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The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid…

The Reformation: A History (2004)

by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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After finally finishing this book, I was really tempted to give this only a 1 star or 2star. This is because this book is clogged with too much information and written in such a dry manner as to make it very difficult to read. However, i did learn something from this book and although i was only interested in the political, military and diplomatic history of the reformation, this book gave me so much more. It would painstakingly explain to the reader everything about the history of the reformation, including cultural history, social history and all the religious doctrines that originated from the reformation. This makes it a complete history and would have been the best book on the subject had it not been for the way it was written and organized. ( )
  zen_923 | Feb 6, 2018 |
I found this a difficult read. The topic is vast - two centuries of European history, with side trips the New World, India, China and Japan. The first half of the book is ostensibly a history of the times; the problem is it jumps around geographically and historically to the extent that it's very confusing unless you already are well grounded in Eurpean history for the 16th and 17th centuries. There's also something about the writing style that I couldn't quite put my finger on but that made things hard to follow. And although the period is populated by fascinating characters - Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Erasmus, Cramer, Xavier, Borromeo - none of them gets a linear biography - you find out a little about Calvin in one chapter, then a little more in the next, and so on.

That being said, this is fascinating stuff. There are all sorts of little quirks and details - I never realized that the Transylvanians were Lutherans, or that "effeminate" once described men who were thought to be excessively interested in heterosexual sex.

Several things come through to me:

One is that we have a tendency to think of cultures temporally separated from ours, especially cultures of our ancestral heritage, as "people just like us"; perhaps not having the benefits of automobiles, television, People magazine and Starbucks, but nevertheless people that we could easily relate to assuming there were no language barriers. Historical novels always seem to take this as a given, with 12th Century Scots inevitably behaving like Manhattan yuppies in tartans. In fact, this is a "given" in the modern liberal outlook (I mean "liberal" in the classic sense here, not the modern political sense): that our ancestors would cheerfully embrace the virtues of democracy, religious tolerance, women's rights and free market economics if only they were exposed to them. I admit I am as prone to this belief as the next guy; it just seems "right" somehow; something every intelligent person should see, regardless of when or where they live. It becomes apparent, instead, that if I had time-travelled back to visit my distant ancestors in Reformation Germany and tried to explain things to them, I most likely would have been burned alive. If thus for our own culture across time, why not for different cultures across space? It does not bode well for the situation in the Middle East.

A second result is the reinforcement of something I already knew - there have been and are now a lot of people who take religion very seriously indeed. A lot of my liberal friends (now I'm using "liberal" in the modern sense) just "don't get" faith and its implications. Yet the most caricatured fundamentalist Bible-thumper of modern editorial cartoons is nothing compared to people of the Reformation, who were quite willing to kill their neighbors over whether or not they had communion rails in their church. I willing to bet if you asked the average American what happened during "the Reformation", they would say there was a liberalization of religious attitudes (assuming they even knew what the "Reformation" was, since modern schools can't teach anything, history or otherwise, that has anything to do with religion). The actuality was, of course, the reverse - 200 years of religious warfare. Modern liberals tend to see religious belief as just another political/economic choice - something that is easily negotiable to accommodate current politics. And if the faithful refuse to negotiate, that just indicates stubbornness or ignorance or ill-will on their part. I'm not sure whether religious education - I don't mean education in a religion, but education about religions - would help here - I fear it would be counterproductive, by reinforcing prejudice against religion in the same people whose self image is based on their belief that they are fighting religious prejudice.

I also find a disturbing sense of deja vu. A lot of politics in the 16th and 17th century was based on the expectation that these were the Last Days - the world had been more or less stable for so long, now it was turning upside down - what else could that mean but the imminent Apocalypse? Well, religious people who feel the Apocalypse is upon us are still around, but we now have the phenomenon of the non- and anti-religious also becoming Apocalyptic. What else are the writings of Paul Ehrlich and the rest of the doomsday environmentalists but the preaching of Apocalyptic prophets? When earthquakes and two-headed calves and unusually weather were once looked on as signs of the disfavor of God, they are now seen as the result of global warming and environmental pollution. There is truly nothing new under the sun.

The final unsettling similarity between now and then is the use of terrorism. Terrorists then were just as suicidal as they are now - Henri III, Henri IV, and Willem III were all done in by suicidal assassins, for religious reasons. It's true that terrorists then had a little less in the way of technology - carriage bombs never caught on. But Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot is not all that different from the London bombings and the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre is not that different from what went on in Bosnia or Rwanda and what's going on in Darfur and Baghdad.

Thus, I'd say it's worth a read = maybe 3.5 to 4 stars. ( )
2 vote setnahkt | Jan 2, 2018 |
From the Publisher:

"The National Book Critics Circle Award–winning history of the Reformation—from the New York Times bestselling author of Christianity

At a time when men and women were prepared to kill—and be killed—for their faith, the Protestant Reformation tore the Western world apart. Acclaimed as the definitive account of these epochal events, Diarmaid MacCulloch's award-winning history brilliantly re-creates the religious battles of priests, monarchs, scholars, and politicians—from the zealous Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses to the polemical John Calvin to the radical Igantius Loyola, from the tortured Thomas Cranmer to the ambitious Philip II.

Drawing together the many strands of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and ranging widely across Europe and the New World, MacCulloch reveals as never before how these dramatic upheavals affected everyday lives—overturning ideas of love, sex, death, and the supernatural, and shaping the modern age."
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1 vote | St-Johns-Episcopal | Aug 19, 2017 |
The Reformation is such a wide-ranging subject that covers so many areas but this book does a good job of organizing it, telling why it was important and the implications that still affect our lives today. Some parts of this history I was somewhat familiar with but not so much with others and it was difficult to keep straight a lot of different names and topics. And it makes me interested to learn more about some other areas covered. An interesting book, but not a quick read! ( )
3 vote Luke_Brown | Sep 10, 2016 |
Good if rather over long read into the Reformation and being a Christian made for a lot of introspection. All the major players are here Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, pretty comprehensive look at this era. A little to comprehensive perhaps some of the book could of been left out for the sake of brevity. ( )
1 vote charlie68 | Mar 9, 2015 |
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‘Reformation’ is set to become a landmark for academic historians
In its field it is the best book ever written.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Diarmaid MacCullochprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brooke, ChristoperPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Flosnik, Anne T.Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hübner, JuliusCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Varga, BenjáminTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Voß-Becher, HelkeÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 014303538X, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:17 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A history of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation examines the lasting implications of this period, providing profiles of the individuals involved and discussing the impact of the Reformation on everyday lives.

» see all 2 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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