Friday, August 17, 2012

I Confess

That I am a Catholic (and I hope there's enough evidence to find me guilty of the same!) writing, blogging, and talking about the English Reformation and its effects on Catholics in England in its long aftermath. Since I'm writing popular history, speaking often to Catholic audiences through Catholic media, and I think I've been upfront about it, it might not be that much of an issue. But in the exalted halls of academia, the religious background and practice of some historians of the English Reformation has become an issue--because they are Catholic (or to English academia, ROMAN Catholic--RC).

Peter Marshall, whose article on "(Re)defining the English Reformation" I linked yesterday, discussed that issue, referring to some confusion and even supposition that anyone who writes at all sympathetically about Catholics before and after the English Reformation, just must be a Catholic (and its effects on the acceptance of the revisionist view of that event):

There is, I think, little doubt about where much of this apparent nervousness in the academy has come from. The extraordinary success and influence of Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars in the field of English Reformation studies has from the outset been coupled with widespread awareness of, and comment on, the circumstance that its author is a deeply committed Roman Catholic layman. This coupled with the fact that a significant historiographical precursor to Duffy, Scarisbrick’s The Reformation and the English People, was also authored by a politically prominent British Catholic, has encouraged some critics to identify a confessionally grounded school of historical interpretation at work: Catholic revisionism. This is a phenomenon perhaps more substantial in the eye of some beholders than in reality, for it would appear that not all Catholic revisionists are actually Roman Catholics. The fact that Christopher Haigh, a self-styled Anglican agnostic, is regularly accused of belonging to this tendency has for some time been a source of wry amusement to himself and to others. More incongruously still, a new biography of Luther identifies the late Richard Marius, along with Haigh, as another of the Catholic apologists of whom readers ought to be wary. Marius was in fact a religious skeptic and a sometime Southern Baptist.

(Derek Wilson was the author who made that error. I cite A.G. Dickens' frustration with Christopher Haigh in Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation--if Haigh wasn't a Catholic, Dickens wondered, how could he write such things!)

Marshall goes on to note how Eamon Duffy has responded to these issues, which was included in Duffy's recent Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition:

Duffy himself has now explicitly addressed the issue in print, and it is fair to say that he has not entirely sought to douse the fire that some clearly suspect to be smoldering beneath the smoke of so-called Catholic revisionism. He freely acknowledges that there is a “notable Catholic presence” in Reformation-related studies, naming John Bossy, Peter Burke, and Bob Scribner in this connection, as well as, in the younger generation, myself and Richard Rex. In part, Duffy adduces a sociodemographic explanation for this phenomenon: the greater numbers of Catholics entering higher education in Britain in the years after the 1944 Education Act. But he also detects a kind of elective affinity between Catholic academics, practicing or lapsed, and the study of late medieval and early modern religion, a greater openness on the part of those formed in the Catholic tradition to the internal logic and symbolic coherence of a generally alien cultural world. Insofar as Catholic revisionism exists at all, suggests Duffy, it may simply represent “the absence of a Protestant historiographical agenda at least as much as the presence of a Catholic one.” Not unreasonably, Duffy points to the fact that critics have seldom or never commented on the Protestant faith, or the Protestant cultural background, of very significant numbers of historians of the English Reformation over many decades.

Then Marshall goes on to show that not only Catholic historians have noted the issue of confessional influences on historians; Anglicans and Puritans wondered about it too:

Yet this too has started to change, and sensitivity to the issue of confessional perspective in English Reformation studies is no longer simply a game of “spot the Catholic.” In a recent historiographical essay, the young (and Anglican) historian Alec Ryrie is quite prepared to name and shame, or at least to name, right across the ecclesiastical spectrum. So he writes about the “Protestant historian” Patrick Collinson and draws attention to a “confessionally colored” Anglican view of Reformation developments, exemplified by the writings of an Oxford-based scholar who is also a priest of the Church of England, Judith Maltby. The idea that an identifiably “Anglican agenda” can be detected in much recent Reformation scholarship has been taken further by a leading historian of Puritanism, Peter Lake, who warns that “many modern historians of the period retain a stake—rarely owned or explicated—in the very disputes they are seeking to explain.”In a succession of books and articles, Lake, sometimes writing in collaboration with Michael Questier, has accused an entire cohort of leading Reformation historians—Maltby, Alexandra Walsham, Norman Jones, Ian Green, Christopher Marsh—of manufacturing an overly consensual Anglican religious culture for the immediate post-Reformation period, and of doing so largely by choosing to take at something close to face value highly polemical constructions of both Puritanism and Laudianism, positions from which the majority of the people can be presented as sensibly dissenting.

Marshall's article bears much close reading: he also addresses the (more common than I had realized) view of the Long English Reformation (via Nicholas Tyacke), the Second Reformation (via Patrick Collinson), the contentious issue of Lollardy and its influence (Duffy and Rex vs. McCulloch), and the whole field of Mary I's reign and how it should be judged and evaluated--he packs a great deal into 22 pages.

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