THE AGE OF REFORM, 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe by Steven Ozment

THE AGE OF REFORM, 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe

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A long, able scholarly survey. Ozment, who recently moved from Yale to Harvard, built his book out of classroom lectures, and--both for better and for worse--it shows it. On the one hand, it's clear, careful, well-documented; on the other, there's nothing especially creative about the way it marshals all the data. Ozment starts from the sensible presupposition that the Reformation ""should be judged above all by its continuity and discontinuity with the Middle Ages, not with the twentieth century""--whence the double-decker structure of the work, as reflected in the subtitle. But the two parts don't fit that smoothly. The medieval chapters take a broad, sweeping view of whole traditions (scholastic, spiritual, ecclesiopolitical), whereas the Reformation chapters concentrate on individual Reformers (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox). Ozment does point out some areas of explicit continuity/discontinuity, e.g., the Disputation Against Scholastic Theology, where Luther assails the Ockhamist notion that mankind has the freedom to initiate its own salvation. Elsewhere, though, he treats his material more or less atomistically (Calvin, Knox). He gives more attention to Luther than to anyone else, and defends him against both psychoanalytic speculation (arguing against Erikson that Luther's critical experience of justification by faith ""auff diser cloaca"" actually took place in the monastery tower room and not, alas, on the toilet) and against Leftist condemnation of Luther's savage attitude towards the German peasant revolt of 1525 (pointing out that all first-generation Reformers objected to revolution and regicide). Ozment's overall view of the Reformation is strongly positive, not to say protective. He ends on the curious note that the Reformers failed only because they demanded too much, calling upon people to live ""simple, sober lives, prey neither to presumption, superstition, or indulgence, merely as human beings."" Well, maybe, but a more secular-minded historian might look for internal flaws in the Protestant vision (centrifugal individualism? bibliolatry?). Despite a few quirks, a superior job.

Pub Date: June 11th, 1980
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press