AD 381

AD 381 : Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State

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In AD 381, Theodosius, emperor of the eastern Roman empire, issued a decree in which all his subjects were required to subscribe to a belief in the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This edict defined Christian orthodoxy and brought to an end a lively and wide-ranging debate about the nature of the Godhead; all other interpretations were now declared heretical. Moreover, for the first time in a thousand years of Greco-Roman civilization free thought was unambiguously suppressed. Yet surprisingly this political revolution, intended to bring inner cohesion to an empire under threat from the outside, has been airbrushed from the historical record. Instead, it has been claimed that the Christian Church had reached a consensus on the Trinity which was promulgated at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. In this groundbreaking new book, Freeman argues that Theodosius's edict and the subsequent suppression of paganism not only brought an end to the diversity of religious and philosophical beliefs throughout the empire but created numerous theological problems for the Church, which have remained unsolved. The year AD 381, Freeman concludes, marked 'a turning point which time forgot'.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 272 pages
  • 152 x 232 x 22mm | 358.34g
  • Vintage Publishing
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • map
  • 1845950070
  • 9781845950071
  • 193,144

Review quote

"Even if theology and ancient history are subjects you avoid, you should not miss this book. It's lucidity and critical challenge are a feast for the mind" -- John Carey Sunday Times "Astonishing... Breathtaking... The sad history of heresy-hunting starts here" -- Paul Cartledge "Freeman has a talent for narrative history and for encapsulating the more arcane disputes of ancient historians and theologians" -- Mary Beard Independentshow more

About Charles Freeman

Charles Freeman is a freelance academic and the author of more than five books, including The Closing of the Western Mind (2003), also published by Pimlico, and The Horses of St Mark's (2004). He lives in more

Review Text

A chronicle of one significant year in Christian history.In 381, Emperor Theodosius decreed that all subjects of the Roman Empire were required to believe in the Christian Trinity. That same year, the First Council of Constantinople brought together Christian leaders to codify this belief in the Trinity as correct and accepted doctrine. Historians have taught for centuries that the Christian church harmoniously and all but simultaneously came to the decision that the Trinity was indeed true and orthodox belief, but Freeman (The Closing of the Western Mind, 2003, etc.) emphatically disagrees. Debate over the Trinity and over the nature of Christ was still quite alive during this period, he asserts. Theodosius, largely for reasons of state security, squelched this debate through official edicts, overlaid with a veneer of doctrinal concord through the Council of Constantinople. The author frames his argument as being about the freedom of intellectual debate and the free exchange of ideas. Before 381, he avers, the Greek tradition of open intellectual discourse and the Roman tradition of religious tolerance marked the empire and, indeed, all of the Western world. After 381, both traditions would be extinguished for more than 1,000 years. "The tragedy of Theodosius' imposition and its aftermath lay in the elimination of discussion," writes Freeman, "not only of spiritual matters but across the whole spectrum of human knowledge." He stops short of passing judgment on Theodosius or any of the other personalities involved in this lively period. Instead, he hopes to see them in context, rather than as the two-dimensional characters history has long depicted.Questions remain, but Freeman does a good job in forcing a reexamination of this crucial turning point. (Kirkus Reviews)show more