From the Church / Christian History & Future section

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Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition

Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations

by Eamon Duffy


Price: £20.00
Publisher:Bloomsbury Publishing
Published:June 2012
"Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang." William Shakespeare, Sonnet LXXIII

Duffy writes with a swing in his words and a pleasing amount of direct quotation. He begins by reviewing Roman Catholic and Protestant historians' perspectives of the Reformation in a refreshingly acerbic fashion, before a scholarly appraisal of the adventures of rood screens as exemplars of the vigour of local involvement in parish life before the 1530s. He demonstrates vividly that a possible future Catholic England was battered out of existence, subtly having given the reader a glimpse of it, without being foolishly counterfactual.

The criminalisation of sincere beliefs by government has a resonance in the official demonisation of those who today prefer the traditional definition of marriage. The nationalisation of valuable property of parishes underscores a government's ability to punish people for dissidence. He does not ignore the fact that the Church's provision varied in quality in different areas, however, and that there was political and economic necessity for the Reformation, as well as greed. When church artefacts were sold at auction, the precious metals having been carried off by zealous Commissioners, much was bought by parishioners, with donors being given first refusal -characteristically English. Much reappeared in Marian times. Duffy sees this again as a symbol of the continuity and reluctance to adhere to the latest official view.

Duffy examines the activities and influence of Pole, Fisher and Cranmer, ensuring that the contemporary effect of the first two is restored: the martyrdoms of the once powerful, he reminds us, have a very great significance for their contemporaries. He does not neglect the hiraeth that overcame late Tudor romantics for the beauty and scholarship,and the dream of united Christendom, both of which had gone, nor does he ignore the simultaneous deep revulsion felt at the corruption of Romish practices in church and state.

One is left with the conventional view that Edwardianism and Marianism were the gateposts of the doorway into Elizabethanism, with influence but finally to be left behind and from which the Anglican Church has derived both its weaknesses and its strength. An extremely interesting and detailed contribution to the debate about the sincerity of the Reformation in England.

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Reviewer: Fred Rapsey   (06/02/13)
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