Beginning with the birth of Jesus and tracing the religion established by his followers up to the present day, The Faith is a comprehensive exploration of the history of Christianity. Judiciously covering all the signal moments without bogging down in minutia, author Brian Moynahan's superbly written and generously illustrated book is of central importance to Christians, historians, and anyone interested in a faith that shaped the modern world.
Moynahan's research uses little-known sources to tell a magnificent story encompassing everything from the early tremulous years after Jesus' death to the horrors of persecution by Nero, from the growth of monasteries to the bloody Crusades, from the building of the great cathedrals to the cataclysm of the Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, from the flight of pilgrims from Europe in pursuit of religious freedom to the Salem Witch Trials, from the advent of a traveling pope to the rise of televangelists.
Coming just in time for Jubilee 2000, this ambitious book reveals and commemorates the significance of the Christian faith.
This mammoth book offers a proficient survey of the checkered history of Christianity from its origins to the 21st century. In an engaging voice, journalist Moynahan (The Saint Who Sinned) narrates the story of this upstart Mediterranean religious sect as it developed from a band of ragged disciples with no place to call home to a sophisticated organization with a well-defined priestly hierarchy and often magnificent buildings. He discusses the usual cast of characters from Jesus and Paul to Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley and Pope John Paul II. He argues that the impulse to convert those outside of Christianity is central to the development of the faith, but uses the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition to demonstrate how this impulse sometimes got out of hand. Moynahan discusses in helpful detail the origins of Islam in the context of the Islamic invasions of Christian Constantinople in the seventh century. However, the book suffers from a lack of balance. Moynahan lavishes attention on Christianity from its beginnings up through the Reformation for the first two-thirds of the book, but then hurries through the establishment of Christianity in America and the development of modern Christianity. Even more perplexing is the complete absence of any examination of Eastern Christianity from its beginnings to the iconoclast crises in the eighth and ninth centuries. In the end, these are minor quibbles with a book that tells crisply, with more than 100 b&w illustrations, a moving tale of the internal and external struggles of Christianity to establish and sustain its religious identity.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 20, 2003
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Excerpt from The Faith by Brian Moynahan
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" cried the dying man. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46). This forlorn reproach was delivered from a hillside on the periphery of the Roman Empire, in a strange tongue unknown to the vast majority of its subjects, by a condemned man of profound obscurity who had an alien belief in a single God. A darkening sky; a claim that the veil in the Temple of Solomon, far down the slope from the execution ground, was "rent in twain" at the moment of death; a strange earthquake, mentioned only in Matthew's gospel, that split open rocks and opened tombs but did no damage to buildings--the Father's response to the crucifixion of the Son was modest even in the Gospels that proclaimed it.
Human reaction was as muted. The Roman governor who had authorized the
execution--with such extreme reluctance that some Christians later honored
his memory with a feast day--marveled only that Jesus had died so swiftly,
in little more than three hours. To the soldiers who carried it out, the
crucifixion was mere routine, a standard punishment for slaves and
non-Romans, that ended in the traditional perk of sharing out the victim's
clothes. The priests who had demanded the death noted with sarcastic
satisfaction: "he saved others, himself he cannot save" (Matt. 27:42). No
disciple or relative was bold enough to claim the body for burial. He had
been almost recklessly brave at his trial; they had expected miracles at
his death, and none had occurred. They hid their ebbing belief behind
barred doors in the steep streets of Jerusalem.
The painters and sculptors who were to fill the world with his image worked
from imagination alone. No physical description of Jesus was left by any
who knew him; no hint existed of the color of the eyes, the timbre of the
voice, the carriage of the head. His age, and the year of his birth and
death, is not accurately recorded. The abbot Dionysius Exiguus, who created
our system of dating years from the conception of Christ, as anno Domini,
the year of the Lord, made his calculations five hundred years later. The
abbot estimated that Jesus was born in the year 753 a.u.c. of the Roman
system of dating ab urbe condita, "from the founding of the city" of Rome.
He set this as a.d. 1, with previous years in receding order as "before
Christ," b.c. or a.c. for ante Christum in Latin. But Matthew's gospel says
that Jesus was "born in Bethlehem . . . in the days of Herod the King."
Herod is known to have died in 4 b.c., and most modern scholars date Jesus'
birth to 6 or 5 b.c.* The dates of his brief ministry--John's gospel
supports a ministry of two or three years, the others of a single year--and
his final journey to Jerusalem are also uncertain. The crucifixion may have
been as early as a.d. 27, instead of the traditional date of a.d. 33; it is
certain only that he died on a Friday in the Jewish lunar month of Nisan,
which straddles March and April.
A single incident is known of his childhood; as a twelve-year-old, he went
missing on a visit from his native town of Nazareth to Jerusalem until his
parents found him in the temple, "sitting in the midst of the doctors both
hearing them and asking questions" (Luke 2:46). He may--or may not--have
worked as a carpenter in his youth. His public ministry probably lasted
little more than two years at most and seemed fragile and incomplete. His
teaching was informal, often in the open air; his message was literally
hearsay, for no contemporary notes were written down. It demanded an
absolute morality and selflessness never expressed before; it lacked the
familiar comfort of an established rite, and he had taught only a single
prayer, the brief formula beginning "Our Father, which art in heaven . . ."
He never formally stated that he was the "Son of God," an imperial title
claimed in Latin as divi filius by the Roman emperor. He described himself
as "the Son" indirectly and in John's gospel alone: "Say ye of him, whom
the Father sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I
said, I am the Son of God?" (John 10:36). The Hebrew title of Messiah, or
Christos in Greek, was equally regal; it meant "anointed" and was used of
kings whose investiture was marked by anointing with oil. Jesus refused to
directly claim divinity as Christ when he was asked during his trial: "Tell
us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God." "Thou hast said," he
replied (Matt. 26:63-64). His miraculous birth--the impregnation of his
virgin mother by God's Holy Spirit--is mentioned in only two Gospels. He
himself made no specific reference to it.