Tag Archives: europe

Culture Clash: Christian, Secular and Soviet Influences In Eastern Europe

During our trip to Europe in 2022, I was particularly struck by the clashes of culture, particularly in cities like Budapest and Prague. For example, there are beautiful churches in Budapest and Prague. For the most part, churches rise above the skyline, a testimony to the time in Europe when Christianity dominated the cultural scene.

St. Vitus Cathedral, in Prague, Czech Republic, rises above the grand beauty of the Prague Castle at night, a testimony to the Christian era of the Middle Ages.

For example, in Prague, St. Vitus rises above the city in grandeur. I snapped the above photo on a beautiful moonlit night, with the spires of St. Vitus stretching upwards towards the sky overlooking the city. In a previous blog, I posted a photo of the interior of St. Vitus, lit up in the afternoon sunlight streaming in through the stained glass windows filled with Christian art. But less than a mile away, the Prague Metronome stands out for display, but with a different message. The curious history of the Prague Metronome is summarized by a plaque at the metronome’s base that reads, “In time, all things pass…”.

You have to know a little history to get the reference. In the mid-1950s, the Soviets installed a massive granite statue to honor Joseph Stalin. Stalin had grown up in the Russian Orthodox Church, and even spent some time studying in a seminary to train as a priest. However, as an adult, Stalin became a fierce opponent of Christianity. But his hatred of Christianity was eclipsed by his reputation for instilling terror and murdering millions. The monument was the largest statue of its kind in Europe until it was demolished in late 1962. It was so big and bulky that it took 1800 lbs. of explosives to take it down, and the Metronome took its place in 1991, after the decline of the Soviet Union.

To get an idea at how unpopular the Stalin statue was, you would have to know that the sculptor, Otakar Švec, killed himself just a few days before the statue was unveiled to the public. Otakar Švec was so horrified by his own creation, that he chose suicide over the humiliation of seeing his statue unveiled before his fellow Czech neighbors and friends. Strangely enough, the Czech Communists went forward with statue unveiling, only to begin the process of de-Stalinization shortly after the statue’s debut.

The Prague Metronome is a repudiation of Stalin’s ideological fanaticism, but I doubt that it is symbolizes a return to Christianity. Today, around 72% of all Czechs in the Czech Republic describe themselves as being “unaffiliated” when it comes to the Christian faith, the highest level of atheism/agnosticism of any country in Europe. On the bright side, at least there is more religious freedom in the Czech Republic now than there has been in recent generations.

The Prague Metronome took the place of the very unpopular Stalin monument. It was hard to get a closer photo of it, but if you click on the photo, you make it out better, rising just above the hill.

A similar story surrounds the “Liberty Statute” in Budapest, erected by the Soviets to celebrate the liberation of Budapest from Nazi Germany, but which was later reconfigured after the failed Hungarian Revolution of the 1950s that tried to oust the Soviets from power (see photo further down below).

But the specter of failed Marxist experiments are not the only signs of secularization in Eastern Europe. In Budapest, a shrine for singer/songwriter Michael Jackson was erected across the street from the hotel he used to visit, shortly after his death a few years ago. Just a block or so away from the Michael Jackson shrine is the first McDonalds fast food restaurant that opened up in the late 1980s, as the Soviet Union began to fall apart.

Michael Jackson shrine in Budapest.


Prague has its own pop-culture shrine, the so-called Lennon Wall, just down the street from our hotel, in honor of the fallen Beatles member, John Lennon. It is just weird to think that a mentally disturbed, suicidally obsessed, American Christian college dropout, Mark David Chapman, murdered John Lennon in 1980, catapulting John Lennon into secular martyrdom status. The iconic martyrdom status of John Lennon, marked by the graffiti painted on the Lennon wall, far supersedes the memory of another fallen Beatle, George Harrison, who was known for his conversion to Hinduism. Lennon wrote the song, “Imagine,” which is often regarded as a stinging critique of organized religious faith of any kind.

The Lennon Wall, in Lessertown, in Prague, Czech Republic. As I stood around the wall taking photos on a nice fall day, several groups of Beatles lovers would drop by and take photos of themselves in front of this wall.


It makes me wonder what the future of Europe will look like. Will Christianity ever return and dominate the spiritual life of Central Europe? Bible-believers are surely scattered all over cities like this, but they are generally few in number. Pray that they will have the courage to witness for Jesus, and be beacons of hope in such cities that have lost much confidence in Christian churches. Pray that the people of Europe, in places like Hungary and the Czech Republic, who have endured such suffocating ideological oppression, would become more open  to the Gospel.

I will close out this photo essay with some of my favorite pictures of Europe that I took during our trip. Europe can be stunningly beautiful:

Overlooking the Danube, from Buda Castle, in Budapest. The famous parliament building stands at the center.


Evening in Budapest, highlighting the hill where the Soviet’s erected the “Liberty Statue.” Unfortunately, I could not get a closer picture of the statue because the park where the statue is located was closed for renovations. Many locals in Budapest refer to the “Liberty Statue” satirically as the world’s largest bottle opener.


Full moon, on the Danube, in Budapest.


Nothing beats the look of Budapest and the Danube at night.

Christendom Under the Habsburgs in Vienna

In the days when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five-Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, the Holy Roman Empire was the greatest unifying force in all of Western Christendom, under the Emperorship of Charles V. Despite various attempts to heal the rift between Roman Catholics and Protestants, most notably at a meeting (Diet) in 1541 at Regensburg, Germany, the theological split in Europe put the Holy Roman Empire under severe stress.  By 1648, some 130 years after Luther’s protest at Wittenburg, the unity of the Christian West in Europe lay in tatters. What superseded the Holy Roman Empire was the emergence of a single royal family headquartered in Vienna, Austria: the Habsburgs.

My wife and I spent two nights in Vienna during our trip to Europe in 2022. The presence of the Habsburgs’ influence could be felt everywhere.

Bust of Ferdinand II, a leading Habsburg and Holy Roman Emperor from 1619 to 1637, during the Thirty Years War. Photo taken in Vienna, Austria.

The Habsburgs left Europe a checkered legacy. The Thirty Years War, which ended in 1648, had divided Central Europe into many autonomously governing districts. But the Habsburg family remained the primary power broker in the region, adored by some, despised by others. On the one hand, what emerged from the 1648 Peace of Westphalia was a renewed effort to reinvigorate the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation in the various lands ruled by the Habsburgs, and their networks of ruling families, particularly in lands surrounding Vienna, Austria. Along with that renewed Catholicism came the suppression of Protestantism, particularly in Bohemia, and its most prominent city, Prague.

The Habsburgs managed to rule a large chunk of Europe until its final breakup, at the end of World War One. Names like Ferdinand, Leopold, and Maria Theresa pepper the family tree and made their mark on the world (it is a rather complex family tree!). Staunchly Roman Catholic, they were great patrons of the arts. Names like Wolfgang Mozart, Franz List, and Ludwig van Beethoven all gained measures of support from the royal family.

The royal family built some of the most impressive buildings and estates in Vienna. The standout features are the Hofburg Palace, the Habsburg winter estate near the city center of Vienna, and the Schönbrunn Palace, their summer estate on the outskirts of Vienna, both of which were on our tour.

Part of the Swiss Wing of the sprawling Hofburg Palace estate. Vienna, Austria.

The Habsburgs also formed the greatest line of defense against invasion from the Turks, from the Islamic East. For several hundred years, on and off, the Turks laid siege to Vienna, seeing that this city on the Danube River was the gateway to Western Europe. But in 1683, the last and greatest siege was broken, and the Turks were driven back to their territories around Istanbul, in modern day Turkey. In the wake of the upheaval of World War One, the situation is much different now, but the signs of the medieval Austrian/Ottoman conflict remain. At St. Stephens’s Cathedral, one can look up one of the spires and find a cannon ball lodged in the stone, a memory recalling the great battle that took place on September 11, 1683 (Unfortunately, the ball is up so high, I could not get a good photo of it)….. For the curious, the date of the attack on the World Trade Center, in New York City, on September 11, 2001, was not picked by accident. It was intentionally set on that date to recall the events from this final siege of Vienna, centuries ago.

Capistran Chancel, outside of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria. A Franciscan friar under an extravagant sunburst, trampling on a beaten Turk, in response to the 1456 crusade. The Turks made numerous attacks against Vienna until 1683, when the Turks were finally repelled during the last great siege of Vienna.

What was most interesting about our recent trip to Europe was the different responses I got from tour guides when I asked about the legacy of the Habsburg family. In Vienna, glowing reports about the Habsburgs were mentioned as we toured the various palaces that the family owned. In contrast, in Prague, the name of the Habsburg family was largely synonymous with oppression.

Today, with few exceptions, glorious monarchies like the Habsburg family are pretty much a thing of the past. Along with the decline of such monarchies, the Christian influence that animated the spiritual life of the family and their supportive subjects, or infuriated those who despised their enforcement of their religious convictions, has been effectively replaced by secularism. For example, in nearly every church in Vienna that I visited, curious tourists far outnumbered reverential worshippers. Love ’em or despise ’em, the Habsburg family has left a multiple centuries long influence across Central Europe.

The rear view of Schönbrunn Palace, from the far side of the expansive gardens.

Yet despite the conflicted legacy the Habsburgs’ left, they knew how to build some immensely grand buildings, and beautiful gardens to surround them, particularly at the Schönbrunn Palace.


Regensburg: The 16th Century “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” … (That Failed)

Our tour group walking the streets of Regensburg, Germany. Remnants of the old Roman wall, dating back to the era of Marcus Aurelius, are embedded in various buildings throughout this old and beautiful city.

Our tour guide in Regensburg, Germany this past October had given us an excellent overview of this ancient city on the banks of the Danube. It had once been one of the northernmost points of the ancient Roman Empire, dating back to the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. During World War II, Regensburg was one of the few German cities that escaped bombardment by the Allies, in the attempt to defeat the Nazis, which means that much of the city’s history is well preserved.

Still, I was filled with curiosity and asked our tour guide about the Diet of Regensburg in 1541, which was not mentioned during our 2-hour walk through the city.  After the tour was officially over, he kindly took us to the place where this famous dialogue was held, between representatives of the Roman Catholicism elite and the growing Protestant movement of the 16th century. The building where the meeting was held was next to a beautiful, yet unassuming city square.

Haidplatz. In this building, off of this city square (though shaped like a triangle), the Diet of Regensburg took place in 1541. Today, Haidplatz is one of the locations where the popular Christmas Markets are held in Regensburg.


A virtual who’s-who of leading thinkers made the journey to this old city, to see if there was any way to heal the breach between the Roman Pontiff and Martin Luther. Luther’s number one cohort, Philip Melanchthon, as well as Johann Eck, Luther’s papal interlocutor at their famous debate in Leipzig, headlined the conference. But then there was Martin Bucer, the Reformation leader from Strasburg, along with Cardinal Gasparo Contarini, a leading Roman Catholic theologian, who sympathized much with the Protestants. Even a young John Calvin was in attendance.

The stakes were high. Unlike today when doctrinal debates among Christians might lead to church splits, where two or more groups simply agree to move along their own separate ways, confessional unity in 16th century Europe impacted more than just determining what church you would attend. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, wanted the Christian peoples of Western Europe be of one accord in political allegiance, and political allegiance was drawn on church confessional lines.

While the followers of the Papacy and the followers of Luther squabbled with one another, a threat had been continuing to emerge from the east. The Islamic Turks had captured the famed Byzantine Christian city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453, and they were moving towards the west, in hopes of ultimately conquering Vienna, Austria, which was the gateway into the rest of Europe. Charles V was anxious that some acceptable theological/confessional solution be reached in order to contain the Turkish threat. A Europe with divided churches might not be able to stand against this looming threat from the east.

On top of the external threat, concerns internal to Western Christendom weighed heavily among Europe’s political leaders. What would become of the church lands scattered across the regions where Protestantism was gaining ground? According to some scholars, somewhere around 7% of the land in central Europe, on average, belonged in some fashion to the church: Would the Protestants lay claim to much if not all of the land being contested, or would the Roman church still retain title? It was a recipe for war within Christendom. It was a mess.

According to Peter Matheson’s Cardinal Contarini at Regensburg, which chronicles much of the story behind the 1541 proceedings at Regensburg, Charles V was willing to accept some form of toleration of Protestant beliefs within the empire. However, the official legate representative of Rome, Gasparo Contarini, was hoping for something more that just “toleration.” Contarini envisioned a start towards formal reunion among the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, at least by embracing what he considered to be certain essentials of “Catholic” faith.

Way behind the gate, behind me, is a painting on the wall, marking the spot where the Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders tried to hammer out a peace solution between the two different theological camps.


Remarkably, both sides in the dialogue came to a number of conclusions that were in agreement with one another. For example, both the doctrines of creation and sin were discussed, and met with substantial agreement by both sides (It would only be until the Council of Trent took place that different theological conceptions of sin and sanctification would stiffen the divide between Protestants and the Roman Church). Surprisingly, a formulation regarding the doctrine of justification was agreed upon by all parties present.

So far, so good.

However, there were a few main sticking points that kept the conference itself from being a full success. First, there was the nature of Scriptural authority. What had the final say, the Bible itself, or the magisterial teaching authority of the Bishop of Rome?

The two sides were unable to agree. This was probably the biggest deal breaker, but the issue of the Eucharist made for another huge obstacle. A lesser dispute over the sacrament of confession and penance was another.

Sadly, even if the conference were to come to a full agreement on everything, the chances of the Diet’s success turned out to be slim. Luther himself was suspicious of the Diet, thinking that it was a waste of time and would not be fruitful, and the office of the Roman Catholic Pope pretty much thought the same way. In other words, the Diet of Regensburg might have been doomed before it even started.

The reputations of some of those who worked hard towards reunion suffered in the wake of the failure at Regensburg. On the Protestant side, Martin Bucer’s legacy was tarnished in the eyes of more entrenched Protestants, for trying to give too much of certain Protestant principles away at Regensburg, particularly on the doctrine of justification.

On the Roman Catholic side, while a frustrated Cardinal Contarini had ultimately and regrettably rejected the Protestant counter-proposals in contrast to his own, Contarini’s efforts at reunification with the Protestants were viewed as compromise among hard liners at the Vatican. Contarini died the year after the Diet of Regensburg. One can only speculate that the stress of being caught in middle of this dispute contributed to his death at age 59. As the conflict wore on through the mid-16th century, the Roman Catholic/Protestant divide only got wider.

Few today even know about the Diet of Regensburg. For example, I have yet to find an English translation of the full transcripts of the Diet available in print or online.


Zooming in on the photo above:  Roughly translated, the wall painting which features Melanchthon and Eck on either side reads: “in this house doctor phil melanchthon and doctor johann eck led their famous religious discourse during the imperial diet in 1541”


Neverthless, the Diet of Regensburg serves as a reminder of the importance of theological dialogue, in order to try to preserve the unity of the church, and work through theological disagreements.

But perhaps the timing was just all wrong….

Let us speed up some 450-ish years….

In 1994, the Lutheran-turned-Roman-Catholic theologian and First Things magazine editor, Richard John Neuhaus, and evangelical Protestant leaders, including Prison Fellowship’s Charles Colson and theologian J.I. Packer gathered together to hammer out a joint statement entitled Evangelicals and Catholics Together. That meeting was sort of like the 20th century version of the Diet of Regensburg. Out of those series of meetings, the joint statement noted points of agreement between Protestant Evangelicals and Roman Catholics in areas of doctrine as well as marking out common causes that both parties can work towards in promoting Christian concepts of culture. Evangelicals and Catholics Together has had their supporters, as well as their detractors.

Not too long after my wife and I returned from Europe, another session of Evangelicals and Catholics Together had met again and released an updated statement, 2022 Evangelicals and Catholics Together. This new statement is more about sharing a common vision of what it means to be Protestant Evangelical and Roman Catholics together in an age which has seen incredible culture shifts over the last ten years or so. Surely, the same type of criticisms that plagued the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement, as well as the 1541 Diet of Regensburg, are still there. What is perhaps new this time around is that the dominant mode of Western culture in the 21st century appears to be at odds with certain core assumptions about cultural life shared by both Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. In other words, Roman Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals have their serious points of disagreement, but both parties have far less in common with the trajectory that secular culture is taking. We have come a long way since the era of a divided Christendom in 16th century Europe.

Is this a new opportunity to try to heal the rift between Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism that the Diet of Regensburg tried to tackle (and eventually failed)? Time will tell.

For more on the Diet (or Colloquy) of Regensburg, read more about it from this previous Veracity blog post.

Crossing over the Old Stone Bridge, looking towards the old city center of Regensburg. Hundreds of tourists, mainly from the Danube-Rhine cruise ship industry, were in town the day I snapped this photo, and listened to this street musician crank up his battery-operated guitar outfit to play Led Zeppelin songs.

Europe’s Grand Cathedrals…. To the Glory of God

By far the most impressive thing I appreciated during our trip to Europe this year was the grandeur of Europe’s cathedrals. They really are amazing.

Two architectural styles dominate Europe’s grand churches. The medieval Gothic-style, features soaring buildings, with flying buttresses, and pointed towers, all directing thoughts and gazes heaven-ward. The more recent Baroque-style has more rounded towers. Still all of these buildings are massive, and they dominant every traditional European city we visited.

In Regensburg, our first port along the Danube River, St. Peter’s Cathedral soars above your head.

St. Peter’s Cathedral, Regensburg, Germany. I only noticed the street lamp until AFTER I took this photo!

Inside, St. Peter’s is a bit darker than any of the other Gothic cathedrals visited, but the stained glass is simply breathtaking.

Interior of St. Peter’s Cathedral. Regensburg, Germany.


Contrast this with the Baroque exterior of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau, Germany. I simply could not find a way to get the entire church within the frame of my phone’s camera!!


St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Passau, Germany.


Inside of St. Stephen’s, you will find the world’s largest church organ in the world, existing outside of the United States. My wife and I were treated to a wonderful organ recital, that they have nearly everyday an 12 Noon.

Largest church organ in the world, outside of the U.S. St. Stephen’s Cathedra, Passau, Germany.


Size can really be deceptive, too. When we were in Vienna, Austria, we visited another St. Stephen’s Cathedral, in the center of the city. What is pictured here is not the central nave, but rather a nave off to the right side of the church, looking towards the altar.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria. Right-hand side nave.


The artwork and attention to detail really astonished me. I could spend hours just exploring the art inside these churches.  In the oldest church in Budapest, Hungary, The Inner-City Mother Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, I discovered this mural which had been buried behind earlier artwork, that has only recently been discovered. The earliest features of this church date back to the early Romanesque period, which predated the Gothic movement.

Inner City Parish Church in Pest (Budapest, Hungary). During the Islamic period, this church was converted into a mosque, and then converted back to a church when the Turks were driven out of Hungary.


But to me, the most wonderful part of these churches are the stained glass. Here at the Prague Castle, in the Czech Republic, St. Vitus Cathedral greeted my camera/phone on a sunny afternoon. My phone’s camera simply did not do justice to what I saw with my own eyes.

Interior of St. Vitus Cathedra, Prague, Czech Republic.


On the other hand, there are plenty of smaller churches in Europe, that may not be as stunning, but that still inspire people with interesting architecture, particularly at night. Here is a rather interesting church, Chiesa Del Varó O Della Visitazione, in Taormina, Sicily. Taormina is perched up on a hill, but in this photo, you can see other dwellings further up the hillside, with even a cross lit up at very top, even if it is really small in the photo (if you click on the photo, you can see that cross).

Chiesa Del Varó O Della Visitazione. Taormina, Sicily.


It is terribly sad that so many of Europe’s churches are filled more with tourists today than with genuine worshippers of Jesus. But a visit to anyone of these churches can still be an inspiration for the believer to find a place where they can give glory to God.

This week, Christians all over the world celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation. As I marvel at the beauty of so many wonderful cathedrals and churches in Europe, that I toured this year, it draws myself into a deeper sense of worship of Jesus, the Messiah who has come at Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all!


Dan Jones: Powers and Thrones, a New History of the Middle Ages

In preparation for our 20th wedding anniversary trip to Europe, I knew I had to bone up on some of my Europe Medieval history. The popular British historian, Dan Jones, known for his tattoos on his forearms, had last year published “a New History of the Middle Ages,” as he subtitled it, Powers and Thrones. It did not disappoint.

The Middle Ages are often erroneously called the “Dark Ages,” but that description is not fair. A lot happened during the time span that Dan Jones covers between the sack of Rome in 410, and the later sack of Rome in 1527.

That 1,000+ year period is filled with Romans, Barbarians, Byzantines, Arabs, Franks, Monks, Knights, Crusaders, Mongols, Merchants, Scholars, Builders, Survivors, Renewers, Navigators, and Protestants, as Jones lays out in his chapters. The primary reason the label “Dark Ages” is still hard to shake off is because we have less written sources to work with during the first half of that era, as compared to the previous era of when the Roman Empire was at its greatest.

Yet Dan Jones manages to tell an engrossing story, giving the reader the flow of this immensely important era of European history. I gained a better appreciation of how just brutal the Monguls were, while ironically and simultaneously prefiguring the current age of cultural pluralism. Who knew that many medieval Christians at first mistakenly imagined Genghis Khan to be a new “King David,” who might push back against the scourge of the growth of Islam? But most interestingly, climate change, technological revolution, and pandemics play a significant part in the whole story, topics that sound eerily contemporary post-2020.

Veste Oberhaus, a castle overlooking the city of Passau, Germany, on the Danube River. The current structure was built in the late 15th century, and hosts a marvelous museum today. (photo credit: Clarke Morledge)

During our trip to Europe, I saw plenty of castles and cathedrals, resulting from the great building programs Jones describes from the medieval period. Admittedly, I did see attestation to the darkest sides of this period, as evidences of anti-semitism abounded in nearly every major city my wife and I visited. But the 16th century marks a clear break in Europe’s history, as any visitor to continental Europe can confirm. Beyond the fall of the Roman Empire, it could be fairly stated that the coming of Martin Luther, the age of the printing press, and the exploration of the Americas signaled the end of the Middle Ages.

Alas, as with any sweeping survey of history, I have some complaints with Dan Jones retelling, from my Protestant evangelical perspective. The work of any historian is by the very nature of the field selective, and so how the story is framed tells you a lot about the worldview bent of the historian.

Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most influential Christian preachers during the early 12th century, and one of the most saintly figures of the age, comes across as wholly hostile to academic freedom in his condemnation of the progressive theology of Peter Abelard. I got the impression that the Christian movement somehow suddenly discovered for the first time the value of women under the reign of the 6th century Byzantine emperor Justinian, through the influence of the empress Theodora. Towards the end of the book, Christopher Columbus initially comes across as an insightful missionary to the American peoples, only to be revealed eventually as a liar and colonialist oppressor, willing to use every underhanded means necessary to gain converts…. and profits. The ultimately secular orientation of Dan Jones implies that just about for every minute advance of Christianity in the medieval world along with it came a devastating catastrophe for at least someone.

To be fair, the doctrinal controversies with the Christian church, in an era when religious commitments were tightly welded to political realities, often had horrific consequences. The fact that Alaric, the Hun who first sacked Rome in 410, the seat of the orthodox papacy, was a professing anti-Nicene-anti-Trinitarian Arian Christian does make one think twice about the theological role Trinitarian thought plays in Christianity today, something that most Christians never even consider. Pair that with the fact that Holy Roman Emperor Charles V employed Lutheran-sympathizing German mercenaries in his 1527 sack of Rome, then you get the sense that the theological conflicts within Christianity even today carry with them great power to indelibly change the lives of many people.

Nevertheless, the advantage of reading such a broad history as found in Powers and Thrones is that it inspires one to dig into some of the stories Dan Jones brings up in greater detail to gain a better understanding of historical context. Consider the story of empress Theodora, noted briefly above, and her efforts to encourage her husband, the 6th century Byzantine emperor Justinian, to uphold the value of women. Though Theodora had the history of being a prostitute, having come from a very lower class background, she became a big advocate of marriage, viewing it as the “holiest of all institutions,” a tip towards her Christian convictions as empress. Roman law was changed to allow marriages between men and women of different social classes. Dowry was described as being “strictly necessary,” in contrast to a more traditional view that made dowry essential to marriage. Justinian’s law stated that “mutual affection is what creates a marriage.” Justinian and Theodora made it more difficult for men to divorce their wives for frivolous reasons. The killing of adulterous wives was strictly forbidden.

These type of legal reforms may seem obvious to us today, but in the 6th century, these ways of elevating the status of women were unheard of in any comparable civilized society. This was a clear indication that far from being anti-woman, the Christian movement that had only gained cultural ascendancy a mere two hundred years earlier had managed to reshape popular Roman views of women, that would have scandalized the earlier cultures of Roman paganism. It would have been more helpful if Dan Jones had given the reader more context here, but I am glad that in reading Powers and Thrones it encouraged me to dig a little deeper into the historical context myself.

But such critique of a general historical survey is to be expected and should not in any way diminish the artful way that Dan Jones tells his “new history.” Powers and Thrones entertains just as well as it educates. This is a fantastic historical survey of an immensely important time period, and a good model for how such sweeping histories should be done. Highly recommended. Dan Jones also narrates the Audible audiobook version, which makes it even better. A good way to spend about 25 hours worth of time, such as I did, including on a long plane flight to Europe!

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