A History of the Church in the Middle Ages

Article excerpt

A History of the Church in the Middle Ages. By F. Donald Logan. (London and New York: Routledge. 2002. Pp. xiv, 368. $22.95 paperback.)

The success of The Da Vinci Code has a special meaning for historians of Christianity. It points to the importance of history, even in mythological and legendary form, to satisfy the fundamental relationship between story and human understanding. What is perhaps most interesting is that considerable effort is being devoted to serious discussion of this most recent resurrection of conspiracy theory. Still, we can take some consolation that this period has witnessed a modest increase in courses devoted to church history and in the number of general works on the topic. Also, the field has been undergoing a quiet revolution, from an exclusive emphasis on ecclesiastical governance and doctrinal disputes to an interest in the Church as it touched the lives of people. F. Donald Logan's work reflects this trend.

I have often thought that the best church history is found in the "Acts of the Apostles" and the Epistles and that this should serve as a model for modern historians. It is a delight to see scholars moving in that direction. Of course, Logan gives ample space to topics like the conversion of Constantine, Justinian, Pope Gregory the Great, the Carolingians, the papacy, and the Great Schism, but he also has sections on popular devotion, Peter Abelard, universities, and a whole chapter on death and purgatory. But it is in the tone of his work that we find his effective use of narrative and his eye for illustrative detail and apt quotations. It seems important to learn that Pope Alexander VI was knowledgeable about Greenland and was aware that the Christians there tried to preserve their faith even though they had had no bishop or priest for eighty years. A similar story in more modern times is told about the Japanese Christians who survived a long period of isolation. When we tell the story of the Church, these episodes deserve serious examination. It is one of the strengths of Logan's book that he works to capture the flavor of a topic as well as the facts. For him, the relationship between Abelard and Heloise is very human. He contrasts the passionate tone of Heloise's letters with Abelard's reply. …