Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Charles Freeman's A.D. 381 in Library Journal

Charles Freeman's A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State gets a glowing notice in the current issue of Library Journal: "Freeman's exceptional book is a continuation and refinement of his The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason, in which he argued that the alliance of the Roman Empire with the Christian Church in the fourth century C.E. closed down a vibrant tradition of intellectual and religious toleration. The critical point was in the titular year when Emperor Theodosius I banned disagreement over the nature of the Trinity, making religious dissent a state crime for the first time. Theodosius's action was unfortunate, argues Freeman: proponents of the Nicene Creed (i.e., that the three parts of the Trinity were coequal in substance) could find little support in the Bible for their position; debate on the question was still lively. In the next century, Augustine nailed the lid on discussion with his forceful dismissal of reason: all articles of faith were above discussion. A.D. 381 is a well-argued and -documented study of the rise of the monotheistic state in the late Roman Empire and its aftereffects. Of the many excellences in Freeman's book, not least are the eloquence, grace, and subtlety of argument with which he presents his case."

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