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Constantinople to Chalcedon: Shaping the world to come by Patrick Whitworth

16 March 2018

John Binns looks at the era of three Councils

THE sub-title of this book, Shaping the world to come, reveals the author’s vision and intention. He suggests that the events of the period that began with the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople I) in 381 and ended with the Fourth (Chalcedon) in 451 brought into being an ordering of Church and State which has persisted thoughout history into our own day. This is the third volume of an ambitious survey of the history of the Church in the first 500 years of its life, and draws the history to a satisfying conclusion.

There are three main kinds of change. The first is the setting up of a new political order, with the end of the Roman Empire and the formation of the emerging nation-states of Europe, and, alongside this, the toleration of Christianity and the engagement of the Church in political life. The second is a theology of God, creation, and grace which was formulated by theologians from North Africa and gave a structure and a theology to Western Churches, both Catholic and later Protestant. The third is the corresponding growth of an Eastern Christianity, with theological controversy that led to lasting divisions, the agreement of the biblical canon and the formation of the monasteries.

Church leaders and theologians had a central place in these movements. Much of the book describes the work of some of these, and full treatment is given to St Ambrose of Milan, St John Chrysostom, St Augustine, and St Jerome, as well as theologians of the East such as St Athanasius and St Cyril of Alexandria. Many readers will learn much about the historical circumstances in which these great figures lived and the theological understandings that they passed on to future generations through their writing. Their work comes at the end of a process by which the Church took shape — and brings it to fulfilment.

The Revd Dr John Binns is Vicar of Great St Mary’s, Cambridge, and an Hon. Canon of Ely Cathedral.


Constantinople to Chalcedon: Shaping the world to come
Patrick Whitworth
Sacristy Press £24.99
Church Times Bookshop £22.50

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