Barbarism and Religion - Vol. 3

Barbarism and Religion - Vol. 3

Barbarism and Religion - Vol. 3

Barbarism and Religion - Vol. 3

Excerpt

This is the third volume of Barbarism and Religion, a series intended to exhibit Edward Gibbon and his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in historical contexts to which they belong and which illuminate their significance. The two volumes so far published have brought Gibbon to the verge of writing his master work. The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon concluded with his intention to write a history which was to have been primarily a history of the city of Rome as it was deserted by its own empire, and only by degrees came to be intended as a history of that empire’s decline and transformation. Narratives of Civil Government concluded with the prospectus Gibbon prefixed to the first volume of the Decline and Fall, and isolated as problematic a series of decisions then explicitly or implicitly announced, which were to determine the future character of the work. One of these was the decision to bypass the history of the Latin middle ages, already recounted by Robertson and Voltaire, and pursue the history of the eastern Roman empire to the Turkish conquest of 1453; perhaps the strangest of all Gibbon’s decisions and that which perplexed him most. Implicit in it was the further decision that the Decline and Fall would not be, like other great Enlightened histories, a history of the ‘Christian millennium’ leading to the ‘Enlightened narrative’ of the emergence from ‘barbarism and religion’ – these are terms used in constructing the second volume of this series – but a history of late antiquity leading into the ‘Christian millennium’; a history, as Gibbon came to see, of the ‘triumph of barbarism and religion’. More deeply implicit still – and perhaps in 1776 not fully apparent to Gibbon himself – was the decision that the history of the late empire must also be a history of the Christian church and its theology. Gibbon indicated the persistence of his original conception by announcing – a decision in due course executed – that he would conclude his planned work by a study of the city of Rome during the Latin middle ages which he had treated only marginally.

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