The Christian World: A Social and Cultural History of Christianity. edited by Geoffrey Barraclone]. Thames & Hudson f19.95.
The riches of Christendom rest easily on the secular coffee table, and there is always the danger that. in poring over glossily reproduced illuminated manuscripts, we shall forget the strange. radical ideas that inspired them. Here is a magnificent volume that does not fall into the trap: The
Christian World, first published as a hardback as long ago as 1981 and now a welcome paperback, combines gorgeously coloured icons and paintings with scholarly essays.
How many coffee-table books can boast Steven Runciman and Owen Chadwick among their contributors? The former writes. as one might expect, on "The Greek Church and the peoples of Eastern Europe"; his contribution is extremely elegant, though inevitably out of date: he wonders how far the Russian hierar
chy can continue to compromise its integrity in order to escape persecution. (Though one might argue that, although now free from persecution, its integrity is still not beyond question.) Chadwick gives us "Christianity and industrial society". He attaches due weight to Catholic social teaching. but shows his Anglican colours from time to time: he describes Rerum Novarum as "one of the few great papal pronouncements of the modern era" — but. remember, he was writing before John Paul the Great got into his stride.
Adrian Cunningham on contemporary Christianity makes a very good point. "The past impact of Christianity on Europe has been so profound that there are obvious grounds for doubt about the survival of the humane strengths of that culture with Christianity now in a position of declining importance." If that was true 20 years ago, how much more it resonates today.