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258 of 286 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Broad, Deep, Important, June 1, 2004
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This review is from: The Reformation: A History (Hardcover)
Academics don't need a review of this book and might not need to read it. However, if you are a student of history, particularly American History, you should read this. If you understand that we are a political/social experiment to test the ideas of the Reformation, this book will show you where this "City on a hill" came from. It will make many Americans aware of how and why separation of church and state is so central to our system. It will give you some food for thinking about what has happened in the past 300 years.
Do you know what a Protestant is? A Roman Catholic? An Anabaptist? Do you have any idea how important Jewish thought was to the Reformation? How did Reformation era thinking inform our political philosophy? Which version of the 10 Commandments is at issue in some schools and government offices? Did you even know that there are at least two "official" versions? This book shows how a million doubts and questions were addressed by some great and courageous thinkers and how the debates changed the world.
In a very direct way, ordinary Europeans began to trust thinking outside the box (Church) during the Reformation. The imperative to put ideas into action was part of the revolution in thinking and drove many communities to gather themselves to remake their societies. Many of them came here. Did you ever wonder why so many religious communities came to colonize North America and were so careful not to allow us to become a Theocracy?
This book manages to show a huge variety of the different trains of thought, all of which are different, all of which fall under the definition of Reformation.
I've studied the history of thoughts and communities MacCulloch characterizes so well here. I am astonished that he dared to write this book and amazed that he pulled it off. I wish I had written it, or that I could have.
It is dense, about 700 pages that will seem like 7000 to some people, but I couldn't put it down. I keep wondering what Erasmus, Luther, Zwingli and my immigrant ancestors would say about 2004. I an sure they would be unhappy that we no longer engage in their level of debate but that can change.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 7, 2012 9:52:11 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 7, 2012 9:53:49 PM PST
Augustiner says:
This review summarizes well the triumphal Protestant narrative of Reformation history: Europeans learned to think outside the box in the Reformation, thank goodness for this leap forward.

Except that so much of Reformation history involves groups that left the big, rather loose box of the Catholic Church for smaller, much tighter boxes. For example, the medieval Catholics celebrated beauty in their art and architecture, but English Puritans shot all the stained glass out of England's cathedrals with musketballs and used the buildings as livestock barns because they thought any human attempt to create beauty was blasphemous. Hence Christ Church at Oxford is the only English cathedral today that still has its medieval stained glass; the churches of Holland and Switzerland fared little better.

These English Protestants were the same thoughtful people that settled on our shores in Massachusetts, and the government they set up there appears far more like a theocracy than much of the medieval world. I'm not saying the medieval world was better, or that there wasn't plenty of good that ultimately came out of the Reformation, but the situation is rather more complex. One can be in the Church and think outside the box - Dante, Aquinas, Petrarch, and Michelangelo all certainly did. The Reformation is the story of religious disunity, not necessarily religious freedom.

And was the medieval box, after all, really so horrible? Sometime after the year 1000, when outside invasions slowed down, western Europe began to vastly outstrip the rest of the world in improvements to quality of life, material well-being, and individual freedom, a process centuries underway before the Reformation dawned. The Church should probably be given some credit for this, if it was as all-powerful as people say. And most European cities, even today, will point to their medieval cathedral as their most proud cultural artifact. Looking at the faceless architecture of now, one asks, does the mind soar as it did then?
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