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A Bishop's Tale: Mathias Hovius Among His Flock in Seventeenth-Century Flanders Paperback – April 1, 2002
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It would be difficult to overstate the pleasures of this book. Its historical method is unusually accessible and sophisticated. ("In seeking to understand a world long past, we found it highly illuminating to begin with a single human being rather than a large abstraction such as 'society.'") Its style is straightforward and novelistic, with a wealth of detail that humanizes its exotic subjects. (For instance, the archbishop had "no protruding hairs on his upper lip, lest while celebrating Mass he obstruct the blood of Christ.") Even individual sentences often display a stunning, wide-angled perspective on individual events. (An explosion "sent stones rocketing up to two miles away, flattened houses, damaged churches, killed 300 people, wounded 150, and decapitated fish in the river.") And its characters--monks, nuns, millers, peasants, saints, who incidentally illustrate major themes of the Reformation-- are vital and ribald and doomed and striving. Harline and Put say they chose to write about the Reformation because of "its massive rupturing of a seemingly eternal premise of Christianity: that it was one." In an afterword, Harline and Put explain that "Never before had there been such widespread teaching, preaching, and fighting over souls, or such excellent preservation on paper of these efforts. Rich documents are often the fruit of zeal." The authors' own zeal to show readers the world of this bishop has created a very rich book about Reformation Christianity. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Yet, despite all the book's cleverness, I grew increasingly uncomfortable while reading. Harline and Put have written a book on religious life in late 16th/early 17th century Europe. Still, I have not read much about religion. In fact, in this book, religion comes out as a very mechanical thing. We read about cardinals, nuncios, priests, rituals, processions, pilgrimages etc. But we do not get a glimpse of what it could have meant to *be* a Christian in this particular time in history. We do not read how Hovius (could have) *lived* his religion. We get no sense at all of a religious feeling which - unlike today - must have been overly present everywhere. Instead, the narrative is littered with much misplaced irony on the nature of christianity or even religion. Harline and Put consider the Catholic Church as nothing more than a big bureaucracy. Hovius, travelling around his bishopric, is portrayed as the 16/17th century version of a district area manager of Coca Cola, trying to reach his production quota for next year, and fighting to protect his market share against competitors. The book is a product of the 21st century. It might easily be used as a leadership guideline, to be read by management consultants and managers.