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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Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years. By Philip Jenkins. New York: HarperOne, 2010. Pp. xix, 328. $26.99.

In Jesus Wars Philip Jenkins turns his attention to the doctrinal struggles of the fourth to sixth centuries. These issues can be tedious and abstruse, but in Jenkins's writing they pulsate with drama. Jenkins recounts the story of the church's attempt to clarify issues that the Council of Nicaea had left vague, especially the nature/ natures of Christ. He elucidates the theological issues clearly and fairly; but he also roots them in the rivalry between historic patriarchates, in which emperors, empresses, and churchmen all played their parts. Jenkins's description of the churchmen's methods is unsqueamish: "buffaloing and bludgeoning," "headbreaking," murder. The Council of Chalcedon was a cliff-hanger, and it settled the Christological questions in ways that have largely satisfied Western Christians. But Chalcedon also led to the secession of Monophysite churches, the weakening of Christian unity in the East (which enabled the triumph of Islam), and the transfer of Christianity's heartlands to the global West.

Jesus Wars is an excellent read, and Jenkins as always provokes thought. Two things, I think, would have been worth exploring further. …