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Christianity and the SecularChristianity and the Secular

Robert A. Markus

Narrated by Gordon Greenhill

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Notre Dame Press

The history of Christianity has been marked by tension between ideas of sacred and secular, their shifting balance, and their conflict. In Christianity and the Secular, Robert A. Markus examines the place of the secular in Christianity, locating the origins of the concept in the New Testament and early Christianity and describing its emergence as a problem for Christianity following the recognition of Christianity as an established religion, then the officially enforced religion, of the Roman Empire.

Markus focuses especially on the new conditions engendered by the Christianization of the Roman Empire. In the period between the apostolic age and Constantine, the problem of the relation between Christianity and secular society and culture was suppressed for the faithful; Christians saw themselves as sharply distinct in, if not separate from, the society of their non-Christian fellows. Markus argues that when the autonomy of the secular realm came under threat in the Christianised Roman Empire after Constantine, Christians were forced to confront the problem of adjusting themselves to the culture and society of the new regime.

Markus identifies Augustine of Hippo as the outstanding critic of the ideology of a Christian empire that had developed by the end of the fourth century and in the time of the Theodosian emperors, and as the principal defender of a place for the secular within a Christian interpretation of the world and of history. Markus traces the eclipse of this idea at the end of antiquity and during the Christian Middle Ages, concluding with its rehabilitation by Pope John XXIII and the second Vatican Council. Of interest to scholars of religion, theology, and patristics, Markus’s genealogy of an authentic Christian concept of the secular is sure to generate widespread discussion.

Robert A. Markus is professor emeritus of medieval history at the University of Nottingham.


“At a time when the proper boundaries between the sacred and the secular are contested as never before, Robert Markus offers a subtle and persuasive analysis of the roots of this distinction in early Christian theology, including especially, but not only, the writings of Augustine.... The resulting work is a historically grounded, theologically sophisticated defense of the proper autonomy of secular public life, its autonomy from religious control, and its place as a legitimate sphere for Christian activity.”

Theology Digest

“Markus interweaves his discussion of late antiquity with current debates about the relationship of the Church and the world, showing vividly that the questions of culture and inculturation, of the right relationship with the world, of the secular, secularization and desecularization, with which the Church currently grapples, are not new. Markus’s interpretation of Augustine will no doubt find detractors, but he shows persuasively that Augustine’s thinking has much to contribute to current debates.”


“Markus ... has been preoccupied with the church’s relation to the secular for forty years; his erudition has produced this compact, meaty, and insightful volume. This book will appeal to church historians, sociologists interested in religion, lay Christians interested in the relation of their faith to society, and theologians concerned with ecclesiology.”

Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

“These lectures will not only assist the reader in dealing with the present situation regarding the secular and its relationship to religion, but will place the topic in context beyond the sociological/historical studies in which these arguments are usually framed. The role of Augustine here is extremely important, and students of Augustine will appreciate Markus’ contribution here.”

Catholic Library World

“The central argument of the book ... is that the ‘Christian tradition has a legitimate place for the autonomy of the secular’, meaning that Christians need not subject all social, political, or cultural institutions to distinctly religious views.”

First Things

Christianity and the Secular ... is a fascinating and informative survey of Christian history and the pervasive influence of Christianity on secular society.”

Library Bookwatch

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University Press Audiobooks