Authoritative essays on the Protestant Reformation.
A recently knighted academic and acclaimed author, MacCulloch (History of the Church/Oxford Univ.; Silence: A Christian History, 2013, etc.) presents a variety of pieces on the main currents of the Reformation, published previously in scholarly and literary British journals. Grouped into three areas—Reformation elements traversing Europe, those affecting England, and those considered from a modern point of view—the essays take on large themes such as the Council of Trent, the Tudors, and the making of the King James Bible. The author frequently plunges into academic minutiae that are endlessly fascinating but will sail over the heads of nonscholars—e.g., his examination of angels and the Virgin Mary. Delighted that the subject is gaining new interest by academic researchers, MacCulloch ably conveys a sense of the ideological excitement of the era, when the majority of Western Europeans were jolted by the challenges of Martin Luther in terms of how people had considered death, salvation, and the afterlife and were “convinced that they had been cheated.” The author underscores how cracking the Catholic Church took an enormous force and thus required an equally forceful counterrevolution to meet it. In his essay on John Calvin, MacCulloch shows how he expertly distilled Catholic doctrine rather than consider himself a Protestant; as such, he could be called the fifth Latin doctor of the Church (after Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory). The author’s treatment of the Tudors is masterly, from the reign of Henry VIII, when new rebellious religious identities were emerging and Thomas Cranmer presided over the creation of the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), to Queen Elizabeth I’s delight in the church music of William Byrd and the synthesis of Anglicanism from low and high church elements.
Experts and lay readers alike can pick and choose elements from MacCulloch’s vast store of knowledge.