- Hardcover: 920 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (June 28, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300111924
- ISBN-13: 978-0300111927
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 2.2 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 30 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 1st Edition
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Both the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation of Eire's story are also grounded in the idea of "looking back" in time and attempting to regain the perceived purity and glory of an earlier era. In the case of the Renaissance it was Ancient Greece, and in the reformations (both Catholic and the several Protestant variants) it was primitive Christianity. A critical step in each was to return to foundational texts and "recover" unvarnished truths. Of course, such attempts at change necessarily create tension with those who have a vested interest in the "varnished" status quo or their own version of the truth.
Eire's treatment of Martin Luther is representative of the author's historical sensibility. He writes, "… he was as much a product of change as an agent of it" (p. vii) and, "He was but one of many reformers in his generation, some of whom pressed for more radical changes than he was willing to accept" (p. 131). Luther's relationship to other reformers, both preceding and contemporary, is assayed, as are the conditions that permitted Luther to emerge as a Reformation "rock star" (timeliness of Gutenberg's printing press, rising literacy, popular resentment of the Roman Catholic Church's wealth, powerful prose, and a fractured political situation in the Holy Roman Empire that created safe havens for him). In Luther's case, theology successfully met circumstance (just such intersections are at the heart of history).
Eire uses the concept of fractals to illustrate the nature of the Protestant Reformation. He elaborates, "… the history of the Protestant Reformation can be systematically comprehended only through multiple narratives that parallel each other in time and even mirror each other, but sometimes interlace or branch out" (p. 219). In this telling, history, rightfully, has depth and texture.
Consistent with the above, Eire writes of humanism spread among elites throughout Europe by "diffusion" (p. 86), or with regard to the impulse for Catholic reform he writes, "… [it] had been simmering throughout the Middle Ages …" (p. 128). Descartes, he writes, belonged to an "amorphous movement" (p. 662), while in discussing the Enlightenment (or "enlightenments"?) he likens it to a "rogue wave" (p. 686). Throughout the book we are given the sense that new ideas are seeking receptive minds and when they reach a critical mass, history comes alive. These ideas are expressed through multiple voices, some converging around them, some objecting and holding firm against them, and some just taking a runner. In Eire's prose, history surges and history percolates. His sensibility and tone are impressive.
With historical change there are gains and losses (and sometimes cruel disasters - the recounting of wars of religion leaves me thinking of Hans Sach's monologue, "Wahn! Wahn!" in Wagner's 'Meistersinger'). These gains and losses are the product of our human quest for understanding and the desire for improvement in interaction with our complicated psyches (often leading to unintended consequences), as Eire makes plain.
Appreciating 'Reformations' by Eire involves appreciating the very nature of 'history' itself. It is a reminder that 'history' is complex and hinged on circumstance (which holds value for more than "beginners and nonspecialists"). What it may lack in "cutting-edge" primary research, it more than compensates for with an epic scope and a sophisticated historical perspective.
An appreciation for the complexity of 'history' should translate into an appreciation for the complexity of our 'present' and may, just may, help us to be more tolerant of others, since too often the consequences of self-righteousness and stridency are so dire. Ultimately, shouldn't changed conduct be one of the primary purposes of 'history'?
Now there is one word of caution: this is a long book (about 750 pages of text) and a degree of fortitude is necessary. This is not a breezy read (minor differences over theology can get a bit tedious, even when they could literally mean temporal life-or-death) and I found myself digesting it in smaller bites than I am use to. Nonetheless, this book puts much of what I have read over the years into a more fulsome frame of reference so that, as is often the case, fortitude was rewarded.