Friday, January 21, 2011

The Lost History of Christianity by Philip Jenkins


Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died, (HarperOne, 2008) 336 pages. Verdict?: 4/5 A fascinating overview of a neglected area of history.

On January 7th, AD 781, around the time Charlemagne was in the process of converting the Saxons to Christianity by the sword and Islam first reached what is now Pakistan and Kashmir, a Chinese monk called Jinging oversaw the raising of a three metre tall stele of dark stone in the northern Chinese imperial city of Chang'an (now Xi'an).  The inscription on the monument, carved in elegant Tang Dynasty calligraphy by one Lü Xiuyan, was entitled "Memorial of the Propagation in China of the Luminous Religion from Daqin" and it celebrated 150 years of the spread of this religion in northern China.

"Daqin" or "Da Qin" was the Chinese word for the Roman Empire, though here it probably refers to Syria.  And the religion of Daqin was Christianity.  The monk Jingjing's alternate name was Adam and the stele is a testament to a largely forgotten era in Christian history - one where Nestorian and Jacobite Christianity was practised across Asia, where place names known to us from the evening news about Iraq - Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, Tikrit - were thriving Christian centres, where the monks of Nisibis (now in Turkey) and Jundishapur (now in Iran) made translations of Aristotle that were to find their way to Europe via Muslim Spain and where Chinese Christian priests ministered to Mongol khans.  Philip Jenkins' fascinating book brings this forgotten world to life, jolts us out of a Eurocentric perspective on the rise and propagation of Christianity and poses some interesting questions about how and why religions die.

The Nestorian Christian stele from Chang'an
The Christianity that Time Forgot

About a year before Jingjing/Adam raised his monument in China, Bishop Timothy was made catholicos, or Pope, of the Nestorian Church in the Mesopotamian city of Seleucia, just south of modern Baghdad.  His name is virtually unknown today, but at the time he was the most influential Christian in the world, far overshadowing the influence of Pope Adrian I in Rome (who was too busy trying to fend off the Lombards to have influence much beyond the walls of his city) and a powerful rival to the Orthodox Patriarch Paul IV in Constantinople (then mired in the iconoclast controversy).  Catholicos Timothy was the spiritual and political head of one quarter of the Christians in the world, he had followers from Syria to Korea, laid claim to the leadership of the true successor to the original apostolic church and read his Bible in a descendent of Jesus' native tongue.  Timothy's followers called themselves Nasraye or "Nazarenes"; a form of the earliest Aramaic name for the followers of Jesus.  Jesus himself was called Yeshua and priests were called rabban, related to the Aramaic title of Jesus, rabboni, and the Hebrew rabbi.

At a time when England had just two metropolitans - York and Canterbury - Catholicos Timothy presided over no less than nineteen, with 85 bishoprics. He headed a church which operated in many languages, including Syraic, Persian, Turkish, Soghdian, Chinese and Tibetan.  As Jenkins notes, Timothy's form of Christianity was both widespread and already venerable.  When Saint Benedict was founding his first monastery in Italy, Nestorian bishops were ruling in Nishapur and Tus in Persia.  When the first church was being founded in England, the Nestorians already had a metropolitan administering multiple bishoprics from Herat in Afghanistan:

Our common mental maps of Christian history omit a thousand years of that story, and several million miles of territory.  No reasonable historian of modern Christianity would leave Europe out of the story, and omitting Asia from the medieval record is just as unconscionable.  We can't understand Christian history without Asia - or, indeed, Asian history without Christianity. (Jenkins, p. 11)
 Jenkins notes that we tend to think of Christianity as a religion which began in the Middle East and then spread west, via the Roman Empire, eventually finding some kind of natural home in Europe before expanding across the globe from there in the Modern Era.  Whereas, in fact, it was not until around 1500, with the conversion of the last European pagans in the Baltic and the expulsion of the last major Muslim presence in Spain, that Europe became fully Christian.  Co-incidentally, around the same time the last remnants of what had been a vibrant, continent-wide Asian Christianity were being extinguished - just in time for a newly expansionist European Christianity to forget it had ever existed.  

Because clearly Christianity did not just expand westward from its Middle Eastern origin; it spread eastward as well and rather more rapidly.  Antioch - the place where Christians got their name and an early centre of the primitive church - lay at the western end of the Silk Road.  From Antioch to Athens is 800 miles, to Rome it is 1400 and it is over 2000 to London.  But travelling in the opposite direction it is 600 miles from Antioch to Baghdad, less than 1000 to Tehran and 1850 miles to Samarkand, near the north-east border of the then Sassanian Persian Empire.  As Jenkins points out "Jerusalem is actually closer to the seemingly exotic territories of central Asia than it is to France." (p. 53).  Not surprisingly, Christianity spread there via the Persian Empire early and quickly thrived.

European Catholic missionaries debate with Nestorians in Central Asia

People of the Book

Jenkins is careful not to overstate the importance of Christianity in the east.  In most places, unlike in Europe, it established itself as a minority faith alongside more dominant religions.  Whereas the conversion of Europe always had the inertia and legacy of the conversion of the Roman Empire behind it, Nestorian and Jacobite Christianity never quite managed to convert a powerful political elite and reap the evangelical rewards of doing so, though Nestorianism came close with the Mongols.  So while Nestorians were establishing missions in China as early as the 500s AD, their roots were shallow and in the mid-Ninth Century the fiercely Taoist emperor Wuzong banned and expelled all "foreign cults", including Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity.  Christians were not to have a major presence in China again until the coming of the Mongols.

One interesting way that Christians in Asia had an enormous impact despite their minority status was in the area of scholarship.  Byzantine crackdowns on "unorthodox" forms of Christianity saw many scholars flee to the relatively benign and receptive Persian Empire and the scholarly Christian centres of Nisibis and Jundishapur flourished under the sponsorship and protection of the Sassanian shahs:

The fame of Nisibis spread around the world, supplying a model for the pioneering Latin Christian scholar Cassiodorus in far-off Italy.  It was at Nisibis that much of the ancient world's learning was kept alive and translated, making it available for later generations of Muslim scholars and for Europeans after them.  Among other classical works, Nisibis preserved the writings of Aristotle and his commentators. (Jenkins, p. 77)
 When debating those who try to claim that "Christian monks" actively "destroyed" or passively "neglected" ancient learning and that we only have these works thanks to the Muslims, I like to point out that the Muslims got them from "Christian monks" - Nestorians writing in monasteries on the Tigris and in Khūzestān.  Anyone who has read Aristotle has these Syraic-speaking monks to thank.

The range and breadth of these scholars is illustrated by the bishop Severus, known as Seboukt of Nisibis.  From his Jacobite monastery on the Euphrates, this mid-Seventh Century scholar wrote "extensively on cosmography, on the causes of eclipses and on geometry and arithmetic" (p. 78).  He wrote a treatise on the operation of the astrolabe, wrote several commentaries on Aristotle and translated his Analytics.  He was also aware of Indian scholarship and makes the first reference in the west to the remarkable Indian numerical system that used just nine signs - which we now know as Arabic numerals.

The book also makes some interesting points about eastern Christian Biblical scholarship.  It notes that the Syraic Bible - the Peshitta - was a highly conservative translation.  Jenkins observes that recently there has been a growing perception that the pre-Nicean church had a plethora of texts that were considered scriptural and that these included "many heterodox accounts of Jesus, which were suspect because of their mystical or even feminist leanings" (p. 88)  The modern myth goes that this variety and freedom was only stamped out once Christianity was adopted by Constantine and these variant scriptures were savagely expunged from the canon.

As exotic and exciting as all that sounds, it is actually without foundation (despite what legions of The Da Vinci Code fans would like to believe).  Apart from some quibbling around the edges, largely about the inclusion of some of the Catholic Epistles and Revelation, the Biblical canon was fairly solidly fixed by the Second Century and the four canonical gospels, in particular, were firmly established as the only canonical ones.  This is evidenced by the Syraic Biblical tradition, which "rejected (the rival scriptures) because they knew they were late and tendentious" (p. 88)  Interestingly, the Syraic Bible does omit several of the disputed epistles and Revelation, which were only included in the Western canon after much debate and with widespread misgivings.

Fourteenth Century Iranian manuscript - the monk Nestorius recognises the teenage Muhammad



Of particular interest to Jenkins is the other dominant faith in the east - Islam.  Given that the latter part of his book describes the violent and oppressive turn in relations between eastern Christianity and Islam that consigned these Asian branches of the Church to the dustier corners of historical memory, Jenkins is judicious in his handling of the role of Muslims in his story.  He is rightly dismissive of the post-9/11 modish fawning over Islam, painting it as a wholly tolerant and benevolent faith compared to the wicked and ignorant Christians of the time.  Karen Armstrong's syrupy oversimplifications and the cartoonish pseudo history of the PBS documentary series Empires of Faith and Ridley Scott's laughable sermons in the movie Kingdom of Heaven get short shrift from Jenkins.  "Even in the most optimistic view," he writes, "Armstrong's reference to Christians possessing 'full religious liberty' in Muslim Spain or elsewhere beggars belief." (p. 99)

But he also avoids the trap of going to the other extreme and painting Islam as an intrinsically violent faith spread by jihad and marked by intolerance and fanaticism.  He notes that no-one in this period had any monopoly on massacres and oppression and all were happy to justify these largely political extremes by reference to their religion.  He notes that while it is easy to find examples of violence and oppression in the Muslim conquest of Middle East and north Africa, they were actually less violent and oppressive than "the Normans who conquered England in 1066, the Germans who subjugated Prussia, or the English occupiers of Ireland." (p. 100)

Mongols and Muslims

One thing that offered a chance for Asian Christianity to move from influential minority faith to a position of dominance was the rise of the Mongol Empire.  From the beginning, Christian Mongols played a prominent role in the empire of Genghis Khan, since the Keraits, Ongguds and Uyguyrs were all substantially Christianised and all were prominent in the new Mongol power.  Kublai Khan was renowned for his tolerance of Christians and many of them rose to prominence in his court and administration.  By the mid-Thirteenth Century many Asian Christians held out hopes that a Christianised Mongol Empire would crush Islam and unite with Christians in Europe.  Such hopes filtered west and formed the kernel of the persistent and long-lived rumours of the legendary central Asian Christian king "Prester John", who hovered like a mirage over much late Crusading ideals as the possible saviour of the kingdoms of Outremer who would ride under banners of the cross from the east and sweep away the armies of Islam.

This idea was not entirely fantasy.  Papal envoys to the Great Khans early in the century meant that both the Mongols and Europeans were well aware that they shared an enemy in Islam and several attempts were made to co-ordinate their wars against Muslim targets.  King Louis IX of France met two envoys from the Persian Khan Güyükin Cyprus in 1248 and in 1287 a Mongol embassy made it all the way to Paris to meet King Philip the Fair, Gascony to meet King Edward I and finally back via Rome to meet the newly elected Pope Nicholas IV.  In all of these cases the Mongol envoys were Nestorian Christians and the one who met the two kings and the pope was Rabban Bar Sauma, probably a Mongol and Turkic speaking Onggud whose journeys from Beijing to Paris read like the travels of Marco Polo in reverse.  But the dream of an alliance was never fulfilled and when the Kerait Christian Mongol general Kitbuqa was crushed in battle by the Mamluk Egyptians at Ain Jalut the dream of the end of Islam faded as well.

The Death of Churches

Jenkins story then moves on to the end of this continent wide network of non-European churches.  As he points out, some of them had already long since died.  The churches of north Africa, which for centuries had been amongst the most vigorous and substantial Christian communities in the world, were effectively extinguished within a century of the Muslim conquest.  But it was not until the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries that active persecution began to erode and finally all but destroy Asian Christianity.  First resurgent Mamluks began savage persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt, then newly vitalised Turks began doing so as the Ottoman Empire spread.  Mongol khans who had been Christianised or friendly to Jacobites and Nestorians turned increasingly to Islam and in China a backlash against all things foreign sweep away Christianity along with Zoroastrian and Buddhist communities.

The last quarter of Jenkins' book contains many useful insights and a some food for thought regarding religion in the modern world.  He makes excellent use of modern examples of repression of religion, the impact of massacres and ethnic cleansing, reactions to persecution and the dynamics of marginal religious survival to vividly illustrate the end of this 1000 year ago of Asian Christianity.  His section on the "Lessons" that can be drawn from the story of the fall of Christianity in the east is particularly interesting.  He notes that there is nothing in this story to give support to "the directions favoured by the far Right - namely as a deadly warning against the Islamic threat." (p. 242)  But he does make some observations about how certain religious communities in his story managed to hasten their demise: lack of diversity, alliance with a single political grouping, dependence on a certain set of economic circumstances and ethnic insularity amongst them.  He notes that the balancing act between totally accommodating the non-Christian or anti-Christian environment around them and  resisting it utterly is a difficult one and going too far in either direction can be fatal to a church.  As he sums it up "too little adaptation means irrelevance; too much leads to assimilation and, often, disappearance" (p. 245).

While I must say that, for a non-believer, the rather theological final chapters about how the rise and fall of religions is not due to "blind chance" but have a divine purpose (typically, a "mysterious" one) seemed a little gratuitous, Jenkins never pretends he is anything other than a Christian historian of Christianity and, to his credit, does a far better job of objective analysis than many non-Christian polemicists pretending to be historians (eg Charles Freeman and Richard Carrier, to name two repeat offenders).  Overall Jenkins has written an elegant and intriguing history of a forgotten corner of history - and I find it is usually those corners that are the most interesting.

25 comments:

Baerista said...

I am very happy to see a new post on Armarium Magnum. Your books reviews display a degree of knowledge and good judgement that is scarcely found on the desolate shores of the blogosphere.

claudio said...

Happy to have you back!
That book seems a must reed.

About the so called peoples of the book Remy Brague has written very sharp observations.

http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/070803.html

Although probably you already knew it.
Thanks for your posts. I'm already waiting for the next one.

unkleE said...

Tim, I too enjoyed this review a lot, and for several reasons - (1) it was an interesting insight into something I knew nothing about (as the book itself must be), (2) I enjoyed reading a non-believer dealing with christian themes in a fair-minded way, and (3) as a christian I reckon there are lessons in this piece of history for me.

Thanks a lot.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your reviews and am glad to find you back after several months of silence. Have you ever thought of putting them out in podcast form as well?

Mike

Tim O'Neill said...

"Have you ever thought of putting them out in podcast form as well?"

Actually, no. But that's not a bad idea ...

Endre Fodstad said...

The success of a podcast depends heavily on whether you've got a face for radio. And whether you can get hold of decent audio software.

Tim O'Neill said...

I don't know about my face, but if I had a dollar for every time I've been told I have a "radio voice" I'd be a rich man. Which audio software is "decent"?

Phil Bee said...

Dairmaid MacCulloch included a visit to one of the Chinese churches in his documentary on Christianity.As I remember he was met by an angry peasant who was clearly fed up with visitors from the west. He went on to look at some of the Chinese Christian inscriptions but all too soon went back to the west- it would have merited a whole hour so it is good to see that there is now a good book out on the subject.
MacCulloch also, unlike most historians of 'mainstream' Christianity, does say something about the background to the breakaway of the Nestorians in the fifth century as a result of Chalcedonian statement of the humanity/divinity of Christ. Does Jenkins go into it in detail? I had read somewhere, and your review seems to support this, that Nestorianism was the most widespread form of Christianity until the conquest of the Americas.

Andrew Brew said...

Thanks for that, Tim. Good to see you back on air.

I read this book last year, and have re-read it a couple of times since. Apart from teaching me a lot I didn't know, it also started to tie together loose threads on the edges of the things I did know.

A valuable book indeed.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

I suppose this is review and not your own position, Tim:

At a time when England had just two metropolitans - York and Canterbury - Catholicos Timothy presided over no less than nineteen, with 85 bishoprics. He headed a church which operated in many languages, including Syraic, Persian, Turkish, Soghdian, Chinese and Tibetan.

Comparison with England is lopsided. Comparison with Rome including England would be more illuminating.

As Jenkins notes, Timothy's form of Christianity was both widespread and already venerable. When Saint Benedict was founding his first monastery in Italy, Nestorian bishops were ruling in Nishapur and Tus in Persia.

And monasteries had been around in Italy, as well as the bishopric Rome itself.

When the first church was being founded in England, the Nestorians already had a metropolitan administering multiple bishoprics from Herat in Afghanistan.

First Church in England? Amend that to first Church among Englishmen, there is a nuance to that. Romans and Celts in what later became England had early on had a Church, that later became Celtic Christendom, by being cut off from Rome by English, and then became schismatic by quarrelling with the English more Roman Church.

Of course, the facts about Nestorians themselves are not less true because of such misinformation about comparisons.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Byzantine crackdowns on "unorthodox" forms of Christianity saw many scholars flee to the relatively benign and receptive Persian Empire and the scholarly Christian centres of Nisibis and Jundishapur flourished under the sponsorship and protection of the Sassanian shahs.

That would typically include the well known flat earth geographer and Nestorian Cosmas Indicopleustes. His opponent was a Jacobite, thus heterodox too, but John Philopon's refutations were not destroyed in the West. Newton's (first? second? first two?) laws have been traced to him.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Lopsided comparisons again:

He notes that while it is easy to find examples of violence and oppression in the Muslim conquest of Middle East and north Africa, they were actually less violent and oppressive than "the Normans who conquered England in 1066, ...

But back in 1066 that was quite exceptional in the West. Besides within a hundred years Saxons had forgiven - ceremonially - the Normans for wrongs done during conquest.

...the Germans who subjugated Prussia, ...

The Teutonic Knights who subjugated Prussia. Well, these were already into crusades and crusaders were already used to violence in extremes from fights with ... would that be Muslims?

... or the English occupiers of Ireland." (p. 100)

Norman or Anglo-Scots?

The Normans, as you are quite aware of Tim, became "hibernis hiberniores". English and even more Scottish occupiers were after the Reformation, that took a lot of hints from Crusading mentality, that, in its turn, is indebted to contact with ... violent Muslims.

ALL OF these occasions were very much posterior to Muslim atrocities they were compared to.

Tim O'Neill said...

Some fair points Hans-Georg, but a few are seriously overdrawn.

(i) Sorry, but you can't have a church in "England" before the arrival of the English. That's simply nonsensical. It's like talking about post-Ice Age hunters in the Commonwealth of Australia.

(ii) That Cosmas was wrong about the earth being flat and that John Philoponus was right about some important physics is pretty irrelevant to the point Jenkins is making - learning flourished in Nestorian centres. No-one is saying those Nestorian scholars were right about everything or that there was no learning anywhere else.

(iii) "in 1066 (Norman violence) was quite exceptional in the West".

It hadn't been so exceptional during the previous centuries of Viking rapine and slaughter or savage Carolingian campaigns in various theatres. To pretend that the early Middle Ages in the west weren't violent is simpy nonsense and the examples Jenkins gave are unexceptional and totally typical.

{iii} "Teutonic Knights who subjugated Prussia. Well, these were already into crusades and crusaders were already used to violence in extremes from fights with ... would that be Muslims?"

Sorry but I have zero time for this nonsense that the Crusaders were onloy "provoked" into violence by the wicked Muslims. That's lazy and sloppy pseudo history driven by a brain-dead modern right wing agenda. The Teutonic Knights were actually just another wave of Germans pushing east and using tactics German feudal expansionists had been using against the Slavs and Wends for centuries.

Please spare me the "ooh those violent Muslims" nonsense. Both medieval Islamic and medieval Christian cultures were more than happy to be violent without taking any lessons or needing any provocations from each other.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

No-one is saying those Nestorian scholars were right about everything or that there was no learning anywhere else. --- Byzantine crackdowns on "unorthodox" forms of Christianity saw many scholars flee to the relatively benign and receptive Persian Empire ...

Certain people will construe that latter passage as implying such a thing, at least as implying learning flourished better in Persia than among Byzantines.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

It hadn't been so exceptional during the previous centuries of Viking rapine and slaughter ...

Ah, but the Vikings were not part of the Christian West.

Guess why I got angry at a French right wing politician, whom otherwise I respect, when he called us Swedes "Vikings"! It was French and German missionaries that - without bringing any armies to invade us - cured us from Viking-ism.

... or savage Carolingian campaigns in various theatres.

His campaign in Saxony has been claimed to have been savage enough to actually provoke Viking raids. I have heard that argument from Odinists. But Pagan Saxons had harrassed Frankish and Bavarian Christians for one whole Century.

To pretend that the early Middle Ages in the west weren't violent is simpy nonsense and the examples Jenkins gave are unexceptional and totally typical.

There was violence of massacre type and slave hunt type going around. Was it regularly encouraged? No. There was this Council of Meaux that excommunicated slave hunters, especially if sellingslaves to the Caliphate: and French Kings did manage to stop it later on, though perhaps not in Marseille. Nothing like that on the Muslim side. At least not anything Christians could count on.

Getting my point wrong is not furthering your one, where you say: this nonsense that the Crusaders were only "provoked" into violence by the wicked Muslims.

I - Obviously neither Ensifers nor Teutonics were provoked by Muslim violence. Bishop Albert I of Riga founded the Ensifers who later got confirmed by Pope Innocent III, in order to protect Missionaries in those parts.

II - Similarily Geoffrey of Bouillon was obviously not provoked by Pagans around Riga.

III - BUT before the Teutonics more or less took over the Ensifers, they had been to the country where they were fighting Muslims. My point is that longer a war goes on, greater chances are armies involved will imitate each other's brutalities - or that the less brutal army will be more like the more brutal army. In this case, like the Muslim side in Palestine. The much vaunted mutual hospitality between Muslims and Crusaders adds to probabilities.

There are things I have heard about North African fighters after victories from more than one source - one of them a book on anthropology, Dummrath, Der Mensch - which are not at all typical for Western behaviour.

Indeed, Castration is as repugnant I believe to Russians as to Westerners, whether committed by Muslims, Byzantines or Venetians. But Muslim armies in North Africa took it to a point of celebrating victory, and it is part of their traditional penal code. Bringing Regulares to Spain is one of the charges made against him by the then Left Wing.

To the best of my knowledge neither in Palestine on Muslim side, nor in Teutonic colonies by Crusading one were these horrors practised. But they were practised by Muslims further West. In the East you have Hindukush, and up to Teutonics nothing quite like it in the West. Ask veterans from Algeria what they think about your "Muslims were no worse than Christians" thing. You might pass for an admirer of Runciman or something, i e an inveterate anti-Latin.

Tim O'Neill said...

Hans-Georg:

Ask veterans from Algeria what they think about your "Muslims were no worse than Christians" thing. You might pass for an admirer of Runciman or something, i e an inveterate anti-Latin.

This is now starting to get rather weird. I'm on the record as condemning Runicman for his biases, so it's bizarre to accuse me of sharing them. To point out, quite reasonably, that neither the Islamic nor the Christian world were exactly made up of mellow, non-violent pacifist hippies and that cultures in both spheres were violent and warlike and neither were more so than the other is simply stating facts.

And considering we are talking about the Middle Ages, I fail to see what asking "veterans from Algeria" will achieve. Unless, of courswe, I can find a very old veteran from Algeria - ie one who is about 700 years old and campaigned with Chaucer's Knight and "foughten for oure feith at Tramyssene".

If you want to continue your ranting about how evil Muslims are feel free to do so. But you can do it somewhere other than my blog - I'm not a big fan of irrational bigotry. Further crap like that will not be published here. Get a grip.

Jonathan Jarrett said...

I should have checked in a while ago, glad to see you active again Tim, and what a book to start with, an excellent pointer for a subject I've been getting more and more interested in of late and frustrated by the lack of accessible literature on it. However, I can't let you get away with this:

Sorry, but you can't have a church in "England" before the arrival of the English. That's simply nonsensical.

Bede tells us, and archæology appears to confirm, that at least at St Alban's worship was maintained throughout the transition from Roman to English. Similar cases have been made, with scantier evidence, for churches in Canterbury and Lincoln, and more sketchily still, Wroxeter. Carlisle still had a British bishop when the Northumbrians finally took it over in the seventh century. I don't think your category of 'English' can handle the truth here :-) You may need to revise it.

(My apologies for lack of OpenID authentication; as so often these days, I can't get a comment using it through Blogger.)

Tim O'Neill said...

Thanks for your comments Jonathan. But ...

You may need to revise it.

I don't think I will. As I said, to refer to that area as "England" before any English people lived there makes no sense. You're talking about continuity of Christianity in Sun-Roman Britain. It didn't became called "Anglaland" until all those Angles, Jutes and Saxons arrived.

Jonathan Jarrett said...

Well, certainly but my point is that at least some fragments of the Church are continuous between the two. So if you want to talk about the roots of Christianity in England your cut-off point can't be 'nothing before the adventus', because things before are obviously of relevance, whatever name you put to the area.

Tim O'Neill said...

The point I'm making is simply about the "name you put to the area". Calling Sub-Roman Britian "England" is like referring to the American colonies of 1708 as "the United States". It's a silly anachronism and an oddly basic blunder for a professional historian or his editors.

Tim O'Neill said...

Correction: Jenkins didn't make the blunder, it was that Hans-Georg guy.

Jonathan Jarrett said...

My problem is that deciding the question of the existence of an 'English Church' by reference to the name does so against the facts. No, there can have been no English Church before one can usefully talk of England, semantically it's nonsense, yes, your point is fine. But it's only a point about the word, not the history. Consider St Albans. This is a British Church. It remains a Church once that area has passed under the control of the English. It is not the `first Church in England' because other churches are founded under the English before it is taken over, yet it is older than any that might usefully be given that name. And St Martin's Canterbury, if it was actually still operational when Queen Bertha arrived before 597, messes things right up because then what is unquestionably the first English Church is actually older than than any category of England or English! But even if that could, eventually, be demonstrated not to the case there's still St Albans. Do you see why I think this doesn't work? Hans-Georg is right, here at least; there has to be another way of putting it, or else you are thinking about something unhistorical.

In any case, when one starts to look properly, the term 'England', to mean anything like what you mean here, is surprisingly late. We don't see "Engla lond" like that till the eleventh century! So at that rate Bede is also not part of the English Church, because no concept of England! But he knew better, of course, which is why he called his famous book Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

(Word verification is 'ingoring', which seems very much like what is happening in this debate.)

Tim O'Neill said...

No, there can have been no English Church before one can usefully talk of England, semantically it's nonsense, yes, your point is fine. But it's only a point about the word, not the history.

Since the "point about the word" was the only point I was making and since this is pretty bleeding obvious, I have no idea why you are continuing to bang on about something else entirely.

You seem to want to argue with someone about continuity of Christianity from Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England. I hate to break this to you, but that someone isn't me.

Adam Zia Olivo-Khairzada said...

Absolutely amazing literature, Dr. Jenkins has once again enlightened readers; the silk route territory was in the beginning the mission of Apostle Thomas then continued into the Nestorian mission. The Nestorian Church was well established within the Persian Domain; many edicts are well preserved within the Assyrians and Indian church's. Several saints from the east (Persians Saints) in Roman Catholicism were Nestorians Christians from the period of Parthian and later Sassiniad kingdoms.

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