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A history of the reformation V.2
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Diarmaid MacCulloch wrote what is widely considered to be the authoritative account of the Reformationa critical juncture in the history of Christianity. "It is impossible to understand modern Europe without understanding these sixteenth-century upheavals in Latin Christianity," he writes. "They represented the greatest fault line to appear in Christian culture since the Latin and Greek halves of the Roman Empire went their separate ways a thousand years before; they produced a house divided." The resulting split between the Catholics and Protestants still divides Christians throughout the Western world. It affects interpretations of the Bible, beliefs about baptisms, and event how much authority is given to religious leaders. The division even fuels an ongoing war. What makes MacCulloch's account rise above previous attempts to interpret the Reformation is the breadth of his research. Rather than limit his narrative to the actions of key theologians and leaders of the eraLuther, Zingli, Calvin, Loyola, Cranmer, Henry VIII and numerous popesMacCulloch sweeps his narrative across the culture, politics and lay people of Renaissance Western Europe. This broad brush approach touches upon many fascinating discussions surrounding the Reformation, including his belief that the Latin Church was probably not as "corrupt and ineffective" as Protestants tend to portray it. In fact, he asserts that it "generally satisfied the spiritual needs of the late medieval people." As a historical document, this 750-page narrative has all the key ingredients. MacCulloch, a professor of history as the Church of Oxford University, is an articulate and vibrant writer with a strong guiding intelligence. The structure is sensiblestarting with the main characters who influenced reforms, then spreading out to the regional concerns, and social intellectual themes of the era. He even fast forwards into American Christianityshowing how this historical era influences modern times. MacCulloch is a topnotch historianuncovering material and theories that will seem fresh and inspired to Reformation scholars as well as lay readers. --Gail Hudson
From Publishers Weekly
Many standard histories of Christianity chronicle the Reformation as a single, momentous period in the history of the Church. According to those accounts, a number of competing groups of reformers challenged a monolithic and corrupt Roman Catholicism over issues ranging from authority and the role of the priests to the interpretation of the Eucharist and the use of the Bible in church. In this wide-ranging, richly layered and captivating study of the Reformation, MacCulloch challenges traditional interpretations, arguing instead that there were many reformations. Arranging his history in chronological fashion, MacCulloch provides in-depth studies of reform movements in central, northern and southern Europe and examines the influences that politics and geography had on such groups. He challenges common assumptions about the relationships between Catholic priests and laity, arguing that in some cases Protestantism actually took away religious authority from laypeople rather than putting it in their hands. In addition, he helpfully points out that even within various groups of reformers there was scarcely agreement about ways to change the Church. MacCulloch offers valuable and engaging portraits of key personalities of the Reformation, including Erasmus, Luther, Zwingli and Calvin. More than a history of the Reformation, MacCulloch's study examines its legacy of individual religious authority and autonomous biblical interpretation. This spectacular intellectual history reminds us that the Reformation grew out of the Renaissance, and provides a compelling glimpse of the cultural currents that formed the background to reform. MacCulloch's magisterial book should become the definitive history of the Reformation.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com
The subtitle here is surely wrong, if only by one word. This isn't merely "a history" of the Reformation, but rather "the history." One would be hard put to imagine a more detailed, even-handed, clearly written account of the religious controversies of the 16th century. By comparison, G.R. Elton's Reformation Europe (1963) reads like a brisk, albeit elegantly composed, précis. If you have more than a passing interest in the advent of Protestantism and the Catholic response to it, this is your book for the spring.
And for the summer. And possibly the autumn as well. Diarmaid MacCulloch -- professor of history at Oxford and author of a much-honored biography of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Henry VIII's chief episcopal lieutenant -- knows everything about the theological and ecclesiastical life of this time, and he doesn't want to shortchange any of its complexities. In the first three quarters of his in-depth survey he focuses appropriately, if somewhat austerely, on intellectual currents and questions of dogma, resisting the seduction of mere anecdote. But in his last section MacCulloch turns his attention to what it was actually like to live through this period of upheaval, emphasizing the new views of the family, sex and marriage.
In other words, this is a serious work of scholarship, and the casual page-turner will need to slow down. But he or she will be rewarded for the requisite effort.
To begin with the most obvious: It is startling how much the first half of the 16th century calls to mind the 21st. Islamic jihad threatens the West, even laying siege to great cities like Vienna (in 1529). Central Europe -- the Holy Roman Empire -- is divided into warring and bloodthirsty factions. There is widespread racial and religious distrust, often leading to military action and ruthless ethnic cleansing (the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, the forced conversion of its Jews, the burning of heretics). Arrogant civic leaders behave like swaggering bravos wholly convinced that God is on their side, or even in their pocket. New communications technology -- the printing press -- speeds the dissemination of information and subversive ideas. Visionaries like Savanorola and John Calvin call for a total recasting of society, a return to fundamentalist principles and a rejection of the modern world's gross secularism. Other dogmatists, fanatics and martyrs arise, reinforcing the era's disorientation, pervasive uneasiness and latent hysteria. Inevitably, extremism results in heavy-handed government regulation and a call for order from the lofty ecclesiastical powers that be. More and more people choose to die for principles and beliefs that strike an outsider as utterly trivial, if not insane. It is widely believed that the world is coming to an end.
Against this backdrop of overheated thinking, genuine piety and violent action, MacCulloch tracks the principal contemporary force-fields. He spotlights the mundane as well as the mystical. When printing replaced the laborious hand-copying of manuscripts, scholars unexpectedly discovered more time to think for themselves, to move beyond a reflexive veneration for the past. Early on, the crafty humanist Erasmus adumbrated the key problem that still divides Christians: "Did the Bible contain all sacred truth? Or was there a tradition the Church guarded, independent of it?" Luther and Calvin derived their views on predestination -- that God has chosen in advance who will be saved and who damned -- from that pessimistic pillar of the Church, St. Augustine,who said neither good works nor human merit had any necessary pull with the Lord above.
Indulgences -- get-out-of-purgatory-sooner cards -- may have infuriated Luther, but what truly marked the Protestant world-view was the doctrine of predestination, very darkly so in the case of the profoundly intelligent though dour John Calvin. Predestination, writes MacCulloch, "was part of Calvin's growing conviction that he must proclaim the all-embracing providence of God in every aspect of human life and experience. . . . Calvin was perfectly aware that the determinism of divine predestination was 'dreadful indeed' to humanity. Moreover, like most believers in predestination (Luther and Augustine included), he felt that only a minority would be saved. . . . Calvin was not prepared to put a figure on the proportion of the saved, varying his estimates for artistic effect from his habitual estimate of one in a hundred to one in twenty, or even one in five in more generous moods. He was also very wary of saying that people could be certain of their own election, let alone identify others among the elect."
MacCulloch -- himself a lapsed Scottish Episcopalian, still mildly nostalgic for its humane culture -- tries to understand the beliefs of everyone in his cast of hundreds, from the most devout to the most deluded. He admires many Catholic thinkers -- in particular, Cardinal Reginald Pole -- but rightly deplores the fanatic stupidity of several heirs to St. Peter's throne. Pope Paul IV "was a good hater, and his hatreds ranged from the trivial to the profoundly politically important. He hated nudity in art, and famously commissioned a forest of fig leaves for the sensuous religious painting and sculpture of Renaissance Rome, including Michelangelo's forty year old frescos on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He hated Jews, and confined the Jewish communities of the Papal States for the first time in ghettos and made them wear distinctive yellow hats. He hated the independent spirit of the Jesuits. . . . Above all, Paul's old loathing of Spaniards was undiminished: They had stolen Italy, and he would do his best to see them expelled. It was not merely the Society of Jesus that suffered for its Spanish associations: Paul detested the Hapsburgs who ruled Spain. So amid the crisis of the Catholic Church, a pope regarded the devoutly Catholic Holy Roman Emperor and King Philip of Spain not as the Church's best defenses but among its chief enemies, and he behaved accordingly. . . . Overall, it is no exaggeration to see Pope Paul's behavior as lunatic."
Though the mid-century Council of Trent, MacCulloch contends, established important new dogma for the Counter Reformation, many of its edicts simply led to an augmentation of papal power, leaving the Vicar of Christ the principal decision-maker on questions of faith.
On the other hand, MacCulloch rather admires the Jesuits, not only for their persistence, shrewdness and energy, but for their selflessness and devotion to teaching. "If anything turned back the tide of noble and popular Protestant advance it was this Jesuit offer of high-quality education, employing a curriculum decided at the international level and so guaranteeing an international standard of excellence. Small wonder that the elites began sending their children to such schools, their ambitions for their children often outweighing their suspicion of Catholic indoctrination, and small wonder that the children so educated increasingly turned to Roman Catholic belief."
Ranging from the Atlantic Islands to the Polish-Lithuanian empire, MacCulloch's ambitious history nets all the great and famous, and not only Luther and Calvin: Hus, Zwingli, Cranmer, John Knox, Cardinal Borromeo (known for his "emaciated joylessness"), Melanchthon, Elizabeth I, Savonarola, Ignatius Loyola, Robert Bellarmine, our own Baptist dissenter Roger Williams and even Renaissance polymaths like Michael Servetus, Paracelsus and Giordano Bruno. MacCulloch points out that in Zurich the evangelical Zwingli employed elections and a tiered structure of civic legislation -- and thus provided a model for later forms of secular government. He reminds us that the purity and beauty of Luther's German and Calvin's French contributed more than a little to the success of their message. And in what was for me a startling passage, MacCulloch stresses the key importance of the metrical Psalms in spreading the Protestant wake-up call. They were "the secret weapon of the Reformation." Written in the vernacular, encouraging singing, whether communal or individual, loaded with observations and dicta for every occasion, psalms could be "redeployed . . . to articulate the hope, fear, joy, and fury of a new movement." A murmured phrase could hint at a world of meaning, a few bars of melody might affirm one's outlawed belief.
Not unexpectedly, MacCulloch likes to linger on the excesses and successes of that "triumph of Lent over Carnival," the Scottish church or, rather, kirk. But he also points to the entertainment value of church-going -- highly theatrical sermons as the social events of the week, how for many Protestants a growing belief in angels replaced Rome's devotion to the saints. After he tells us the crude Catholic taunt to Protestants -- "Where was your church before Luther?" -- MacCulloch doesn't overlook the even cruder rhetorical question of Pope Paul V: "Do you not know that so much reading of Scripture ruins the Catholic religion?" In fact, Catholics wishing to study a vernacular Bible required special permission from their local bishop. In 1596 the Roman Index actually banned the vernacular Bible completely. "Bibles were publicly and ceremonially burned, like heretics. . . . As a result, between 1567 and 1773, not a single edition of an Italian language Bible was printed anywhere in the Italian peninsula."
Religious conviction during the Reformation lurched from committee-like wrangling over minute points of theology to an ecstatic surrendering -- Alleluia! -- to the spirit of the Lord. One form of this latter enthusiasm, called devotio moderna, was "an intense, introspective and creatively imaginative mode of reaching out to God," one that led eventually to the visions of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. Such mysticism found philosophical reinforcement in Plato's newly fashionable theories about the self and the nature of things: The Greek thinker had been largely unknown to the Middle Ages, and it wasn't until scholar-refugees from Byzantium (fallen to the Turks in the 15th century) started translating his work into Latin that people began to glimpse connections between Platonism and Christianity.
To the agnostic reader the Reformation often seems "vandalistic, meanminded or money-grubbing," and even the sympathetic may come away from this magisterial book saddened yet again by the horrors perpetrated by spiritual arrogance and human intolerance. So much waste, destruction and bloodshed over the nature of the Eucharist, the virginity of Mary, the doctrines of prevenient grace or predestination. Yet as MacCulloch properly emphasizes, "Few people in modern Europe now understand how urgent these arguments were in the sixteenth century. That urgency gave rise to what has been called 'theological road rage,' and we have viewed many of the dire consequences. Europeans were prepared to burn and torture each other because they disagreed on whether, or how, bread and wine were transformed into God, or about the sense in which Jesus Christ could be both divine and human." He adds, "We have no right to adopt an attitude of intellectual or emotional superiority, especially in the light of the atrocities that twentieth-century Europe produced because of its faith in newer, secular ideologies. Anxiety and a sense of imperfection seem to be basic components of being human, for those of no religion as well as the religious. Some continue to call the answer to these miseries by the name of God."
The Reformation is a learned, enlightening and disturbing masterwork, and likely to become the standard one-volume history. Not least among its virtues, the book faithfully reflects the variousness and confusion of the times, when it was hard to distinguish the madman from the future saint. Then religion inspired nobility of soul, personal sacrifice and spiritual seriousness -- but also the Inquisition, the destruction of much art, beauty and learning, the puritanizing of the human spirit, and every form of fanaticism. On the one hand, Teresa of Avila; on the other Tomás de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor. Alas, matters aren't much different now -- only the names, geographies and particular beliefs have changed. In the end, one really can't help but wonder: Is this game worth the candle? I do know that if the Last Judgment ever comes, God as well as mankind will have a lot to answer for.
In this masterful history, Diarmaid MacCulloch conveys the drama, complexity, and continuing relevance of these events. He offers vivid portraits of the most significant individualsLuther, Calvin, Zwingli, Loyola, Henry VIII, and a number of popesbut also conveys why their ideas were so powerful and how the Reformation affected everyday lives. The result is a landmark book that will be the standard work on the Reformation for years to come. The narrative verve of The Reformation as well as its provocative analysis of American cultures debt to the period will ensure the books wide appeal among history readers.
Catholic is clearly a word a lot of people want to possess. By contrast, it is remarkable how many religious labels started life as a sneer. The Reformation was full of angry words: Calvinist was at first a term of abuse to describe those who believed more or less what John Calvin believed; the nickname gradually forced out the rival contemptuous term Picard, which referred to Calvins birthplace in Noyon, in Picardy.1 No Anabaptists ever described themselves as Anabaptist, since Anabaptist means rebaptizer, and these radical folk believed that their adult baptism was the only authentic Christian initiation, with infant baptism signifying nothing. Even that slippery term Anglican appears to have been first spoken with disapproval by King James VI of Scotland, when in 1598 he was trying to convince the Church of Scotland how unenthusiastic he was for the Church of England.2
One of the most curious usages is the growth of the word Protestant. It originally related to a specific occasion, in 1529, when at the Holy Roman Empires Diet (imperial assembly) held in the city of Speyer, the group of princes and cities who supported the programs of reformation promoted by Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli found themselves in a voting minority: To keep their solidarity, they issued a protestatio, affirming the reforming beliefs that they shared. The label Protestant thereafter was part of German or imperial politics for decades, and did not have a wider reference than that. When the coronation of little King Edward VI was being organized in London in 1547, the planners putting in order the procession of dignitaries through the city appointed a place for the Protestants, by whom they meant the diplomatic representatives of these reforming Germans who were staying in the capital.3 Only rather later did the word gain a broader reference. It is therefore problematic to use Protestant as a simple description for sympathizers with reform in the first half of the sixteenth century, and the reader will find that often in this book I use a different word, evangelical. That word has the advantage that it was widely used and recognized at the time, and it also encapsulates what was most important to this collection of activists: the good news of the Gospel, in Latinized Greek, the evangelium.
Reformation disputes were passionate about words because words were myriad refractions of a God whose names included Word: a God encountered in a library of books, itself simply called the Bookthe Bible. It is impossible to understand modern Europe without understanding these sixteenth-century upheavals in Latin Christianity. They represented the greatest fault line to appear in Christian culture since the Latin and Greek halves of the Roman Empire went their separate ways a thousand years before; they produced a house divided. The fault line is the business of this book. It is not a study of the whole of Europe as a whole: It largely neglects Orthodox Europe, the half or more of the continent that stretches from Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Ukraine through the lands of Russia as far east as the Urals. I will not deal with these except when the Orthodox story touches on or is intertwined with that of the Latin West. There is a simple reason for this: So far, the Orthodox churches have not experienced a Reformation. Back in the eighth and ninth centuries many of them were convulsed by an iconoclastic controversy, which hinged on one of the great issues to reappear in the sixteenth-century Reformation. But in the case of the Orthodox, the status quo was restored and not partially overthrown as it was in the West. We will return to this issue of images frequently in the course of this book.
My subject, then, is the Church that, when united, might most accurately be described (though clumsily and in narrow technical ecclesiological jargon) as the Western Church of the Latin Rite; I shall more commonly call it the western Church or the Latin Church, and refer to the culture that it sustained as Latin or western Christendom. Latin was inherited from the western Roman Empire formally dismantled in 476; Latin remained the language that united the peoples of this society, and in which they made their official approaches to God. During the sixteenth century this western society, previously unified by the popes symbolic leadership and by possession of that common Latin culture, was torn apart by deep disagreements about how human beings should exercise the power of God in the world, arguments even about what it was to be human. It was a process of extreme physical and mental violence. The historian of the German Reformation Peter Matheson compares the effect to the strategy of Berthold Brecht in his plays: Brecht talked of alienation, verfremdung, a process of making the familiar unfamiliar in order to shock his theater audiences into taking control of their perceptions of what was going on in the drama. The reformers, suddenly finding the pope to be the devils agent and the miracle of the Mass the most evil moment in their earthly experience, would have known exactly what Brecht was trying to say.4
The resulting division between Catholic and Protestant still marks Europe west of the lands of Orthodox (Greek, Russian, and oriental) Christianity, in a host of attitudes, assumptions, and habits of life that distinguish, for instance, the remaining territories of Protestant Prussia from neighboring Catholic Poland, or the Protestant Netherlands from the Catholicism of the modern kingdom of Belgium. Sometimes the two communities nurse ancient grievances side by side, as in Northern Ireland. The Protestant communities, which for a variety of reasons and motives cut themselves off from Rome, also cut themselves off from many possible devotional roads to God, because they saw such routes as part of Roman corruption. In one sense, therefore, the Reformation conflicts stifled diversity. Rome closed down options by the decisions of the Council of Trent; Protestants, too, were anxious to weed out rival versions of Protestantism where princes and magistrates gave them the chance, and they also rejected many alternatives suggested by more radical spirits. Yet that very cutting down of options heightens the sense of difference between Catholic and Protestant Europe, because of the rival tidinesses that this process of sifting created. The decay of actual religious practice in Europe during the last century makes it all the more urgent a task to explain the reasons for Europes continuing diversity. The common Latin inheritance of Catholic and Protestant, besides and beyond their sixteenth-century quarrels, is the shaping fact of European identity, but it has become a divided inheritance.
Both the division and the original inheritance continue to shape Europes effect on the rest of the modern world, for the story of the sixteenth-century Reformation is not only relevant to the little continent of Europe. At the same time as Latin Christian Europes common culture was falling apart, Europeans were establishing their power in the Americas and on the coasts of Asia and Africa; so all their religious divisions were reproduced there. Because the two first great powers to embark on this enterprise remained loyal to the pope, the early story of Europes religious expansion is more about Catholics than Protestantswith one huge exception. In the United States of America, Protestantism stemming from England and Scotland set the original patterns of identity, and the diversity within English Protestantism achieved a new synthesis. American life is fired by a continuing energy of Protestant religious practice derived from the sixteenth century. So the Reformation, particularly in its English Protestant form, has created the ideology dominant in the worlds one remaining superpower, and Reformation and Counter- Reformation ways of thought remain (often alarmingly) alive and central in American culture and in African and Asian Christianity, even when they have largely become part of history in their European homeland.
This book has no room to describe the ways in which European religion was transformed in these new settings, but it seeks to alert the reader to the different sources of the modern worldwide religious mixture, and how western Europe began exporting its ways of worshipping God to other continents. It will tell a story, to begin with and as far as possible, as an interwoven narrat...
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