Katie's Reviews > East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church from Apostolic Times until the Council of Florence

East and West by Henry Chadwick
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Jun 09, 13

bookshelves: medieval, exam-reading-list, history, religious-history, theology
Read from May 29 to June 09, 2013

3.5 stars

This book was both fascinating and poorly presented. I'd like to have given it more stars: it's a really interesting topic, and Henry Chadwick clearly cares about it. But it can be immensely frustrating in its organization and I'm still rather confused about who its audience is supposed to be. On one hand it serves as an overview, covering a solid 1500 years of history in about 270 pages. But at the same time it can be immensely detailed, and assumes the reader has a very broad range of knowledge about early medieval politics, ecclesiastical structure, and especially the intricacies of early Trinitarian and Christological heresies. It's an understandably hard balance to hit - you want a book like this to be accessible, but not talk down to people - but Chadwick's work is unnecessarily confusing at points, especially near the beginning. The chapters are very short, but will jump around seemingly at random.

That said, if you can make it through the first 40-50 pages, you don't mind slow and careful reading, and you start to adapt yourself to Chadwick's style, its a really interesting subject to dive into. The split between the eastern and western Churches manages to seem both inevitable and absolutely ridiculous: clerics argue for literally hundreds of years about whether Eucharistic bread should be leavened or unleavened, and whether a single word should be added to the profession of the faith (even when most clerics seemed to agree that when you accounted for linguistic and exegetical differences, they were both pretty much arguing the same thing anyways). It can seem like nit-picking taken to extreme and kind of mind-boggling lengths.

But the best part of Chadwick's book - moreso than all the quick, dense, detailings of individual events like the Acacian Schism, the Three Chapters Controversy, or the Photian Schism - is his emphasis on how all of these problems stemmed from fundamentally different views of ecclesiology that grew up in the east and the west. Where the Roman pontiffs increasingly trended towards a centralized, monarchical church, based in part off of the forged Donation of Constantine and founded on the ultimate authority of the Pope as the successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ, the eastern church saw the ultimate authority of the church resting in a Pentarchy of patriarchs: Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, with Rome being simply the first among equals. It was a deep difference, and unsurprisingly resulted in almost constant sniping between the two sides. It's hard to argue effectively when no one is sure where authority ultimately lies. It wasn't until the high to later middle ages, though, that a split became permanent. By that point it wasn't so much doctrinal differences as centuries of mounting resentment and distrust, exemplified best by the lingering anger in the east over the 1204 sack of Constantinople by western crusading armies (oops).

It's a hopeful book, and Chadwick is an ecumenist at heart who is nearly always very, very fair to both sides. And because of that it's kind of a lovely work and overall I have fond feelings for it. I just wish it was written / organized in a more accessible and helpful way.
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Reading Progress

05/29/2013 marked as: currently-reading
06/09/2013 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Ton (last edited May 30, 2013 01:28PM) (new)

Ton I'm eager to find out what you make of more than ten centuries of divergence squeezed into 320 pages... And if a subject so large can be curtailed in that space.


Katie I know! It's a pretty bold endeavor. I know very little about the topic though, besides a broad sketch of what happened, so it's probably the ideal approach for someone like me. We'll see!


message 3: by Ton (new)

Ton I'm no expert either, but going from the title, it might just be a bit too ambitious. Or maybe that's just me. I await your review!


message 4: by Ton (new)

Ton Too bad the book suffers in the coherence department. As you say, it's a tight balance keeping a narrative going and assuming your audience is following you along when you can't take the time to explain everything. Seems like Chadwick's in depth knowledge and love for the subject make it worth one's while to suffer through the chaotic structure.


Katie Yeah, it's a bit of a bummer because otherwise it would be fantastic. It's still definitely worthwhile, but I'd recommend taking lots of notes or having a computer nearby so that you can check up on things as you go.

On the other hand, you could probably also just skim it - in the end, lots of the details wind up being secondary, and you can still get a good handle on the main point of the work.


message 6: by Ton (new)

Ton OK, thanks.

Do you have a recommendation for a book about the controversies of the early church, say up to 800 AD? I loved reading about the Three Chapters (there can't be more than 25 people alive who know about Theodore of Mopsuestia and Ibas of Edessa) and the early heresies, but I've only read bits and pieces.


Katie I can't recommend you anything from personal experience, since early Christian controversies are pretty far out of my wheelhouse. I have a friend who has read The Early Church: The I.B.Tauris History of the Christian Church and I remember her telling me that it's a good, theologically-centered history of the early Church. If you go through the bibliography you can probably also find good works centering on your favorite controversies too. Hope that helps!

Another route you could take would be to read a good biography of one of the big Church Fathers (like Augustine of Hippo: A Biography), as most of them spent a good bit of their time railing against what they saw as heresies.


message 8: by Ton (new)

Ton Thanks Katie, I'll definitely check The Early Church out!


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