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Some of the best books on the history of the Church, according to historians


John Burger - published on 08/19/20

Timeless: A History of the Catholic Church, by Steve Weidenkopf

“It is a new volume and very good,” said Fr. Dwight Longenecker, whose blog has a 23-part podcast series on the history of the Church. 

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland

Fr. Longenecker also recommends Dominion, which he said is “not so much a history of the Catholic Church per se, but a chronological overview that shows how Christian ideas changed the world in every age. It’s brilliant and would be the top of my list, along with [Eamon] Duffy.”

Doino pointed out that Holland was an agnostic who started out thinking Christianity was  a curse on mankind, but ended up showing how without it we would be “living in a much more monstrous and evil world.”

The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, by Robert Louis Wilken

Popular author Mike Aquilina said he was “torn by three different titles” by Wilken, who is Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. But he said The Christians as the Romans Saw Them is “invaluable because it helps us understand the Christian problem from the persecutor’s perspective. This upstart religion was upsetting the social order. It was upsetting Roman family values. It was turning children against their parents, and parents against their children. We tend to think of the opponents of Christianity as irrational bigots. But the Roman cause made a kind of sense for people who wanted to preserve (or restore) the traditional way of life. I’m glad it failed!”

The Catholic Church Through the Ages: A History, by John Vidmar, O.P.

The Amazon summary for this work “captures well its strengths: Dawson-grounded, substantive but accessible,” said Andrew T. Seeley, director of advanced formation at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. “Definitely for a general audience rather than specialists. Ideal for adult education or reading groups.”

The Christian Tradition, by Jaroslav Pelikan

This five-volume opus was “an immense achievement in the field, and I find myself regularly going back to his analysis when writing on Church history,” said Bud Marr, Director of the National Institute for Newman Studies. “Even though Pelikan was not Roman Catholic, he was always extremely careful in his handling of the source material and employed a hermeneutic of generosity in discussing historical figures. In my view, Pelikan’s first volume in the series, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), is indispensable reading for anyone seeking to understand the patristic period. As a Newmanist, I was particularly impressed at how Pelikan used [St. John Henry] Newman’s theory of development in order to make sense of the debates and key decisions that took place during those early centuries in Christian history. 

Tried By Fire: The Story of Christianity’s First Thousand Years, by William J. Bennett

Paul G. Kengor, Professor of political science at Grove City College, called this a “very readable and engaging book on the first millennium of Christianity. … It’s quite good and accessible for readers of all faiths, with an extremely timely focus on Christian suffering and persecution.”

The English Jesuits: From Campion to Martindale, by Bernard Basset, S.J.

“This may seem a bit of an odd selection,” apologized Thomas Jodziewicz, Professor of History at the University of Dallas. “But I really appreciated it. Fr. Basset was the author of several wonderful, brief spiritual essays. Very accessible. His love for his Society shines through in his well-written narrative of the dark days of the Society under Elizabeth and for the next couple of centuries, marked of course by the 1773 suppression of the Order. He is well-read, with good judgment regarding his brothers who were not always models of Ignatian standards. And his wonderful senses of humor and irony are on full display.”

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Church History
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