Owen Chadwick’s history of Christianity is an old-fashioned, straightforward narrative, but it is never a lockstep chronological series of Great Events and Great Persons. To be sure, there are many great events and great persons, but what saves this book from being a retelling of “one damned thing after another” is Chadwick’s graceful and vigorous prose and his willingness to interrupt his narrative for excursuses on small but lively points about the Christian tradition. In a section on saints, for example, he explains how the nimbus (the halo or corona) evolves in Christian art; he comments on the rise of the confessional box; and he finds time to muse on the use of bells in the Christian church.
A History of Christianity
by Owen Chadwick
St. Martin’s, $35, 304 pp.
Chadwick’s story is enhanced by illustrations drawn from the long history of Christian art. Many of these illustrations are in full color and placed so as to shed light on the text. When I got this modestly priced volume, I spent a rainy Saturday morning just turning the pages and looking at the art, pausing now and again to read one of his brief essays on this or that topic. In short, the book is an excellent browse, but it could also serve as a more formal introduction to church history. Perhaps the publisher might think of a soft-cover edition that could find...