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The Reformation Paperback – March 25, 2005

4.0 out of 5 stars 111 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Diarmaid MacCulloch wrote what is widely considered to be the authoritative account of the Reformation—a 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 era—Luther, Zingli, Calvin, Loyola, Cranmer, Henry VIII and numerous popes—MacCulloch 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 As a historical document, this 750-page narrative has all the key ingredients.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 sensible—starting 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 Christianity—showing how this historical era influences modern times. MacCulloch is a topnotch historian—uncovering material and theories that will seem fresh and inspired to Reformation scholars as well as lay readers. --Gail Hudson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014303538X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143035381
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
While I have had a long-term love of history, my understanding of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries has always been sketchy and superficial.
It went something like this: (1) the Catholic Church allowed people to buy their way into heaven (via indulgences); (2) this made Martin Luther mad so he challenged the church by nailing his position on the door of the church (and he also wanted to get married) and so did John Calvin; (3) Henry VIII wanted a divorce but the pope wouldn't let him (which made him mad); (4) therefore, lots of Protestant churches came into being; and (5) the Puritans were part of one of them and they discovered America.
The truth of these statements was murky and the causal relationship between them was harder for me to understand than the theory of relativity.
I have a feeling I'm not alone. I knew it was all important, but trying to put it all together was beyond by ability. Well, now none of us need to do it alone, because Professor MacCulloch has written a history of the Reformation that is encyclopedic in scope and brilliant in its exectution. He fills in the gaps and clears up the many misconceptions.
This is not an easy book to read. But while MacCulloch doesn't make it easy, he avoids the jargon of the professional historian. That said, this is not a casual beach read--it demands a careful and thoughtful reading. And the rewards are great. For the first time, I have a real clue why the reform movement took off is so many ways and in so many places. I have a far better idea of the relationships between and among men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Cramner and so many more.
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Format: Hardcover
In many ways, Diarmaid McCullouch's account is a useful, thorough guide to the Reformation, which starts in the aftermath of the Hussite controversy, the end of the Babylonian captivity, the rise of Humanism and the reconquest of Spain, and which ends with the Glorious Revolution, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and with the beginning of the Enlightenment. MacCulloch is careful to remind the reader to take seriously the religious passions of the period and avoid the enormous condescension of the secular present. For here was a period where both Catholics and Protestants emphasized the absolute need for faith in Jesus as well as the need for moral behavior and increased discipline. In the battle of faith over works, Protestants emphasized the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Romans, while Catholic emphasized the Gospel of Matthew and the Epsitle of James. Whereas Catholics only had the Eucharist once a year, the Scottish Calvinists emphasized a more rational devotion, such that parishioners could now expect to take it twice. Instead of obeying the Pope, Protestants emphasized thier new ecclesiastical hierarchies. For these differences people were slaughtered from Drogheda to Magdeburg.

MacCulloch's main virtue is thoroughness. This is a history of the Reformation that covers almost all of Western Christianity. Not merely do Britian, France, the Netherlands and what is now Germany all play their parts, but we also get special sections on the suprisingly cosmopolitan culture of late 16th century Poland, the Protestant redoubt that was then Transylvania, as well as accounts of the Counter-Reformation in Italy and Spain.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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