Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Excellent Empire, by Jaroslav Pelikan

Jaroslav Pelikan, The Excellent Empire: The Fall of Rome and the Triumph of the Church, 1987 Harper and Row

In his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon described the end of the Roman Empire as the "triumph of barbarism and religion." He blamed Christianity for the decline of the great empire. In this series of lectures, the historian and Orthodox convert, Jaroslav Pelikan responds to this famous assertion. He does so by surveying various perspectives on the Roman Empire among the Church Fathers. Their views range from seeing the downfall of the Empire as an apocalyptic judgement to more positive Christian evaluations of classical civilization.

Pelikan does not quite achieve his purpose. He never really provides an alternative explanation of the fall of the Roman Empire to counter Gibbon's view. However, the book is thoughtful and very well written. This is the work of a man of letters writing about other men of letters for the pleasure of men of letters.

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