Christendom at the Crossroads: The Medieval Era Book Review
In Christendom at the Crossroads: The Medieval Era, James A. Sheppard investigates the establishment of the Christian theology in the medieval times. The author studies different aspects related to theology at that period of time including the political organization, leadership, scholarship, events, and controversies. The author investigates the crossroads between the early church and the Protestant Reformation that were linked together by the Apostles’ Creed. Sheppard clearly shows that the Apostles’ Creed is the only important aspect that connected the two groups in Christianity.
As the author portrays, the church was a very important institution in the medieval era as it was at the center of important institutions such as political, economic and scholarship institutions. The author uses the Apostles’ Creed to show the organization of the church at that point in time. It is clearly captured in the table of contents of the book that is organized into eight chapters reflecting the creed. Sheppard looks at the use of the value of the Apostles’ Creed throughout the medieval period to show the historical development of the church. For instance, he shows that the Creed was developed as an ancient Roman affirmation of faith. However, its use in different centuries shows the changes in Christian though. For example, the Cree was used by the church leaders to teach converts the basics of Christianity in the fourth century, as a statement of belief in worship during the eight century and as an official statement of the church in the thirteenth century. All these show the changes in Christian thought in the medieval times. The book focuses on the questions that address the issue of the existence of God as seen by the reasoning of medieval scholars and the mystical experiences of medieval theologians trying to prove the existence of Jesus. Sheppard has used the classification of Early and Late Middle Ages to show the progression of the Christian thought over that time. Here, political, social, cultural and economic history are linked with the development of Christian thought as shown in the book, for instance, in the times of feudalism and under the leadership of people such as Theodosius and Constantine, who made Christianity a state religion. The importance of the church to the ruling class in medieval times is clearly shown through the fact that the rulers introduced administrative laws, polity, and hierarchy in the church. The development of the monasticism institute during the medieval times is also captured in the book as an institution that guaranteed the church power and influence in the society. The author finally shows the changes that happened to the church in the sixteenth century to be an aspect reflecting the importance of the medieval era in the development of Christian thought.
The first strength of the book lies in the manner in which it is organized. The author has arranged the contents of the book in a systematic and chronological manner. For example, the author uses the first chapter to define terminology and help the reader to understand important concepts and the philosophical developments that explain the Christian thought in the Middle Ages. After this, the chapters are organized according to the Creed. The Creed explains the historical and cultural development of Christian thought through the Middle Ages reflecting the changes and the controversies that occurred. In the last chapter, the author discusses the protestant reformation in the sixteenth century and links it back to the Middle Ages showing the development of the Christian thought over time. This organization helps the author support and defends his thesis as he develops the thesis from one aspect to the next.
The second strength of the book regards the fact that the author integrates politics with the church to help develop and defend his thesis. In the Middle Ages, politics and the church were both important and powerful social institutions. Many controversies of the church regarded power and political interplay inside the church hierarchy. The author addresses some of these controversies in his book. Therefore, including politics in the discussion of the Christian thought in the medieval times helps the author clearly point out the major theological controversies during the Middle Ages thereby supporting his thesis.
Despite the strengths of the book, it has several drawbacks, first, the author writes the book in a historical manner that makes it difficult to believe all the assertions he makes. It is difficult for the reader to prove that the information in the book is objective rather than subjective because there is no scientific method used in presenting the information. The author gives information of Christian thought in an extended period and does not refer to a trustworthy source. It makes the book appear less objective because it is not clear whether he omitted some pieces of information or whether he made false assertions. Therefore, it is difficult for the author to objectively support or defend his thesis.
Secondly, despite the fact that the author includes a lot of information in the book to cover a major area that relates to the thesis, this is disadvantageous. It is because it means that the author only takes some pieces of information that relate to the thesis and leaves out other information that could help the reader understand the theme of the book. For example, in addressing the influence of politics on Christian thought, the author includes information of more than 20 leaders from the fifth century to the fourteenth century. It is possible that the author does not include other important pieces of information, therefore, weakening the development of the thesis. Moreover, looking at the personal lives of monks and friars is irrelevant in a text that covers a wide period in looking at the development of Christian thought. Therefore, this makes it difficult for the author to adequately support and defend his thesis.