Paul Johnson's "A History of Christianity"


#1

Has anyone read this? What are your thoughts?


#2

If I am thinking of the same book that you are I didn’t like it. I couldn’t make it throught the first 5 pages. It started out (good way to see if we are talking about the same book) with a “I will prove how horriable Christianity has been throughout history” kind of thing which 'caused me to put the book back on the shelf and step away from the building. So I wouldn’t suggest it.
Cheack the first few pages and see if we are talking about the same book. If we arn’t then never mind ask someone else.


#3

Montie,

You might be thinking of someone else. The Paul Johnson I am thinking of is a respected historian (and Catholic to boot). I haven’t read his books, though I mean to, but I’ve read some articles of his—in First Things, most likely.


#4

[quote=Sherlock]Montie,

You might be thinking of someone else. The Paul Johnson I am thinking of is a respected historian (and Catholic to boot). I haven’t read his books, though I mean to, but I’ve read some articles of his—in First Things, most likely.
[/quote]

Oh my bad, sorry. CollegeKid don’t listen to me. I was reading the wrong Catechism (I was looking at the mormon ed.). Listen to Sherlock.


#5

Sherlock,

We are thinking of the same Paul Johnson. Did you read his “History of Christianity?” I’ve been reading it. I have to admit, sometimes this book makes it hard to have faith. Among others, it seems to make these claims:

James was the brother of Jesus.

In some places He visited, Jesus could not work miracles.

It is misleading to speak of an ‘apostolic age.’ The apostles were merely preaching a message of revivalistic judaism.

There wasn’t any real orthodoxy among the earliest Christians. They were composed of nothing but various squabbling sects.

Any many others.

My point is, if Johnson is a respected historian, its somewhat hard to see how Christianity is all that different from other religions we consider false. Does anyone know if he is even considered an orthodox Catholic?


#6

No, I haven’t read it. I simply have heard of him as a respected historian, and I think I’ve read a thing or two by him in First Things–though I could be wrong about that, as I can’t remeber any specifics.

I’m sorry to hear what you have to say! I don’t see how anyone could think that Jesus had brothers and be considered an orthodox Catholic, that’s for sure. I’ve heard him on the Dennis Prager radio talk show, but never on the subject of Christianity. Prager always praises him profusely, but then Prager isn’t Christian. Guess I’ll have to revise my opinion.


#7

Well, I’ve read some more and will still be reading. Maybe I was too quick to judge Johnson. At the same time that he seems to indicate that the very early church was not as uniform as some of us (myself included) would like to believe, his tone is that of a believer, i.e., that of someone who believes in the Resurrection, Christ’s deity, and Christ’s core teachings. Right now I’m reading what he has to say about Paul, which is that Paul rescued Christianity, i.e. how Christ intended His message to be understood and explained. And he does go on to explain the process by which the church became more and more uniform and standardized, mentioning in particular the theology of people like Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons.


#8

Johnson is a prominent Christian historian, whose work is widely quoted throughout the literature of Church history, so it’s a good idea to read him (as always, take the wheat, and leave the chaff). To balance things out, you may want to study these histories, also written by Catholics:

W.H. Crocker, Triumph: The Power & the Glory of the Catholic Church

Thomas Bokenkotter, Concise History of the Catholic Church

Thomas Woods, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

Kenneth Whitehead, One, Holy, Catholic, & Apostolic: The Early Church Was the Catholic Church

Happy reading!

Truly,
Don


#9

Thanks. I’ve already started on Bokenkotter’s “Concise History.”


#10

[quote=CollegeKid]Sherlock,

We are thinking of the same Paul Johnson. Did you read his “History of Christianity?” I’ve been reading it. I have to admit, sometimes this book makes it hard to have faith. Among others, it seems to make these claims:

James was the brother of Jesus.
[/quote]

See Galatians 1: Gal 1:19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.

Peter is not called His brother - so Paul does not mean “fellow Jew” or “fellow believer” - so a close kinsman must be meant; the uncertainty among Christians is over how close. ##

In some places He visited, Jesus could not work miracles.

Matthew 13:58 And he did not many mighty works there = in Nazareth] because of their unbelief.

That may be what’s meant. ##

It is misleading to speak of an ‘apostolic age.’ The apostles were merely preaching a message of revivalistic judaism.

There wasn’t any real orthodoxy among the earliest Christians. They were composed of nothing but various squabbling sects.

Any many others.

These last two points are valid, because history is one thing, faith another; Johnson would have been acting very irresponsibly if he had ignored the historical data, &, instead of them, had expressed the position of a man of faith. For faith interprets the historical data, and sees God at work in the midst of the untidiness & squabbles - IOW, it takes in all that historical study does, but goes beyond it, to see what it means in relation to God. He was not writing that sort of book, but a book of history.

So Jesus is both a crucified Messianic claimant, one of several, just another Jew on a Roman cross in a rather backward province of the Roman Empire - but for Christian faith, this crucified Jewish jailbird is God’s Messiah & the Lord of Glory.

Faith takes the events of history, and sees the hand of God at work in those events - it doesn’t manipulate or conceal or mess around with them, because it is through those very events, through everything that happens indeed, that God works & speaks. There is no special layer of reality reserved for “religious events and values” - all existence proclaims the glory of God, & He is at work in all of it. “Religious” realities are same as “non-religious” realities - the difference is solely in how they are seen; not in how God is present in them. So Johnson’s general approach is completely valid - he’s taking the Incarnation with the seriousness it deserves, by letting the facts be as they are (assuming, as one is bound to, that he has done his best to make sure of what the facts are) and not prettifying them so that they look “religious” in the bad sense.

My point is, if Johnson is a respected historian, its somewhat hard to see how Christianity is all that different from other religions we consider false.

That’s why we need faith - Jesus would have been indistinguishable from any other man of his class and environment: he was nothing significant as a craftsman, so far as is known. Christians, not beds or yokes, are His craftsmanship.

What He shares with us is not what sets Him apart - what He is & does as God’s Servant-Son, is what makes Him special. This is why Simon son of Jonah needed to have the Messiahship of Jesus revealed to him by the Father - it was hidden from those to whom it had not been revealed. It is not obvious difference that matters, but being admitted to the number of those with faith in Jesus; we are ordinary people, with a faith in an extraordinary Redeemer. We are no different from anyone else - except in that one detail. We are earthen pots, with treasure inside, just as Paul says.

Christian faith is in a Messiah Who looks completely unremarkable - humanly speaking, & if we lack faith. Faith makes Him known, not history: history is the context in which He is revealed - not the revelation itself. That’s why material things can be consecrated to His Glory - because they are as everyday and unimportant & seemingly “non-religious” as historical events or human persons. That is what Muslims don’t see - that God uses “secular” things, people, events, as the means of His coming to us in His grace to redeem us. What is bread and wine ? Yet that is what is used in the Eucharist. The sacraments use these “secular” things - because God does. ##

Does anyone know if he is even considered an orthodox Catholic?

Considered by whom ?


#11

Gottle,

Those are some excellent points, thanks.


#12

[quote=CollegeKid]Gottle,

Those are some excellent points, thanks.
[/quote]

Thanks for the kind words :slight_smile:


#13

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