Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Introduction to the History of Christianity

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Introduction to the History of Christianity

Article excerpt

Introduction to the History of Christianity. By George Herring. (NewYork: New York University Press. 2006. Pp.xx, 370. $70.00 cloth, $22.00 paperback.)

If you are looking for an introduction to church history that gives a balanced overview of 2,000 years, this is not the book. If, however, you are looking for an introduction to church history that looks at representative periods, written with passion and commitment, then Herring's volume is for you. George Herring, author of What was the Oxford Movement?, has written a book that he wanted to write, focusing on three, two-hundred-year periods that were critical for the development of Western Christianity and which, Herring says, are "things which particularly interest me" (p. xiv). It is clear that as he discusses these three historic periods (300-500; 1050-1250; 1450-1650) Herring writes about material he has traversed many times and about issues he greatly values.

Why focus on only three periods in a book that purports to be an "Introduction?" Herring is concerned to understand how Christianity, as a religion that both embraces and insulates itself from culture, develops authority, relies upon tradition, how it reforms and expresses authority. He does not ignore traditional historical categories, but he has special concerns about the Church's authority and its ongoing reform. One example should make this clear. His section on reformations ("Grace and Authority: Western Christianity c. 1450-1650") is a delightful interplay arguing that there were ongoing reformations in Western Christianity up to 1517. But then he states clearly that both Protestant reformers and the Council of Trent were of a completely different order. Although the Church goes through reforming movements every century, there was something great, dramatic, and final about "The Reformation," as we call it.

In terms of style, Herring writes for the most ill-informed historiographic neophyte, but then leads one quickly to see the major academic arguments concerning the material. …

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