A History of Christianity

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A History of Christianity is a historical study of the Christian religion written by British journalist and author Paul Johnson. The book was published in 1976 and aims to be a factual comprehensive history of the Christian religion. Johnson, a Roman Catholic, takes the view that "During these two millennia Christianity has, perhaps, proved more influential in shaping human destiny than any other institutional philosophy, but there are now signs that its period of predominance is drawing to a close, thereby inviting a retrospect and a balance sheet." (vii). He argues for the need to focus on an unbiased factual history: "Christianity is essentially a historical religion. It bases its claims on the historical facts it asserts. If they are demolished it is nothing." (vii) "A Christian with faith has nothing to fear from the facts." (viii)

As a factual history, the book is not an apologetic defense of the religion and presents a hard-lined discussion of many of the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity. Johnson admits such in the Epilogue, saying his book "has necessarily stressed [Christianity's] failures and shortcomings, and its institutional distortions." But, also in the epilogue, Johnson makes the case that Christianity is self-correcting, with an "outstanding moral merit to invest the individual with a conscience, and bid him to follow it" and states "it is thus no accident that all the implantations of freedom throughout the world have ultimately a Christian origin." (516)



The book is divided into eight parts with a prologue, epilogue, bibliography, and index.

He ends discussing the possible ending of the millennial long East-West Schism. How far the ending of schisms within Christianity will go is to be seen.

...the argument about the control of the Christian Church is almost as old as Christianity itself; and it may be that it will continue so long as there are men and women who assert that Christ was God, and who await the parousia. Perhaps it is part of the providential plan that the organization of Christianity should be a perpetual source of discord. Who can say? We should remember the words of Saint Paul, towards the end of his letter to the Romans, the key document of the faith: 'O depth of wealth, wisdom, and knowledge in God. How unsearchable his judgments, How untraceable his ways. Who knows the mind of the Lord? Who has been his counselor?' (514)


Malcolm Muggeridge, writing in The New Statesman, described the book as 'masterly..[combining] great wealth of scholarship, with a vigorous, confident style," and Alan Brien in The Sunday Times called it " vivid, colourful, clear and often at once impassioned and witty. His history should not be left to students and scholars [-] This is a treat for the general reader." [1]

Despite the title "History of Christianity" the book is mostly devoted to history of western christianity. The eastern orthodox churches are given almost no attention.


  1. ^ Back page reviews, taken from Penguin edition, 1990 ISBN 0-14-013484-0

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