one single church plausibly claimed the loyalty of all believers to the exclusion of rival institutions. In the mid-fourth century, perhaps half of all Christians belonged to some group that the Great Church regarded as heretical or schismatic, and new splits continued to form." It wasn't at all a foregone conclusion that Rome would come out ahead; sees in Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople all expressed their claims for supremacy, too. In addition to the struggles within Christianity, there were external threats as well, from Attila the Hun, Zoroastrian Persia, and a brand new religion on the scene in the 600s: Islam. Early on, the influence of pagan religions and Judaism were also frequently felt. The theological differences between the various factions sometimes seem like hair-splitting trivialities, but Dr. Jenkins explains that "the largest single mental marker separating the premodern or medieval world from our own was the belief that earthly error had cosmic implications...If, as they believed, errors arose from sinful pride or diabolical subversion, then tolerating them attracted God's anger, as expressed through different forms of worldly catastrophe: famine, drought, plague, floods and earthquakes, or defeat in war...A regime that tolerated heresy, immorality, and error would suffer, and nobody could complain against this fulfillment of God's essential justice." And reverberations are felt today. "The history of Christian belief is a story of resurrections without end...Even when no conceivable connection exists between ancient and modern thought, the same ideas resurface unbidden." Many of the diametrically opposed arguments and schools of thought that caused such turmoil in the fourth and fifth centuries continue to show up in various denominations today. In closing, Dr. Jenkins suggests that "in an ideal world, free of the power struggles of antiquity, that dialogue can itself be a positive thing, a way in which Christian thought develops its own self-understanding. A religion that is not constantly spawning alternatives and heresies has ceased to think and has achieved only the peace of the grave." For more book reviews, come visit my blog, Build Enough Bookshelves.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anatolikon

    This is a good book. I admit that I was extremely skeptical when I first saw it, assuming it to be some sort of modern nonsense on how Constantine created Christianity or something like that. However, when I saw that the Philip Jenkins is indeed an academic historian with serious credentials, I decided to give the book a read. I am glad I did, because I now have a single volume popular history on the late antique church councils and the politics that surrounded them that I can pass on to others This is a good book. I admit that I was extremely skeptical when I first saw it, assuming it to be some sort of modern nonsense on how Constantine created Christianity or something like that. However, when I saw that the Philip Jenkins is indeed an academic historian with serious credentials, I decided to give the book a read. I am glad I did, because I now have a single volume popular history on the late antique church councils and the politics that surrounded them that I can pass on to others as a good book. The essential premise behind Jenkins' work is that the politics that surrounded the church councils which took place from the early fourth century to the middle of the fifth played an enormous role in their outcome. At times it feels like Jenkins is trying to make his thesis sound more controversial than it is, despite the fact that this book is basically academic orthodoxy. That hardly detracts from the lively narrative, however, as Jenkins cogently discusses the relations between the great sees in the east, as well as Constantinople and Rome. While he does a very good job in summarizing the theological issues, the core of this book surrounds the politics that characterized the councils. Jenkins does not fall into the trap of disregarding the beliefs of the major actors just because politics are involved, and in fact he does a good job demonstrating how Eusebeian Christianity made the theological issues imperative for both churchmen and the rulers of the later Roman Empire. The section on Nestorius (chapter five: "Not the Mother of God?") is particularly well done, and Jenkins helps to rehabilitate his reputation as well as show the role that the squabbling Theodosian women played in his deposition. Interested readers should take a look at Holum's Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity, and Jenkins references to the similar deposition of John Chrysostom at the beginning of the fifth century are carefully placed inside their context. None of Jenkins' argument for Nestorius' orthodoxy is novel or controversial today in academic spheres, and Jenkins should be applauded for bringing it into the popular history sphere so smoothly. He demonstrates how the previous councils led to Chalcedon in 451, but then goes on to show that despite the importance of Chalcedon in the west, many of the matters were hardly settled. Nonetheless, this is not a perfect book. For one, Jenkins wrote on the politics of the late Roman church councils, and yet I really wonder about his understanding of the late Roman world. It seems that everything has to be interpreted inside the religious sphere for Jenkins, and as such many of the momentous events of the fifth to seventh centuries are forced into a religious context that they do not necessarily belong to. For example, he states that the persecution of the "Nestorian" church drove them to expand in Persia. It is true that the Nestorian church was persecuted, but it was not done because they did not harbour Chalcedonian views: it was done because their Romanitas was questioned because of the group's success in Persia. The Persian element and the Roman fear of a fifth column in Syria lay behind the persecution of this group, but Jenkins never mentions it. Most of the problems in this book belong to the penultimate chapter, "How the Church Lost Half the World" where this generally good book begins to unravel precipitously. The argument of this chapter is based around the emperors of the six century beginning to more consistently support Chalcedonian Christianity. His treatment of Justinian's subtle policy of allowing Theodora to have Monophysite views is very good and almost certainly correct. The idea that he is trying to push here is that imperially mandated Chalcedonian Christianity led to the establishment of separate churches in the east. There is no denying the fact that separate, Monophysite clerical orders were established in the east, but he downplays the attempts at reconciliation. Jenkins brings up Monotheletism, an imperial attempt to ignore the results of Chalcedon by arguing that Christ whether Christ had one nature or two, he had one will. This was not merely an attempt by a struggling empire to keep its provinces theologically "correct", but rather just one side of what the Monophysite provinces tried to do as well. To them, Constantinople and Rome were in error and they needed to fix that if the Roman Empire was going to continue to prosper. They did not try to secede from the Empire due to their religious differences, they fought for just what they had fought for at Nicaea, Ephesos, Constantinople, and Chalcedon: universal belief. It was the political separation that resulted from the Muslim conquest that forced the churches who were trying to work together to go separate ways. Even after this time reconciliation attempts were made by both sides. For example, in the ninth century the patriarch of Constantinople tried to settle issues with the Monophysite Armenian church. The arguments that he make surrounding the easy conquest of Syria by the Muslims are also highly flawed. There is insufficient space in this review to deal with them, so check out Kaegi's book instead: Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests Despite these long criticisms, I have to stress that this is a really good book, minus the penultimate chapter. Jenkins tells the story of both theology and politics at the late Roman church councils masterfully. It is very readable, and the dense theology is summarized nicely. This is a good history of the formation of Christian orthodoxy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    William Poe

    Another good read on the history of Western culture through the lens of Christianity. Jenkins covers a huge amount of information that I cannot keep straight without referencing the material. What struck me was just how violently Christians attacked one another over the smallest variation in whatever was the "orthodox" view of the moment. Any study of the history of Christianity will lead one to realize just what a human-constructed faith it is, and how detrimental it has been to the development Another good read on the history of Western culture through the lens of Christianity. Jenkins covers a huge amount of information that I cannot keep straight without referencing the material. What struck me was just how violently Christians attacked one another over the smallest variation in whatever was the "orthodox" view of the moment. Any study of the history of Christianity will lead one to realize just what a human-constructed faith it is, and how detrimental it has been to the development of mature political and social structures since the Roman Empire. I have little respect for Christianity (or any other religion, but Christianity is the one that most affects my culture so I feel more entitled to speak to it). Jenkins is not the best at keeping a reader engaged and helping the reader to keep the players straight, though he tries very hard to do so. I appreciated the endnotes and appendices that summarize various ecumenical councils, the leading players, and the various gradations of interpretation of the supposed relationship between Jesus and the Hebrew god (or how does one put it). I read a lot about Christian history and what most strikes me how hard it was to go from the Jewish cult of Jesus - which sort of made sense in its apocalyptic message, to the post-Jewish cult religion that took shape among the non-Jews. The believers began to attribute divine qualities to the man Jesus, and then had to sort out how the various traditions and sayings they inherited from the early movements could possibly make sense if Jesus is to be god in some way - it took over 300 years just to get to a starting point - which imagines a "trinity" by way of compromise with the various ideas running around. As lines of distinction were drawn, battles waged and people died - in the name of homoiousia or heteroousia among other notions. Distinctions that boggle the mind.

  4. 5 out of 5

    jordan

    In the plethora of current works on non-orthodox early movements from the likes of excellent scholars such Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagel (plus the absurd novels of Dan Brown and his imitators, which I shutter to mention in the same sentence), there has been precious little recent consideration of the establishment of Christian orthodoxy from a historical perspective. Into that breach steps Philip Jenkins with his interesting and readable //Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Em In the plethora of current works on non-orthodox early movements from the likes of excellent scholars such Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagel (plus the absurd novels of Dan Brown and his imitators, which I shutter to mention in the same sentence), there has been precious little recent consideration of the establishment of Christian orthodoxy from a historical perspective. Into that breach steps Philip Jenkins with his interesting and readable //Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians would Believe for 1,500 Years//. Jenkins illuminates often neglected history of the competing strains of Christianity, the charges of heresy and counter-heresy leveled over and over again as theologians and bishops sought to settle the apparent contradictions inherent in ideas like the Trinity and “The Divine Made Flesh.” If some imagine these conflicts as intellectual, they were at the time considered deadly serious, and a deluge of blood was shed on both sides. While on occasion one might grow confused about the various heresies, Jenkins does yeoman work helping the reader keep them straight, including excellent appendices following at the end of certain chapters. As for entertainment, he also offers a variety of interesting character sketches of the prime movers in the debate, neither beatifying nor overly vilifying them. No doubt some will take offense, but for those interested in learning of the battles that set the fault lines for a millennium and half of Christianity, this is a welcome read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Wealhtheow

    This book details how the political maneuverings in the 5th century affected what is officially thought and taught about Jesus. It's all quite complicated and bloody, filled with armies of monks marauding across Europe and the Middle East, and all over philosophical differences so slight I can hardly keep them straight. Alas, this book delves deep into convoluted details of theology, which I could not possibly care less about, and so I gave it up on page 23. I skimmed forward and found that vari This book details how the political maneuverings in the 5th century affected what is officially thought and taught about Jesus. It's all quite complicated and bloody, filled with armies of monks marauding across Europe and the Middle East, and all over philosophical differences so slight I can hardly keep them straight. Alas, this book delves deep into convoluted details of theology, which I could not possibly care less about, and so I gave it up on page 23. I skimmed forward and found that various battles, massacres, and historical personages do get page time, but it seems the book skips around in time a good deal and gets far more detailed in some areas than others. If you're truly interested in the antecedents of Christianity, and you're willing to put up with numerous pages arguing about whether Jesus had a mom, then this is the book for you. As someone looking for more history than philosophy, this didn't work for me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    James (JD) Dittes

    Who was Jesus? Was he God? Was he a man? As a Christian, I tend to wait for "all of the above" before answering. Yet this Christology, which I take for granted, came at the cost of many lives and centuries of debate, schism and reconciliation. Jenkins wades into 5th-century Christian history, a time at which the church should have been consolidated into the Roman Empire but was instead riven with factionalism over the nature of Christ. Eastern churches, based in Alexandria--and later Antioch--pre Who was Jesus? Was he God? Was he a man? As a Christian, I tend to wait for "all of the above" before answering. Yet this Christology, which I take for granted, came at the cost of many lives and centuries of debate, schism and reconciliation. Jenkins wades into 5th-century Christian history, a time at which the church should have been consolidated into the Roman Empire but was instead riven with factionalism over the nature of Christ. Eastern churches, based in Alexandria--and later Antioch--preferred to see Christ as God alone (this also helped to elevate Mary as God-bearer). Western churches, with Constantinople as a proving ground, would eventually carry forward the dual-nature beliefs. Jenkins not only provides a riveting account of the three mid-5th-century councils that wrestled with this issue, but he shows how various strains of Christian thought--labeled both heretical and orthodox over the centuries--have carried on to today. Christianity still has its share of squabbles, but they are nothing like those of 1500 years ago.

  7. 4 out of 5

    B.J. Richardson

    This is like a 200 level history course on the history of the Church councils during the 5th century. It is clearly not introductory level, but for anyone who has at least a small understanding of the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, this is an excellent source to read a fairly thorough history all in one volume. My biggest complaint is that Jenkins gets so focused on the theological side of the issues that he shares almost nothing of the larger historical context in which these theological is This is like a 200 level history course on the history of the Church councils during the 5th century. It is clearly not introductory level, but for anyone who has at least a small understanding of the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, this is an excellent source to read a fairly thorough history all in one volume. My biggest complaint is that Jenkins gets so focused on the theological side of the issues that he shares almost nothing of the larger historical context in which these theological issues were hammered out. One might mistakenly think that the State existed for no other reason than to provide a forum through which the Church might hammer (squabble, beat, bully, and kill) out these issues. In reality issues like the rivalry between Constantinople and Persia, the decay of the city and Western Roman Empire, and the successive waves of "barbarian" invasions had a huge part to play on the thinking and actions not just of the emperors but also the church leaders of this time. I understand why these were almost a nonfactor in this book, but I would have loved to see how the dynamic interplay between them and the issues here discussed.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    How did Christians go about constructing what is today regarded as orthodoxy? Many educated Westerners have a vague memory that there were councils that produced creeds and definitions and edicts, but most have little understanding of the processes, personalities, and agendas that so greatly shaped Christianity and therefore much of the world's culture. Jesus Wars is Philip Jenkins' highly readable guide to the fifth century, in which much of the military-political infrastructure of orthodoxy wa How did Christians go about constructing what is today regarded as orthodoxy? Many educated Westerners have a vague memory that there were councils that produced creeds and definitions and edicts, but most have little understanding of the processes, personalities, and agendas that so greatly shaped Christianity and therefore much of the world's culture. Jesus Wars is Philip Jenkins' highly readable guide to the fifth century, in which much of the military-political infrastructure of orthodoxy was established. According to Jenkins, the violence and oppression used in the pursuit of orthodoxy led directly to the regional fragmentation of Christianity and its inability to face Islam as a united front. Before reading this book, if someone had asked me whether it was possible to write a readable history of fifth-century Christianity, I would have confidently said no. At least, none of the books I had read in grad school came close to meeting that mark. I am thrilled that Jenkins has produced a book without rival, something I really could hand to a novice to church history. Beyond that, the way he tells his story is both honest and refreshing. Previous generations of scholars have often been yoked to a "development of doctrine" approach that assumes a particular end-point as correct and then seeks the straightest line through history to that point. This approach is loaded with theological assumptions; for example, providence is simply assumed to have worked out things correctly. Jenkins instead emphasizes the historical contingency of orthodoxy. Orthodox ideas did not triumph because they succeeded in persuading everyone of their cogency. Jenkins does a decent job of covering the theological content of the struggles, but his real contribution is his description of the process. Early church councils were anything but church-led, orderly, representative meetings that established a consensus. Instead, councils were generally instigated either by an emperor to force conformity and end conflict or by a patriarch to increase his prestige and to discredit a rival. The councils were rarely representative; lack of rules regarding eligibility for councils led to stacked benches and rigged outcomes. Often, regardless of what church leaders (much less lay Christians) believed, official orthodoxy turned on the personal beliefs or interests of the imperial court. Councils did not lead to consensus. No group ever changed their minds or abdicated their position as a result of debates. Councils thus led to doctrinal unity only when backed by significant, sustained use of force. This explains why Christian groups outside of or on the fringes of imperial control so rarely adhered to imperial definitions of orthodoxy. Furthermore, even the verdicts of this period lack consistency. Nestorius remains a condemned heretic and the object of intense hated (except in the breakaway Nestorian churches, of course) despite the fact that the Tome of Leo, which became a touchstone of orthodoxy, contains practically the same teaching. Finally, Jenkins did well in identifying the monks as the street-level enforcers of bishops. Certainly there were some ascetics practicing saintly contemplation and prayer, but many ancient monks in the Eastern empire resemble nothing so much as mafia footsoldiers or even bandit gangs. Jenkins has a rare gift for making comparisons between periods of history without being facile or patronizing. Likely because he has written widely about the history of Christianity, I found the ways he related actions in the fifth century to later medieval developments and even modern geopolitical issues intriguing and compelling. In general, his writing is nothing short of sparkling. He has a knack for encapsulating his points in striking concluding sentences (sententia for my Roman orators). Reading this book was genuinely enjoyable, no mean feat given the complexity and distastefulness of the subject. Jenkins deserves great credit for absolutely sparkling writing, clarity without oversimplifying, and sustained focus on a few chosen themes. Nevertheless, the book does have a number of weaknesses that would keep me from recommending it to anyone except a beginner. First, a terminological problem. Jenkins uses "monophysite" when he really should either use "miaphysite" or distinguish between miaphysites (Oriential Orthodox) and monophysites (Eutychians). Monophysite was a term of abuse hurled by Chalcedonians against opponents. This is a faux pas on par with consistently referring to Roman Catholics as papists. His defense is that miaphysite is unknown outside academia, but this is wrong for two reasons. The very churches he is speaking about use the term miaphysite to describe themselves, and his position as a popularizer means that he should be the one encouraging people new to the field to adopt terminology that is both more historically accurate and more respectful. Another problem with the book is occasional sloppiness. Gallia Placidia is shown in a chart to have died in 450, but on the facing page her death is said to be in 455. Jenkins one time quotes an ancient source as referring to St. Paul when I am almost sure he meant St. Peter (which apostle does the Bishop of Rome represent?). I marked several other gaffes. None of these affect the argument of the book, but they are disappointing. The most significant problem is that his chronology is wrong. The Jesus Wars did not begin in the fifth century. The rise of bishops as violent mob bosses using force to enforce orthodoxy and depose rivals predates the Council of Nicaea (325). Local violence and intermittent imperial intrusion were common from Nicaea to the Council of Constantinople (381). Indeed, one might look to the 380s and 390s as the time when the empire began to enforce orthodoxy aggressively, not only on Christians but even on pagans and Jews (cf. Charles Freeman, AD 381). Non-Nicene bishops were outlawed by imperial edict in 381. Further edicts in 391 and 392 suppressed religious expression by pagans and unleashed monks against their properties. The last Olympic games was held in 393. Jews were similarly restricted in their building rights. Thus, when Jenkins takes Nicene orthodoxy as a given around 400, he is failing to communicate to his readers how much that depended on a process very much like the one he is about to begin narrating. The core of the book was expertly written, but I was also less than impressed both by the beginning and ending. I did not find the first two chapters to be particularly helpful in introducing the book, but once past them, it was wonderful. The final chapter struck me as very awkward. Jenkins seems a bit embarrassed by what his book uncovered and speaks very much to a Christian audience (hello, you have other readers!) in soothing tones. He seems to be suggesting that despite all the corruption he has uncovered and expounded at length regarding the process of orthodoxy, the questions raised and conclusions reached are all still valuable and valid for the present. I suppose that's one way to go, but I was disappointed that the final words of this rightfully unsettling work were devoted to smoothing ruffled feathers.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David

    I love reading history. This post is inspired by a book I read about early Christian history. Early Christian history makes the news every now and then, often when a book (like The Da Vinci Code) tells of conspiracy theories and a real Jesus much different then the biblical one. The real history is fascinating. There are two common stories told about how the early Christian church settled on the official doctrines that many Christians still recite in creeds today. 1. The “they got it all from the I love reading history. This post is inspired by a book I read about early Christian history. Early Christian history makes the news every now and then, often when a book (like The Da Vinci Code) tells of conspiracy theories and a real Jesus much different then the biblical one. The real history is fascinating. There are two common stories told about how the early Christian church settled on the official doctrines that many Christians still recite in creeds today. 1. The “they got it all from the Bible” view – Under this view, in the centuries after Jesus new false teachings continued to arise. These heresies all made the mistake of straying from the truth passed on through the New Testament and the solid line of orthodox (right-believing) churches. Often such heresies led to councils where Christian bishops would study the Bible and, since the Bible teaching was clear, inevitably vote the heresy down. One most devious heresy, Arianism, taught that Jesus was created by God and thus not fully God. This teaching resulted in the Council of Nicea (325 AD) when the majority of bishops voted, in line with scripture, that Arius was wrong and that Jesus was God. Other councils followed from this (Council of Constantinople in 381, Ephesus in 431, Chalcedon in 451) that taken as a whole give us the official understanding of the Bible. 2. The “it was all a power-play” view – According to this view the earliest “heresies” were not heresies, just differing understandings of Jesus’ message. There was not one clear orthodox interpretation for heretics to stray from. Yet what at the beginning may have been amicable divisions soon became harsh, and once the emperor of Rome had converted to Christianity these divisions threatened to tear the empire apart. So the Emperor chose one particular view and in throwing all the weight of the empire behind it, suppressed all other views. So the orthodox position that triumphed at the councils did not triumph because people studied the Bible, it triumphed because of its powerful backers. The first view is often what is taught in evangelical Christian apologetics. When a question is asked to an evangelical Christian there is an expectation that the Bible will give the answer, since evangelicals believe in sola scriptura (Bible alone). We believe in the Trinity because, like the church leaders at Nicea, we study the Bible and find it there. The second view is a favorite of skeptics today. Perhaps most famous is the novel The Da Vinci Code where one character asserts that prior to Nicea no one believed Jesus was God (which is not even close to true). So in response to Christians who think the early Christians studied the Bible and all agreed on the doctrine of the Trinity, skeptics argue it was all a power-play. Well, history is more messy then that. Both of these are wrong, though both have a shred of truth in them. Philip Jenkins’ book Jesus Wars shows just how messy the history of the debates about Jesus was in the 400s and 500s. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history. It serves as a nice prequel to Jenkin’s previous book, The Lost History of Christianity. In Jesus Wars, Jenkins documents how the “orthodox” view won out over two other views – Nestorian and Monophysite. His earlier book tells more of the history of these two churches in the East, forgotten by most Christians in the west. So how did “orthodox” Christianity come about? Well, a lot of people were studying the holy scriptures. But that was not the only factor. Those who held the “orthodox” view also appealed to the powers that be, to a chanting and violent mobs, and to underhanded tactics that most of us would find sub-Christian. And emperors and queens often did step in, lending support to one or other faction, but that was not decisive. At Nicea in 325 the view that Jesus is God won out but for the next half-century the majority of people, including most emperors, were Arian. Even into the 400s and 500s many of the barbarian tribes that conquered the Roman west were Arian. The other “heresies” that Jenkins talks about had support at times from those in power. How we got from a small group of Jewish disciples in Jerusalem weeks after Jesus’ death to the magnificent creeds of the 300s and 400s is a fascinating and complex story. Many factors played in. As I’ve studied church history I’ve come to the conclusion that those on the extremes do not have support for their, for lack of a better term, simplistic views – the “orthodox” view came together much too late and through not just pure Bible study to satisfy religious conservatives, but much too quickly, and with too much Biblical argument and in the face of persecution from those in power at times to satisfy religious liberals. Really, there is a deeper lesson here. The debates going on that Jenkins talks about are (almost) totally irrelevant to most Christians today. Even those trained in theology have trouble parsing the views. Though, for the record, I do think some of these debates were and are important because who we believe Jesus to be motivates the sort of salvation we hold to and action in the world we live out . Yet the divisions that happened weakened the church and helped cause the fall of many churches to Islam in the 600s and 700s. Which leads me to ask: What things that we argue about today are worth dividing over and which are merely a distraction?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I had seen a review of this book, and duly checked it out of the library; who knew that Church controversies of the 5th century could be so interesting, and so much fun to read? If one thinks about how the Church decided what was normative in belief at all, one imagines conferences with debate teams, with everyone working out their differences amicably. Who knew that the process looked more like a poorly run political convention? But in a world where it was sincerely believed that believing the I had seen a review of this book, and duly checked it out of the library; who knew that Church controversies of the 5th century could be so interesting, and so much fun to read? If one thinks about how the Church decided what was normative in belief at all, one imagines conferences with debate teams, with everyone working out their differences amicably. Who knew that the process looked more like a poorly run political convention? But in a world where it was sincerely believed that believing the wrong thing could remove your hope of Heaven in the next world and your hope of Peace in this world, perhaps the process couldn’t have happened any other way. (For those not wishing to read further, I loved the book, although it’s hard to keep track who is what at a few points without a scorecard.) After an introduction to set up the thesis that what happened at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 altered the Church into ultimately what it is today (with the seat of Catholicism firmly settled on the Pope in Rome), the rest of the book is divided into three parts. Part I: God and Caesar contains chapters on The War of Two Natures (in short, did Christ, who was both God and man, have one God/Man Nature, or two natures, one God, and one Man), Four Horsemen: The Church’s Patriarchs (at the time, the great centers of Christendom were Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople, with Rome insisting on the #1 rank among the Patriarchates, but finding itself increasingly isolated at the western edge of the Roman Empire) and Queens, Generals, and Emperors (there was a Western Emperor, with his seat in Ravenna, Italy, and an Eastern Emperor, in Constantinople, and they had varying degrees of interest in theological matters, as did the Royal Women (the wives and daughters of Emperors) and the Generals who commanded the armies). Part Two: Councils of Christ has, again, three chapters. Not The Mother of God? details the controversy over calling Mary the Mother of God (Theotokos); it makes a difference if you do not believe that Christ was God at his birth), The Death of God (again, if Jesus was God, then did God die on the cross?), and Chalcedon. This part of the book especially goes into the back-room dealing behind the various Councils; in general, the Patriarchate of Alexandria would throw all of its powers (including rogue warrior monks) into deposing those Bishops whom Alexandria believed were not theologically correct on the various Christological issues, including deposing those Bishops who were Patriarchs of other centers of Christendom. The final section is Part III: A World to Lose, which has two chapters. The first one is How The Church Lost Half the World (the Council of Chalcedon left many disaffected people in the Eastern Empire, who divided and subdivided the Church by setting up their own Churches, most of whom eventually collapsed under the rule of Islam). The final chapter is What Was Saved; in 451, just about the last thing anyone would have expected would be that the Church of Rome would emerge the final victor, and that the Church would set up a Holy Roman Empire based on the Germanic and Gothic descendants of the raiders who had overrun the Western Empire in the 5th century. The author notes how belief even now hearkens back to the various Christological debates. During most of the year, Christians need a Jesus who is very human, who walked the roads of Galilee and lived with the poor, but at Christmastime God is in the manger, being adored by angels and shepherds. Nothing is ever lost; and every time someone comes up with a ‘new’ idea of how to view Christ, one can find the same idea in the Christological debates that tore apart the 5th Century.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dergrossest

    While it is good to learn about the post-First Council of Nicea history of the Catholic Church (back when “Catholic” meant basically everybody who was Christian), with all its colorful clerics, Emperors, Princesses and barbarians who affected the development of same, as well as the various Christian Heresies which read like hair-splitting on the sub-atomic level, I guess I was looking for more of a philosophical exploration of the ramifications of the Heresies themselves. What does it really mea While it is good to learn about the post-First Council of Nicea history of the Catholic Church (back when “Catholic” meant basically everybody who was Christian), with all its colorful clerics, Emperors, Princesses and barbarians who affected the development of same, as well as the various Christian Heresies which read like hair-splitting on the sub-atomic level, I guess I was looking for more of a philosophical exploration of the ramifications of the Heresies themselves. What does it really mean if Christ was only divine and not human? Or if Mary were not considered the “Mother of God” and instead only the “Mother of Christ?” How would that have affected the development of the Church and, thus, the development of Western civilization through the Middle Ages (when the Church was preeminent in Europe) and beyond? Sadly, the book only touches lightly on these more interesting issues. Further, the author fails to convince that the in-fighting of the early Church, and the all too temporal battles of its great patriarchs, caused the effective demise of Christianity in the East after the Muslim conquests. It seems to me that the Eastern Church could not have survived the temptations of conversion to Islam (for the sake of conformity and profit) even if all the church leaders were singing in perfect spiritual harmony. But again, this interesting argument is not fully developed. Not disappointed I read it, but it could have been so very much more.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Starling

    I've been reading a lot of books recently about the Bible and the early Church. This book talks about what happened after Constintine made Chritianity a legal religion within the Roman Empire and how it developed during the next 300 or 400 years. But mostly it is about the battles within the Church about what people were supposed to believe. I'm a history buff, and for me this is a totally new era of history and a new subject.I wanted an overview and to some extent I got one. There is a lot of rea I've been reading a lot of books recently about the Bible and the early Church. This book talks about what happened after Constintine made Chritianity a legal religion within the Roman Empire and how it developed during the next 300 or 400 years. But mostly it is about the battles within the Church about what people were supposed to believe. I'm a history buff, and for me this is a totally new era of history and a new subject.I wanted an overview and to some extent I got one. There is a lot of really good information here. I would guess if I was taking a class and needed to write a paper this would be a good source. The problem is the writing style. It kept putting me to sleep. I decided to try to figure out why, and realized it was an endless description of who did what and when and which kind of religion they were for and against. That sounds like just the ticket, doesn't it? The problem, for me, was WHY did they believe what they believed and why were they fighting about it endlessly? On occasion the author wrote about those whys and when he did, I wasn't falling asleep. I just wish he had done more of it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    The formative years of Christianity, when malicious political maneuvering, murder, mob incitement, mayhem, martyrdom, and armies of militant monks split the church, and emperors and empresses helped determine the beliefs we take for granted today. This eye-opening read that would have horrified Jesus might serve, if we let it, as a warning about the deadliness (and the soul deadening effects) of our very human attraction to the fun and righteous sport of intolerance. hummm our current trend towa The formative years of Christianity, when malicious political maneuvering, murder, mob incitement, mayhem, martyrdom, and armies of militant monks split the church, and emperors and empresses helped determine the beliefs we take for granted today. This eye-opening read that would have horrified Jesus might serve, if we let it, as a warning about the deadliness (and the soul deadening effects) of our very human attraction to the fun and righteous sport of intolerance. hummm our current trend toward ideological polarization.... We tend to forget the part about love they neighbor. Phillip Jenkins is a knowledgeable, encompassing, and sometimes tongue-in-cheek writer who can take all this history, politics, and religions and make it page-turning readable. They didn't teach this version in Catholic school.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I am absolutely fascinated with the Roman Empire. Probably because that's where my ancestors lived – my family comes from all over Italy, some were Italian Jews, most were Italian natives, and I always wonder who we were. Am I related to any gladiators? Were my ancestors Christian or pagan? What did they do for a living in Rome? The questions are endless. I like thinking about it. I wish there was some way I could know. This book was about the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire and all of the I am absolutely fascinated with the Roman Empire. Probably because that's where my ancestors lived – my family comes from all over Italy, some were Italian Jews, most were Italian natives, and I always wonder who we were. Am I related to any gladiators? Were my ancestors Christian or pagan? What did they do for a living in Rome? The questions are endless. I like thinking about it. I wish there was some way I could know. This book was about the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire and all of the different intrigues that happened between rival branches of Christianity. One thing that was very interesting was how the author describes how chance had such a huge impact on what Christians believe now. At one point, an Emperor fell off his horse and died and had that not happened, we might believe different thing today, something different about Jesus who would have then been considered fully divine and not human, with his death on the cross only an illusion. Unless I'm confusing heresies. The author also predicts that had the Christian world not been so divided, Islam would never have made a foothold in certain areas. But the Christians were unable to put up a unified front. Competing different branches of Christianity that eventually became the Coptic, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches seem to be arguing over such trivialities. I didn't fully understand the different positions, between the one nature and 2 natures, and that was the biggest drawback of the book – I felt he didn't explain the actual theology well enough. It got into all the conflicts, all the people who fought and died for their beliefs, all the murders, mob killings, etc. – which was all interesting – but I felt like I was missing the point of the whole conflict, not really understanding what the difference was or when each side taught. Still, I found what I did understand to be quite interesting. And to do more research about this.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    DNF'd at page 87. 2.5 stars I wanted to get into this more. I'm fascinated with early Christian history, but Jenkins' writing style and organization tries to cover way too much ground way too fast....You'd probably a lot out of this if you're well-versed in third to fifth century Christian history, but if you're more of a novice reader on the subject like me, keeping track of all the names of the pontiffs and places and years and their philosophical/political nuances is too difficult. It feels li DNF'd at page 87. 2.5 stars I wanted to get into this more. I'm fascinated with early Christian history, but Jenkins' writing style and organization tries to cover way too much ground way too fast....You'd probably a lot out of this if you're well-versed in third to fifth century Christian history, but if you're more of a novice reader on the subject like me, keeping track of all the names of the pontiffs and places and years and their philosophical/political nuances is too difficult. It feels like a chore to keep trying to get through this so I'm putting it down for now....

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cornflower

    Jenkins has a very folksy way of going about describing the machinations of the 4-6th centuries, honing in of the religious controversy between mono- and dyophysitism within Christianity, and the political climate during those centuries. He does so by acknowledging the Christian struggles of the first threee centuries (when the question was whether Jesus was divine), and some of the consequences of those centuries (too briefly mentioning the relation between non-orthodox Christians and Islam in Jenkins has a very folksy way of going about describing the machinations of the 4-6th centuries, honing in of the religious controversy between mono- and dyophysitism within Christianity, and the political climate during those centuries. He does so by acknowledging the Christian struggles of the first threee centuries (when the question was whether Jesus was divine), and some of the consequences of those centuries (too briefly mentioning the relation between non-orthodox Christians and Islam in my opinion), yet staying focused on the time and politics in question. I admire his sense of boiling down to specific personalities the key events that shaped this struggle, and for choosing the political as well as ecclesiastical personalities who undoubtedly had a great deal of influence in deciding what would become orthodox. There is a wealth fo information, and the lists of figures and councils at the end of chapters was appreciated. That said, I did find the book difficult to follow, even though I have read numerous histories of that era, both ecclesiastical and Byzantine. I think some restructuring is in order. The first chapter is like a survey of much that comes after, but does not adequately illustrate to the lay reader the context or why he is not talking about the issues (Was Jesus God?) that pervaded in the first three centuries, other than to say that that question was pretty well divided by then. Definitely read this book--it adds a lot in its general readability that is scarce in other histories, but don't read only this book, if you want to understand the subject.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Libby

    I can't praise Philip Jenkins enough! In Jesus Wars, he takes one of the most complex, abstruse questions in the history of the Western World and make it clear enough for the average joe in the fifth pew to understand. Wow! What an accomplishment! At the same time he clarifies the subject of Christology, he presents these dusty ideas and arguments with the passion and fascination that they held for the early Christians of Alexandria and Antioch. These concepts may seem trivial or overly academic I can't praise Philip Jenkins enough! In Jesus Wars, he takes one of the most complex, abstruse questions in the history of the Western World and make it clear enough for the average joe in the fifth pew to understand. Wow! What an accomplishment! At the same time he clarifies the subject of Christology, he presents these dusty ideas and arguments with the passion and fascination that they held for the early Christians of Alexandria and Antioch. These concepts may seem trivial or overly academic to us today, but men clubbed each other in city streets and died in flames for love of these ideas. Jenkins shows us why loyalty to, say, Monophysite ideas could inspire violence, treason and martyrdom. He shows how religious concepts were tied to social and political factors and how the relationships between the sees of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem could drive the engines of faith. He tells us about the personalities involved and how their interactions advanced this idea or that faction. Fiery preachers like John Chrysostom could inspire men to riot and careful reasoners like Cyril of Alexandria could twist a thought into a theological pretzel. Popes, patriarchs, abbots and Princes contested for the reputation of their cities and their holy places. Queens and Princesses schemed in the background. These are fabulous stories and Jenkins shows how these themes have resonated through Christendom for over a thousand years. This stuff is worth reading and thinking about. So do it!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ron Tenney

    I just finished this book. I saw Larry Larson reading in the cruise and it peaked my interest. This is a part of history that has never held much interest for me. So I came in with zero background. I must say that the names, dates, councils and factions are a bit overwhelming. The author does put in a few appendices that are very useful. You might as well mark them as you will be going back to them often. One Nature? Two natures? What was the nature of Jesus Christ? How was he actually related t I just finished this book. I saw Larry Larson reading in the cruise and it peaked my interest. This is a part of history that has never held much interest for me. So I came in with zero background. I must say that the names, dates, councils and factions are a bit overwhelming. The author does put in a few appendices that are very useful. You might as well mark them as you will be going back to them often. One Nature? Two natures? What was the nature of Jesus Christ? How was he actually related to Mary? To what degree were the adherents willing to go to make their case? I do recommend this book to anyone willing to take the time to study. On a side note, as a member of the Mormon Church, it is easy to become smug and affirm our belief that at least WE don't have these debates! Really? First, searching the scriptures implies that many treasures are hidden from plain sight, only available to those willing to pay the price. Second, are we so sure that our concept of God has remained fixed from the days of the First Vision? Too bad that on the question of God's nature and our relationship to Him lays outside the boundary of what He will continue to reveal. I found it comforting to read in this book of concepts that were familiar. But I also found it stimulating to consider concepts that had never crossed my mind in the past. Give this book a try. I hope you like it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kent

    Jenkins reviews in great detail the history of Christian doctrinal infighting from the first century through the middle-ages, and even currently. The complex issues of Christology are addressed comprehensively by mashing up the various theological councils from the fourth though seventh centuries and their resulting creeds. It seems that one faction's heresies are another faction's orthodoxies. The winning and so called orthodox doctrines adopted by the church (or, at least the western half of t Jenkins reviews in great detail the history of Christian doctrinal infighting from the first century through the middle-ages, and even currently. The complex issues of Christology are addressed comprehensively by mashing up the various theological councils from the fourth though seventh centuries and their resulting creeds. It seems that one faction's heresies are another faction's orthodoxies. The winning and so called orthodox doctrines adopted by the church (or, at least the western half of the church), according to Jenkins, are more about the political power and influence of the professors of those doctrines than about the possible spiritual insights and revelations that such professors may or may not have received. If the victorious Emperor or Queen happened to like your Christology, then you got more support and votes at the council. This subject is of great interest to me, but I found the writing style in this work more effective as a sleep inducer than as insightful informer. The narrative becomes weighted down with too many individual specifics and details of personal interactions of ancient and mostly unknown churchmen to be of much interest. Perhaps it would work well for students of the history of theology. None the less, I am grateful for having experienced this book and picked up a few new insights about the early Christian councils and creeds.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    This is a fantastic, thorough, and fairly neutral historical run through the 3rd-6th centuries of the Christian church. Focusing on the seven critical ecumenical councils of the Church, the events leading up to & surrounding each of them, and the key persons involved in forging this history (and its evolving theologies). Primarily focused on the Christologies that divided the church multiple times (and yet still today), the author takes you on a convoluted, but well-articulated series of events This is a fantastic, thorough, and fairly neutral historical run through the 3rd-6th centuries of the Christian church. Focusing on the seven critical ecumenical councils of the Church, the events leading up to & surrounding each of them, and the key persons involved in forging this history (and its evolving theologies). Primarily focused on the Christologies that divided the church multiple times (and yet still today), the author takes you on a convoluted, but well-articulated series of events that are defined as fortunate or unfortunate, depending on which side you fall (or, you could chalk it up to "providence", if that's your preference). Defining orthodoxy for the Christian church for the next two millennia, these events also foreshadow future arguments that would continue to divide believer from believer all the while each side claiming "truth" and as being the beholder of the "one, true faith". In that vein, orthodoxy simply means "winning side", as evidenced by the see-saw action of these turbulent times. Also noted is the rise of Islam, much to the thanks of these divisions -- so Christians who despise the Islamic faith only have their spiritual ancestors and a confusing, convoluted, and self-contradictory text to thank for that problem. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history, Christianity, war & violence, or all of the above.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cincylitigator

    I learned a ton about Christology from this book - that is the study of the nature of Christ for all you non-theologians like myself. This is a nice back door way to get some basic theology while ostensibly reading history. The Christological aspect has practical implications as a devotional work for those who approach the book from the perspective of a practicing Christian - again such as myself. While the subject matter may seem to be a rebuff to religion in general pointing to violence engend I learned a ton about Christology from this book - that is the study of the nature of Christ for all you non-theologians like myself. This is a nice back door way to get some basic theology while ostensibly reading history. The Christological aspect has practical implications as a devotional work for those who approach the book from the perspective of a practicing Christian - again such as myself. While the subject matter may seem to be a rebuff to religion in general pointing to violence engendered by debates over transcendent subjects, the distillation actually produces a potent brew of providential governance for those who view the subject through faith filled eyes. Jenkins does not himself press this perspective but seems to kindly welcome it enough that one may surmise this as his own perspective. I left the book with a warm feeling toward the author and an appreciation for the theological concepts we take for granted and for which our forbearers - ie. Church fathers, endured great hardship in producing. Finally, there is a great nugget on the development of Islam for those who are patient enough to read through to the end. This is a succinct but powerful point that sheds light on modern events.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    It took a while because life got in the way, but.....here we go. Jesus Wars is NOT for the faint of heart. Well-written and (at least on appearances) meticulously researched, Philip Jenkins constructs a somewhat fluid narrative that shows who and how Christian doctrine was established. I say it is not for the faint of heart because this book is dense. Names and dates, places and events, the author treats the reader as a fellow academic, capable of grasping quickly. Perhaps its greatest strength co It took a while because life got in the way, but.....here we go. Jesus Wars is NOT for the faint of heart. Well-written and (at least on appearances) meticulously researched, Philip Jenkins constructs a somewhat fluid narrative that shows who and how Christian doctrine was established. I say it is not for the faint of heart because this book is dense. Names and dates, places and events, the author treats the reader as a fellow academic, capable of grasping quickly. Perhaps its greatest strength comes less from the research itself and more from the author's willingness to follow a "story" even as it is very uncomfortable for a modern reader. We fancy that Christians were peaceful (or at least believers do) but the Christians of Jenkins' research demonstrate clearly that killing a priest, bishop, missionary, or even whole groups was not only acceptable but positively encouraged. Read this book if you are an atheist who needs additional material to debate Christians on their faith's inerrancy. Read this book if you are a Christian who wants to understand why so many sects exist on the words of your messiah. Read this book if you are an American who thinks that Muslims are bloodthirsty but Christians are peaceful. Just read this book

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    Well-written and surprisingly (especially for a non-Christian) interesting history of the early Christian debates over the nature of Christ. Having seen the titles of Jenkins' other books, it is clear that he is a practicing Christian. But he is very clear-eyed and honest about the darker side of church history. He also has a sense of humor that peeps out on occasion "In any theological struggle, the first thousand years are always the bitterest." His conclusion (literally and figuratively): "A re Well-written and surprisingly (especially for a non-Christian) interesting history of the early Christian debates over the nature of Christ. Having seen the titles of Jenkins' other books, it is clear that he is a practicing Christian. But he is very clear-eyed and honest about the darker side of church history. He also has a sense of humor that peeps out on occasion "In any theological struggle, the first thousand years are always the bitterest." His conclusion (literally and figuratively): "A religion that is not constantly spawning alternatives and heresies has ceased to think and has achieved only the peace of the grave."

  24. 4 out of 5

    Leandro Dutra

    I wish I could take half a star: first, the author only balks about the violence and tyranny involved in the Christological debates, not at the idolatry and superstition already constituting a kind of Christopaganism usually associated with latter Dark Age; second, he ends up commemorating Chalcedon without telling us if its (kinda) triumph was better than the alternatives, and why. Yet, a very useful story of the Christological debates from Chalcedon until the onset of Islam. A very sad history I wish I could take half a star: first, the author only balks about the violence and tyranny involved in the Christological debates, not at the idolatry and superstition already constituting a kind of Christopaganism usually associated with latter Dark Age; second, he ends up commemorating Chalcedon without telling us if its (kinda) triumph was better than the alternatives, and why. Yet, a very useful story of the Christological debates from Chalcedon until the onset of Islam. A very sad history of power politics and impiety dressing up as theological debates that should warn Christians against returning to Romanism or Eastern churches.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nindyo Sasongko

    Jenkins is always profound in rewriting history. His talent in story-telling makes this book easy to read, yet still provokes us to place our world in a world full of disputations. This book poses us to reality of what was happening surrounding the Christological dogma. Profound!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Truly well done. Those who read it with only skepticism will miss his ending in which he understands that God works through our messy history. I had read most of this material before but never with the benefit of a coherent development. Prof. Jenkins does himself proud, without ideology.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dave Courtney

    The title is self explanatory: Jenkin's is looking to show how 9 people (Patriarchs, Queens and Emperors) decided what sort of Christian doctrine would win out in the end as the world moved towards our current age. In his conclusion he suggests that history shows us that it was the most unlikely doctrinal stances that remained to conquer the modern age. Of course a quick glance at the appendix reveals a larger list of characters who are inevitably enveloped in this historical narrative (and one The title is self explanatory: Jenkin's is looking to show how 9 people (Patriarchs, Queens and Emperors) decided what sort of Christian doctrine would win out in the end as the world moved towards our current age. In his conclusion he suggests that history shows us that it was the most unlikely doctrinal stances that remained to conquer the modern age. Of course a quick glance at the appendix reveals a larger list of characters who are inevitably enveloped in this historical narrative (and one should reserve the need to access this appendix often if they are to make their way through to the end of this somewhat disorganized material). But the attention is clear. The book is narrowed in on the years that follow Constantine's conversion of Christianity in to the wider empire and Roman successors as an attempt to display a piece of history that challenges popular notions concerning our creedal theology and Christ. It is a bit typical of modern (Western) Christians to narrow in on the Council of Nicea while missing the grander picture. It is the hope of Jenkin's that he can bring to light the bloodied and politically charged landscape that represented the actual reality of how the Church creeds developed. Jenkin's writes, "If religion shaped the political world, then politics formed the nature of religion." He paints a picture of a people who were at once heroes and villians in this historical narrative. It should not surprise us to see in history many figures of whom we consider to be the great fathers of our faith bearing some of the uncomfortable signs of the historical conflict that surrounded the church of the fifth century. For Jenkins, Church history reflects a conflicting journey that we know intuitively but that our religious doctrine does not always allow us to acknowledge. The great divide of the post chalceden world is described as orthodox/catholic, monophysite, nestorian, and Arain. And as Jenkin's notes, we haven't even reached the catholic/protestant/orthodox split. At issue is one nature vs. two nature definitions of who Jesus was/is. Jenkins recognizes a time when Chalcedon gave power to greater Europe and emerging ideas of Christ at the expense of an older Christendom which was perhaps more closely connected to the ministry of Christ. In this sense the eastern Christians would return to the catacombs while the Western successors and Roman Empire would start to rise up in strength and power and focus. These dissident (isolated) Christians in the east had little to keep themselves from getting absorbed by the growing Muslim faith, and it was easy to emerge back under their banner in the East which represented a more tolerant approach to their sects. This in a sense brings up Jenkin's logical questions about conformity and common identity. In an interesting note, history shows us that if the leader of your state was a Christian you had everything to fear in failing to follow their lead without necessarily believing in much of anything. When the Church stood in opposition to the state you had everything to gain from following in your belief which spoke to comfort, identity and hopefulness. Jenkin's doesn't follow all the way down this train of thought, but there is certainly some great discussion that could revolve around separation of church and state, and what it means to retain an identity and belief when you represent the dissident. There is also a great discussion of Church history to be had regarding the movement of the prophetic ministry from the OT world to the New. It is a movement that always existed in the trenches with the dissident and marginalized, and always existed as a divinely appropriated response to the abuse of the powerful. Jenkins describes the heart of the matter in this way: It is "the divinity of Jesus that was always in place. The battles surrounded His humanity". Churches battled, vying for political prominence. "Patriarchs acted like kings and emperors acted like popes". In the end the Church was divided, broken and removed from its historical context (from within the ministry of Christ) a fact which ultimately led to a sort of unification of the two nature idea. However, this certainly did not protect the Church from division. Again, in his conclusion Jenkin's suggests that in such a world as today when eastern/orthodox is reclaiming its place, certainly in the western world a variety of approaches to one nature/two nature beliefs emerge from the trenches, and continue to emerge. We might be removed in the west from such a bloodied historical narrative, but it is a mistake to suggest that what were defined as gnostic, heretical and unchristian beliefs about Jesus are not very much alive, even if they go unnoticed. He suggests that in the modern Christian Church we tend to speak (perhaps naively, perhaps hypocritically) in terms that weave us back and forth between the one nature/two nature debate that the fifth century took to be so necessarily dividing. And we do so thinking that the issue should not be a big deal at all. In my opinion, Jenkin's commits one critical error that keeps me from rating this book much higher than a two stars. That is, he gives in to popularized historical narrative. The strength of popular writing is that it opens you up to a wider audience. The downfall is that you cause what otherwise could be provoking thought to get absorbed in to stereotypical approaches. It would be helpful if Jenkin's own conclusions had been represented from the beginning. It is only in the end that we read his conclusion, "Chalcedonian ideas triumphed not because of the force of their logic, but because the world (the east) that opposed them perished." He then goes on to say, "Chelcedon offers powerful ammunition to those who claim providence in the forming world of the Church and Christian creed... if because the outcome was the most unlikely one." This conclusion represents popularized thinking rather than careful consideration. It ignores much of what "could" weight in to his treatment of the historical narrative if he was considering it from the lens of different worldviews. It muddies ones sense of trust and worth regarding objective perspective. History must remain an interpretative exercise that is influenced by a subjective approach. People fear this sort of statement in what is such a defined scientific age. But this remains the best approach for any contemplative reasoning. There is a reason why I give some of the utmost credibility to scholars who presuppose their beliefs directly on to their arguments. That's not to say that Jenkin's is egregiously in error. He presents the historical narrative factually and in an appropriate framework. And his questions are good. But his conclusions travel that line of leaving one feeling like they have been slightly misled in their considerations for where they were going in the course of these pages. Jenkin's gives more weight to items that he believes are more deserving. He gives less weight to some of what could challenge his conclusions. The two nature/one nature debate I believe is representative of a legitimate Christological ministry. It is misleading to place the development of Christological issues as far removed from the ministry of Christ as he suggests, even as he works to give credibility to eastern religions closer associations. For as much as I believe he is right in noting the precariousness of the creedal developments from within a historical narrative, there is much room (in particular worldviews) to recognize that these very "human" arguments are par for the course in a world that moved forward on this God/human relationship. That is to say, just because humans fighted and divided over who Christ was does not necessitate our ability to recognize who Jesus claimed Himself to be. There is a degree, in my opinion, that Jenkin's demands Christ to measure up to human theological calculations in a way that Christ does not demand. It also does not necessarily need to follow that a unifying christological belief cannot persist despite our human efforts to define it (Him) in such divisive manners. There is a logical movement throughout history that speaks to the natural form of Christ as both God and human, even as He is declared in either/or terms with equal fervor. Further, I would argue that the sort of relationship between God and His people that two nature theology naturally posits is the sort of relationship that defined and set apart the nation of Israel even before Christ. N.T. Wright is one of the most prominent theological voices of our day and he represents a reform of eastern approach. Much of this connects us back to the prophetic ministry of the Old Testament world, and the continued prophetic streams that always existed outside of the political debate. They often spoke of balance, but more often they spoke of the importance of justice and reform in a Christian system of power and gain that had spun woefully out of control. There is another line of history that one can see outside of the pages of the "Jesus Wars", one that can connect us to the ministry of Christ in what I might think is a more integral fashion. This approach remains the experience of many of the early Church figures and teaching (a great example is Pope Leo and the "Tome" who looked to provide such logical balance. I would suggest Christ is not the issue, we are. Jenkin's I think would likely agree, but does not give enough room to say this with enough vigor and integrity for my liking. I diverge from Jenkin's opinions in his conclusion. I wish I could have engaged with this diverging as I was reading the actual material. However, I think his most important parts leave room for some great discussion. It is good as Christians to be reminded of just how varied our opinions are, and just how much bloody division existed in the pages of history over the stuff that we tend to take for granted. It is good for us to acknowledge and be in touch with the formation of our creedal statements and ideology. It is good for us to learn from the pages of history and constrain our similar penchant for division. We should feel appropriated to challenge some of the staples of modern Western Christianity, including the popular foundations of protestant atonement theology. I think the truth of the Christian approach to Jesus' ministry should always push us towards humility, reform and experience on a daily basis. But we can never lose sight of the fact that what always unified the early Christian communities was the declaration that Jesus was God. If we lose this we lose all Christian identity. It would be a mistake to think that the Jesus Wars is capable of losing this either.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Walt

    Readers can easily see that Jenkins wrote this book for television. It is both over-simplified and under-simplified. It is a jumble. It is a complex and coherent narrative. It is exciting. It is boring. What ever the reader's interpretation, it is informative. While Jenkins is most comfortable with the theology, he is clearer in the socio-political context of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Centuries. The result is a book that appears to be both digestible and indigestible. Jenkins does a marvelous Readers can easily see that Jenkins wrote this book for television. It is both over-simplified and under-simplified. It is a jumble. It is a complex and coherent narrative. It is exciting. It is boring. What ever the reader's interpretation, it is informative. While Jenkins is most comfortable with the theology, he is clearer in the socio-political context of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Centuries. The result is a book that appears to be both digestible and indigestible. Jenkins does a marvelous job at depicting the heat of the conflict between the various parties in the book. What most readers will consider minor theological arguments Jenkins shows led to real bloodshed. He may have been exaggerating the bloodshed to boost excitement and visibility; but he convincingly shows how gangs of monks acted like the Gangs of New York. Although Jenkins does not say it, there is a real possibility that church leaders of the era recruited ruffians and called them monks. Their behavior was clearly thuggish; and their mission was clearly thuggery. The focus of the book is a discussion on the nature / being of Christ. How much of a God / How much of a human. Could a God feel suffering, temptation, and death? Could a human feel the power of a God? Similarly, what is the Virgin Mary in these discussions? A God that cannot feel suffering and pain cannot sacrifice himmself for the sins of others. Other logical dimensions flow in and out. Attempts at compromise only created new creeds / heresies. Armed banks of "monks" wrecked havoc against each and rivals. However, Jenkins realizes that these soccer hooligans / Mafia enforcers were not battling in the street yelling "Christ is a God, he cannot feel pain!" or "Christ was a man and cannot know he was going to die on the Cross!" In several instances, Jenkins pulls back and says something akin to these were just the armed rabble following their leaders. Ultimately, the picture he paints is a society of the Eastern Mediterranean long dominated by priest kings (pharaohs, Greeks, etc) and simply recognized the various patriarchs in Alexandria, Antioch, and elsewhere. These church leaders were looking for their own power and wealth at the cost of their rivals. Consequently, they were hyper-critical of their peers. The theological disputes are intertwined into political disputes. The dizzying cast of characters combined in this narrative, along with the constantly shifting and new ideas being introduced made this book almost impossible to comprehend. Jenkins is not clear on how some of these people, especially the queens, benefited from their interference / largess. Only when discussing Justinian and Theodora does Jenkins make a clear argument for the two rulers balancing each side. An overall argument that every emperor was concerned with the religious schism also is difficult to understand. Yes, the conflict led to a merry-go-round of officials coming and going, seizures, banishments, riots, etc. That had to weaken society, especially if every new and deposed church leader has an armed retinue of "monks." However, Jenkins' argument that the instability was an indirect cause for the rapid spread of Islam is a difficult pill to take. If anything, the Muslin conquests served as another round in the expulsions and awards that society acknowledged. A new world order under another religion is hard to believe especially when considering that Jenkins painstaking shows the patriarchs as similar to priest-kings or God-kings in their territories. Subservience to another religion does not fit that world view. Overall, it is a fascinating book that shows the byzantine political scheming that is, well, Byzantine. Beautiful and complex, simple and ugly, this book shines a light on the Dark Ages in the Eastern Roman Empire. The theology is difficult to follow, both in the basic outline and the ramifications of each position. However, the history is fascinating.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alex Stroshine

    It has taken me way too long to read Philip Jenkins, one of the most prolific and astute historians of Christianity who is not only a skilled writer of popular history but who also has astonishing range when it comes to content he covers (from early Christianity to world Christianity to warfare to terrorism to climate change to pedophilia and pornography). His popular style (evident in 'Jesus Wars' but perhaps not on display in books published by academic presses) can lead to charges of simplifi It has taken me way too long to read Philip Jenkins, one of the most prolific and astute historians of Christianity who is not only a skilled writer of popular history but who also has astonishing range when it comes to content he covers (from early Christianity to world Christianity to warfare to terrorism to climate change to pedophilia and pornography). His popular style (evident in 'Jesus Wars' but perhaps not on display in books published by academic presses) can lead to charges of simplification but I think Jenkins demonstrates keen nuance throughout. The history of early Christianity and the struggle to "properly" define Christology can also be fraught for religious believers; some might insist that the Holy Spirit guided the proceedings of the various ecumenical councils while others assert that the catholic Church cannot err but Jenkins pays attention to the other machinations at work behind the scenes and outside the synods. Though at times somewhat confusing given the cast of characters (some of whom had the same name), 'Jesus Wars' makes what could be dry, dusty historical theology breezy and thoroughly readable.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    This is a vigorously objective account of the fifth century ecumenical church councils, with the primary emphasis on Chalcedon. It is ecclesiastical history written in the way that a modern journalist would report the inside workings of a hard-fought political campaign. The author describes the Chalcedonian Council as it it were a particularly raucous Party Convention. Gives an "insider look" at the issues and personalities involved, at the forces that shaped and determined the outcome, that gav This is a vigorously objective account of the fifth century ecumenical church councils, with the primary emphasis on Chalcedon. It is ecclesiastical history written in the way that a modern journalist would report the inside workings of a hard-fought political campaign. The author describes the Chalcedonian Council as it it were a particularly raucous Party Convention. Gives an "insider look" at the issues and personalities involved, at the forces that shaped and determined the outcome, that gave us the Chalcedonian Statement of Faith, that created the orthodox understanding of orthodox Christianity. Jenkins writes with great skill. His narrative is as dramatic and as vivid as fiction. He restores this period of church history to life - revives its over-sized personalities, the saints and patriarchs, the Emperors, the Empresses, and the Eunuchs - tells their stories - demonstrates their significance to the shaping of Western Civilization. But beyond being fascinating history, this work is also accessible theology. Church doctrine is so extensively discussed in this work, and discussed with such clarity, that the book might serve as an introduction to Christian theology. Jenkins' expositions of the various doctrines are always lucid and understandable. He makes even the most esoteric theological niceties understood. But this not a religious book. Whatever religious value it has lies in its elucidation of the 5th century conciliar "sausage making". He reveals the unfortunate truth that the theological debates were not simply pious endeavors to safeguard the faith from heresy, but were much more a power struggle by ambitious patriarchs for supremacy in the church and in the empire. He demonstrates the significant role that personal rivalries among the clergy, as well as the rivalries of the less than saintly imperial household, played in these councils, demonstrates the determinate influence they had on the final results. Reveals how many of the finely drawn dogmas in Christology (i.e. "the two natures in one person") were innovative claims used to discredit rival patriarchs, were used primarily for partisan advantage. Jenkins is a historian, not a theologian. He is unbiased. He does not take sides . Does not regard the final results of the Councils as inevitable, as correct, as divinely sanctioned. The reader is left to his own judgments. However, one judgment that is inescapable is the negative consequence of the Christology adopted at Chalcedon. It led directly to the division of the church - to the permanent schism of the Monophysites and the Nestorians into competing, alternative Christianities. This weaken the church and the empire - made it less able to cope with barbarian invasions, less able to confront the subsequent rise of Islam. And the abstruseness of the Chalcedon creedal statement, its dependence on antiquated Greek metaphysics, continues to have a negative effect on the ability of modern people to understand, much less to accept, the traditional creeds - for them to embrace the orthodox faith. This book is certainly not the history of the church as a community of the poor, the lowly, the oppressed. Here the church is no longer an equalitarian community of the faithful who long for the advent of Kingdom of God, but rather it is an imperial church, already rich and powerful, is an authoritarian church, drawing boundaries, deciding who has "correct belief", who is orthodox, who is worthy of imperial favor. Because of this, because this is far from being an edifying story, pious traditionalists may be upset by this book. They may find it hard to see the hand of God in the deliberations of these Councils. May have difficulty in accepting the possibility that the Christology learned in church, the one embodied in the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition, is not the original apostolic faith - not the catholic, universal faith "held by all at all times" - but is rather the product of a bitterly contested, sometimes violent, struggle between ambitious clerics who were often motivated solely by personal, partisan advantage. But however upsetting this work might be to traditionalists, it is not simply a revisionist, anti-Christian rant. Jenkins' goal is to recover the past, to tell what actually happened, to disclose the truth. And truth is always liberating, even here. Breaking free from the idolatry of creedal statements, from the dead hand of traditional understandings, opens up new possibilities for faith, encourages one to think for oneself, to personally reconsider what God and Jesus mean spiritually, to find one's own understanding of the divine, to know God at a spiritual level deeper than can be expressed in creeds.

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