Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Latourette's A History of Christianity, Volume I

I picked up a copy of Kenneth Scott Latourette's A History of Christianity, Volume I: Beginnings to 1500 at a used bookstore a year or two ago, and its place has finally come up in my queue. I have to say it was quite a chore to read and extremely disappointing. There's a lot I don't like about the book, so I'm not sure where to begin. First, Latourette has such a pro-Christian bias that it is hard to separate out his judgments based on an objective analysis of the facts from his judgments based on his own personal religious beliefs. This is tied into a second major problem: there's no footnotes or other citations, which means that the reader has no idea whether any given assertion is well-grounded in historical fact or scholarship. Third, Latourette likes to make extremely broad generalizations and has no tolerance for conflicting evidence or interpretations of history. He accepts, uncritically, that everything in the four gospels are historical fact, has little interest in discussing why certain texts were canonized in what today we consider the Bible and others weren't, spends just a handful of pages on the Crusades, writes barely a single page on the Inquisitions, and makes a pathetic attempt to explain away Christian support of slavery as having offered "dignity" to the working man (p. 246). For what it's worth, I can say the book has a thorough (if boring) discussion of monasticism and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Still, suffice it to say, I have no interest in picking up Volume II.

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