Diarmaid MacCulloch “does not conceal his preference for secularism.”

CWR’s sister publication, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, has a number of new book reviews posted, including a lengthy review of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s best-selling 2010 book, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. It is reviewed by Fr. Brian Van Hove, S.J., a regular contributor to both CWR and HPR. Fr. Van Hove begins:

According to Catholic tradition, faith is a gift. The author’s cultural background is Low-Church or Evangelical Anglicanism. But this is a heritage and not a theological virtue.

Diarmaid MacCulloch is professor of the History of the Church in the theology faculty at St Cross College, Oxford. Professor MacCulloch proclaims himself a skeptic, although he writes with the zeal of an apostate. His is a paradoxical mixture of both skepticism and appreciation of religion, especially Christianity. At times, he reveals classical Greek tastes which are benevolently pre-Christian, though he has been shaped by the Enlightenment. His erudition permits him to indulge freely in refined, urbane scoffing. And his erudition is considerable.

Why is this important? Because all writing emerges out of a tradition; 1 no author can be fully original. Perhaps, he could have written a shorter work had he not considered the subject a formidable one. In over a thousand pages, he writes about Christianity—not as a Christopher Dawson (d. 1970), or a Paul Johnson, or a Hubert Jedin (d. 1980), or a James Hitchcock, 2 who, each of them from within the subject, wrote histories of Christianity and the Church. Nor are these religious historians ever quoted. Anglican—especially Owen and Henry Chadwick—and various, and often liberal, Christian historians—including Richard P. McBrien and Hans Küng—do appear among the “Further Reading” selections, beginning on page 1098. 3 John W. O’Malley, Eamon Duffy, and John McManners are a few of his more favored historians.

He says that Edward Gibbon, who wrote a celebrated Enlightenment-era history in seven volumes, 4 “had a fine eye for the absurdities and tragedies that result from the profession of religion.” 5 The author does not conceal his preference for secularism. One can say that MacCulloch is a thoughtful, post-Enlightenment writer who knows more about Christianity than most Christians, including the clergy. Yet another reason for us to posit that faith is a gift, although we must observe that, some without this gift, at times strenuously defend the Church and the Christian tradition. 6

Read his entire review, along with several other reviews, at HPRweb.com. Fr. Van Hove’s review of Dr. James Hitchcock’s new book, History of the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 2012), will be published by CWR later this year.

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About Carl E. Olson 1220 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.