- A History of the Church in the Middle Ages
The success of The Da Vinci Code has a special meaning for historians of Christianity. It points to the importance of history, even in mythological and legendary form, to satisfy the fundamental relationship between story and human understanding. What is perhaps most interesting is that considerable effort is being devoted to serious discussion of this most recent resurrection of conspiracy theory. Still, we can take some consolation that this period has witnessed a modest increase in courses devoted to church history and in the number of general works on the topic. Also, the field has been undergoing a quiet revolution, from an exclusive emphasis on ecclesiastical governance and doctrinal disputes to an interest in the Church as it touched the lives of people. F. Donald Logan's work reflects this trend.
I have often thought that the best church history is found in the "Acts of the Apostles" and the Epistles and that this should serve as a model for modern historians. It is a delight to see scholars moving in that direction. Of course, Logan gives ample space to topics like the conversion of Constantine, Justinian, Pope Gregory the Great, the Carolingians, the papacy, and the Great Schism, but he also has sections on popular devotion, Peter Abelard, universities, and a whole [End Page 293] chapter on death and purgatory. But it is in the tone of his work that we find his effective use of narrative and his eye for illustrative detail and apt quotations. It seems important to learn that Pope Alexander VI was knowledgeable about Greenland and was aware that the Christians there tried to preserve their faith even though they had had no bishop or priest for eighty years. A similar story in more modern times is told about the Japanese Christians who survived a long period of isolation. When we tell the story of the Church, these episodes deserve serious examination. It is one of the strengths of Logan's book that he works to capture the flavor of a topic as well as the facts. For him, the relationship between Abelard and Heloise is very human. He contrasts the passionate tone of Heloise's letters with Abelard's reply. "How cold his response must have seemed when, in reply, he merely counselled her to pray."On the other hand, Innocent III, who receives a detailed treatment focusing on relations with secular rulers, the crusade, and the Fourth Lateran Council, never comes to life in the same way. This is the most extensive treatment of any pope and reflects Logan's adherence to conventional views. Given the extensive work done on Innocent III in recent years and the image of Innocent that has been emerging, this treatment inevitably falls short. On the whole his treatment of the papacy neglects important new research that provides much more dynamic and engaged pictures of the popes. An exception is the considerable space he devotes to Pope Nicholas V's efforts to restore Rome after the period of long neglect in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and his founding of the Vatican Library, an effort not appreciated by his successor, Calixtus III.
There is considerable merit to this volume, and it will prove useful to both students and teachers. A new edition will provide opportunity for revisions. One problem stands out. Logan approaches the Church from a northern European perspective. This is evident in interpretations as well his organization of the materials. Christianity was, however, a Mediterranean religion. The Church reflects this fact, though the Latin Church's ties to northern Europe have obscured this reality to a considerable degree, especially as a result of the Protestant Reformation. As the Latin Church has moved away from its eastern roots, its history has become more separated from the eastern Churches. The western Church even up to the fifteenth century remained much more conscious of its relationship to the eastern Churches than was the case after the Reformation. I suggest that...