Saturday, July 16, 2016

Scarisbrick on MacCulloch

Writing for The Catholic Herald, Henry VIII biographer J.J. (Jack) Scarisbrick reviews Diarmaid MacCulloch's book of essays on the Reformations (English and Continental):

There are remarkable essays, for example, on the Protestant reformers and Our Lady, on the making of the Book of Common Prayer, the (Catholic) genius William Byrd and the (eventually rather tragic) career of Richard Hooker. There is a masterly review of writings on the English Reformation, including positive appreciations of Hilaire Belloc, the Redemptorist Fr Thomas Edward Bridgett and Philip Hughes’s bold trilogy; and a fascinating account of how the 17th-century Irish Protestant firebrand (psychopath?) Robert Ware produced blatant forgeries to promote his cause.

Some of these essays are a bit heavy going, but MacCulloch has a gift for explaining complicated things simply. He can also produce the arresting new insight: for example, that Thomas Cromwell may have indeed have been a “sacramentary”, as his enemies claimed, ie one who denied any Real Presence, and was thus more radical than was Cranmer at the time. Or how the Polish ex-priest-turned-Protestant Jan Łaski did much to drive forward the English Reformation. Or how remarkable was the survival – unique in Protestant lands – of our cathedrals with their full array of deans and canons, organs, choirs and closes, and how their liturgy and hymnody contributed to the rise of Anglicanism. . . . 

Alas, there is an anti-Catholic tone throughout this book. Catholics are always “Roman” or “Romish”. There are anachronistic references to “the Vatican” (a rather nasty place). The Jesuits are a “sect”. The revolution of 1688 is “Glorious” without inverted commas. It is really excessive to describe as a “catastrophe” the Council of Chalcedon (491) which, thanks not least to Pope Leo the Great, courageously reaffirmed the crucial truth that Christ is both truly God and truly man. . . .

There is another worry. He says several times that Catholics believe in a “corporal” or “corporeal” presence in the Eucharist. He even adds the word “physical” sometimes. That one so accomplished in elucidating even the subtlest differences between Luther and his ex-followers, and between him and other major Protestant leaders such as Bucer, Oecolampadius, Zwingli, Bullinger and, above all, John Calvin (not to mention the radicals who fled to Poland and Hungary, etc), this is alarming. How can he be so inaccurate?

One reason that Catholics don't like the label Roman Catholics is that it ignores the diversity of the Catholic Church. It forgets about the other Latin Rites, for example, and displays compete ignorance of Eastern Rite Catholics. The error that Scarisbrick is highlighting in MacCulloch's statements about the Eucharist is that our doctrine is that the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is Sacramental, not physical (corporal or corporeal). It's stated clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so MacCulloch has a ready resource for accuracy.

The cover illustrated above is the U.K. edition, which is out now. The U.S. edition, with a different subtitle, is due out in August. According to OUP-USA:

The most profound characteristic of Western Europe in the Middle Ages was its cultural and religious unity, a unity secured by a common alignment with the Pope in Rome, and a common language - Latin - for worship and scholarship. The Reformation shattered that unity, and the consequences are still with us today. In All Things Made New, Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of the New York Times bestseller Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, examines not only the Reformation's impact across Europe, but also the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the special evolution of religion in England, revealing how one of the most turbulent, bloody, and transformational events in Western history has shaped modern society.

The Reformation may have launched a social revolution, MacCulloch argues, but it was not caused by social and economic forces, or even by a secular idea like nationalism; it sprang from a big idea about death, salvation, and the afterlife. This idea - that salvation was entirely in God's hands and there was nothing humans could do to alter his decision - ended the Catholic Church's monopoly in Europe and altered the trajectory of the entire future of the West.

By turns passionate, funny, meditative, and subversive, All Things Made New takes readers onto fascinating new ground, exploring the original conflicts of the Reformation and cutting through prejudices that continue to distort popular conceptions of a religious divide still with us after five centuries. This monumental work, from one of the most distinguished scholars of Christianity writing today, explores the ways in which historians have told the tale of the Reformation, why their interpretations have changed so dramatically over time, and ultimately, how the contested legacy of this revolution continues to impact the world today.

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