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The Reformation: A History Paperback – March 25, 2005
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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 As a historical document, this 750-page narrative has all the key ingredients.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 --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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 the Library Binding edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
MacCullouch does a fine job of balancing the views and actions of Catholics and all the versions of Protestants that arose from the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The core of the argument between these two varieties of Christianity is whether the Bible should be the go-to guide (Protestant) or whether the Church's teachings are of primary importance (Catholic). Of course, like all human endeavors, religion, politics, economics, art, and personality cults all play their role in history.
This is an area of history that I've generally avoided, as my area of interest is nineteenth-century England and technology. But when I realized that I wasn't understanding some social issues because their roots lie in the Reformation, I signed up for a graduate-level Renaissance and Reformation class. MacCullouch's book is one of several on the reading list, but the only one aimed at the Reformation.
At first glance, this 708-page text (plus notes, bibliography, and index) looks overwhelming, especially if you have to read it in a short amount of time, such as in a class. But I found the professor's writing style to be very clear and it wasn't a chore to read the book. I had so many "aha!" moments when reading this book I can't begin to list them here.
Some other reviewers have complained that this single book cannot span the historical and intellectual range of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and they're right. No single book or author could accomplish that. But what MacCullouch has done is to write a very readable single volume that introduces many of the themes of that history. He does not focus on a single individual, although some, such as Luther, were certainly very important in the history of the Reformation and are mentioned much more than once. That is to be expected, but it doesn't detract from the quality of the material, and it doesn't mean that MacCullouch never writes about anyone else. He does.
What perhaps was most helpful to me was the last chapter, which summed up some of the current-day arguments over religious beliefs, both in America and Europe, and pointed out how they are just ongoing examples of what amounts to a continuation of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. If you have any curiosity about this era or want to understand the breach between Catholicism and Protestantism, this book is an excellent first choice. Just be forewarned that, while this book is not exceedingly difficult, neither is it a "dummies" book, and you should come to it knowing a little history in order to get the most out of it. Don't be put off by the sheer size of the book.
I say "hard going" because it there are many unfamiliar and changing geographic boundaries and a multitude of Princes, Popes, Kings and Bishops. Yet the author still finds time to inject humor and point out many of the inconsistencies in the competing dogmas. Book will be thought provoking for Christians and non-Christians alike. Extremely well researched. If you get bored you can jump ahead to the section on witchcraft and sex.
Overall, I give the book three stars because there is a lot of good information in the book.