Monday, November 6, 2017

Interview with Phillip Campbell on "Heroes & Heretics"

Available now from TAN Books, Heroes & Heretics of the Reformation tells the story of the Reformation from about 1517 to 1581 through the Martin Luther to Thomas More, Charles V to Pope St. Pius V, and many more. I interviewed the author, Phillip Campbell:

Why did you choose to tell the story of the Protestant, English, and Catholic Reformations through biographical chapters? 

The Reformation is not an easy story to tell chronologically because there were so many things happening in so many different places. In order to stop the narrative from spiraling out of control and having to backtrack continually, I thought it would be an easier read to select a series of characters who exemplify different aspects of the era and tell the story through their experiences.

How did you choose which heroes and heretics to feature? 

Well obviously there are some you simply have to include by virtue of their importance; no story about the Reformation can omit Luther or Thomas More. But for some of the other characters, I tried to select people who really were emblematic of the conflicts of the age. For example, St. Edmund Campion was certainly not one of the big movers and shakers of the Reformation; he was just a simple priest who was caught and killed. However, his life and death really exemplify the struggle thousands of Catholics wrestled with under Queen Elizabeth, so his story was an apt symbol of that phase of English history.

Isn’t there really a third category? What would you call Erasmus, Charles V, Philip II of Spain, Catherine d’Medici? Are they heroes? 

The title Heroes and Heretics is not meant to suggest everyone in the book is either a hero or a heretic. Rather, this title represents two poles on a spectrum. As you noted, there are many people caught in between, people such as Erasmus, Catherine de Medici, and probably thousands of regular Christians whose allegiance was muddled or whose devotion to one side or the other was less than total. And the reason I included some of those folks was to demonstrate that, while from the point of view of Catholic doctrine there were undoubtedly right and wrong sides, the actual experience of the Reformation as lived by the people of the 16th century could sometimes be much more complex.

Why did you choose St. Peter Canisius to begin the book? He’s not the first Reformation-era saint who comes to mind! 

I chose St. Peter to open the book because his life was contiguous with all the great events of the era. He was born the year Luther was excommunicated, was a foundational member of the Jesuits, worked through the sessions of the Council of Trent, implemented Trent throughout Europe, founded numerous universities, and died as the French Wars of Religion were coming to a close. He literally was a witness to everything the book discusses. And he is also a great example because he was able to take the disorders of the age and use them as an occasion for sanctity, which is an example all Catholics can follow.

In chapter two, “The Exhaustion of Christendom”, you speak of people becoming “weary of the intellectual precision it took to keep the medieval world in harmony” or balance. Is that what we are seeing today in our country and/or other countries? People are tired of thinking about what it means to be a free citizen when the government offers to take over all those decisions for the sake of peace and security? Or, people are tired of maintaining true freedom of speech when some speech offends them? Are we weary? 

Absolutely. Especially in places where there is a de facto two-party political system whose politics inundates the media, we slowly transform from people who merely have a two party system to binary thinkers who can only conceive of two potential points of view, both opposed to each other. Everything is either-or. People lose the ability to harmonize things. This sort of thinking is what led to the erosion of the the medieval synthesis.

I appreciated your comment in the introduction about the balance between believing the Catholic Church is the one, true Church founded by Jesus and yet being able to see the failures and successes of the members of the Church. Why did you think it important to make that distinction? 

It's another one of those syntheses the faith requires us to make. The Church has a divine constitution, but its made up of fallible human beings. We will really never really understand the Catholic Church rightly unless we can maintain this distinction.

You ended your book with the Edict of Nantes. There’s also a common view of “the Long Reformation” that lasts well into the seventeenth century. Why did you choose 1598 as your stopping point? 

Well, the short answer is that TAN only wanted a book of a certain length and no more. But, a more substantial answer would be that while obviously there is still religious conflict going into the 17th century (many point to 1648 as the "real" end of the Reformation), nevertheless by 1598 the main contours of the Reformation had already been sketched out. The major schools of thought had all been established, political alliances sorted out, and the essential religious framework that would define Europe until the modern age was more or less established.

How has the “Black Legend” of Spain influenced even Catholics’ common view of how Spain, her bishops, her monarchs, and her saints responded to the Protestant Reformation and the need for reform within the Church? 

The "Black Legend" is the idea of a villainous, evil Spain imposing Catholicism in a tyrannical and authoritarian manner. It is largely accepted in the English-speaking world because it is essentially the echo of English propaganda that has come down to us from the Elizabethan era. Obviously castigating Spain while holding Elizabethan England up as a paragon of religious tolerance is ridiculous. But it is just part and parcel of being an English-speaker that you inherit these prejudices. It is really unfortunate because Spain is a great example of how a regional Church was able to reform itself prior to the revolt of Luther. I think a lot more work needs to be done by Catholic authors and historians on Spain and Spanish Catholicism, because what people know currently is just a mixture of prejudice and myth.

According to this on-line biography:

Phillip Campbell holds a BA in European History from Ave Maria University and a certificate in Secondary Education through Madonna University. He taught history and Scripture for the St. Augustine Homeschool Enrichment Program for ten years. Mr. Campbell is the author of the popular " Story of Civilization" series by TAN Books. He recently joined the Catholic History Textbook Project. Mr. Campbell's writings have appeared in the St. Austin Review and The Distributist Review. He is also the star of the YouTube sensation History in a Minute. Mr. Campbell served as the Mayor of Howell, MI from 2011 to 2015 and has been involved in homeschooling for more than 15 years.

He also publishes books at Cruachan Hill Press.

I have submitted a review of Heroes & Heretics of the Reformation to the St. Austin Review; publication date TBA.

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