The Forge of Christendom

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2010-06-01
  • Publisher: Anchor
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In AD 900, few would have guessed that the splintering kingdoms of Christendom were candidates for future greatness. Hemmed in by implacable enemies on three sides, and by ocean on the fourth, it seemed that the Christian people had nowhere to turn. Indeed, there were many who fearedcast in the Millennium's shadowthat they were nearing the time when the Antichrist would appear, drowning the world in blood and heralding its end. But the Antichrist did not appear, and Christendom did not collapse. Instead, forged from the convulsions of those terrible times, there emerged a new civilization as the Christian people set to the heroic task of building a Jerusalem on earth themselves. With an epic sweep that transports us from the crucifixion to the First Crusade, and from the glitter of Constantinople to the bleak shores of Canada, Tom Holland'sThe Forge of Christendomis a brilliant study of a truly fateful revolution: the emergence of Western Europe for the first time as a distinctive and expansionist power. It was the age of Otto the Great and William the Conqueror, of Caliphs and Viking sea-kings, of hermits, monks, and serfs. It witnessed the spread of castles, the invention of knighthood, and the founding of a papal monarchy. Above all, it brought people to fear that the end days might be at hand, and yet alsowith an effort so prodigious that it has the power to move us stillto invent themselves anew. A momentous achievement: for this was nothing less than the founding of the modern West. It is an epic story that Tom Holland renders with the narrative skill and wide-angled scope of a novelist and the careful scholarship a historian. It will transform its readers' conception of the origins of the Modern West.

Author Biography

TOM HOLLAND gained the top degree at Cambridge before earning his Ph.D. at Oxford. He is the author of the critically acclaimed works of history Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Empire and Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West


The Return of the King
The Whore of Babylon
"All these will I give you," said Satan, showing Jesus the kingdoms of the world, "if you will fall down and worship me."1 But Jesus, scorning empire, refused the temptation. And Satan, confounded, retired in great confusion; and angels came and ministered to the Son of Man. Or so, at any rate, his followers reported.
The kingdoms shown to Jesus already had a single master: Caesar. Monarch of a city which had devoured the whole earth, and trampled it down, and broken it to pieces, "exceedingly terrible,"2 he swayed the fate of millions from his palace upon the hill of the Palatine in Rome. Jesus had been born, and lived, as merely one of his myriad subjects. The rule proclaimed by the "Anointed One," the "Christ," however, was not of this world. Emperors and their legions had no power to seize it. The Kingdom of Heaven was promised instead to the merciful, the meek, the poor. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."3 And Jesus -- even facing death -- practised what he had preached. When guards were sent to arrest him, his chief disciple, Peter, "the rock" upon whom it had been prophesied that the Church itself would be built, sought to defend his master; but Jesus, healing the man wounded in the ensuing scuffle, ordered Peter to put up his weapon. "For all who take the sword," he warned, "will perish by the sword."4 Dragged before a Roman governor, Jesus raised no voice of complaint as he was condemned to death as an enemy of Caesar. Roman soldiers guarded him as he hauled his cross through the streets of Jerusalem and out on to the execution ground, Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. Roman nails were hammered through his hands and feet. The point of a Roman spear was jabbed into his side.
In the years and decades that followed, Christ's disciples, insisting to the world that their master had risen from His tomb in defiance of Satan and all the bonds of death, not surprisingly regarded the empire of the Caesars as a monstrosity. Peter, who chose to preach the gospel in the very maw of the beast, named Rome "Babylon";5 and it was there that he, like his master, ultimately suffered death by crucifixion. Other Christians arrested in the capital were dressed in animal skins and torn to pieces by dogs, or else set on fire to serve the imperial gardens as torches. Some sixty years after Christ had departed from the sight of His disciples, a revelation of His return was granted to a disciple named John, a vision of the end of days, in which Rome appeared as a whore "drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs," mounted upon a scarlet beast, and adorned with purple and gold -- "and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: 'Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth's abominations.'"6 Great though she was, however, the doom of the whore was certain. Rome would fall, and deadly portents afflict mankind, and Satan, "the dragon, that ancient serpent,"7 escape his prison, until at last, in the final hour of reckoning, Christ would come again, and all the world be judged, and Satan and his followers be condemned to a pit of fire. And an angel, the same one who had shown John the revelation, warned him not to seal up the words of the prophecy vouchsafed to him, "For the hour is near."
But the years slipped by, and Christ did not return. Time closed the eyes of the last man to have seen Him alive. His followers, denied a Second Coming, were obliged to adapt to a present still ruled by Caesar. Whore or not, Rome gave to them, as to all her subjects, the fruits of her world-spanning order. Across the empire, communities of Christians spread and flourished. Gradually, step by tentative step, a hierarchy was established capable of administering these infant churches. Just as Jesus had gi

Excerpted from The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West by Tom Holland
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