Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: Saints, Sacrilege, and Sedition

Eamon Duffy's new book on the English Reformation, subtitled "Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations" is a collection of essays, not the thorough composed book I hoped for initially. Nevertheless, Duffy displays the same level of erudition and original research that can be expected from him. In the first two chapters he speaks directly to the foundation of the English Reformations under the Tudors and its effects:

The Reformation marked, for England, the end of the notion of Christendom. The foundation of the English Reformation was neither sola scriptura nor sola fide, but the Royal Supremacy: Henry VIII utterly rejected justification by faith and burned those who preached it, and he understood the authority of scripture to reside chiefly in the fact that the scriptures taught obedience to the king. (Nice chiasmus, there.)

He depicts the English Reformation as a crucial break with the past:

Overnight, a millennium of Christian splendour--the worlds of Gregory and Bede and Anselm and Francis and Dominic and Bernard and Dante, patterns of thought and ritual and symbols that had constituted and nourished the mind and heart of Christendom for a thousand years--became alien territory, the dark ages of popery. . . . The Reformation silenced the prayers of men and women for their parents, it banished the saints, it drastically reduced the sacramental life of every Christian. The destruction of monasticism did more than take the roofs off some of the best buildings in England: it amputated one of the Church's perennial and most precious sources of Christian inspiration and renewal.

Duffy focuses his attention on the rood screens and how documents in parish churches reveal the lay involvement in their construction and renovation in chapter three; examines the records of one extraordinary large parish church in chapter four; and reviews the results of the 1552 Inventories of Church goods in chapter five.

He dedicates chapters 6 through 9 to the hierarchy, particularly to Cardinal Bishop and martyred saint, St. John Fisher, and to Reginald Cardinal Pole, the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury.

The last two chapters trace "the conservative voice" even among those who went along with the established Church of England as they recalled the past--the rituals, the rhythm of the Church year, the beauty of the churches, etc.; and finally he parses a line from Shakespeare's sonnet about bare ruined choirs, recalling the dissolved monasteries and their reputation.

I heartily recommend Saints, Sacrilege, and Sedition for anyone interested in the English Reformation.

I. Reformation Unravelled \ Introduction \ 1. Reformation, Counter-reformation and the English nation \ 2. Reformation Unravelled: Facts and Fictions \ II. The Material Culture of Early Tudor Catholicism \ 3. The Parish, Piety and Patronage: the Evidence of Roodscreens \ 4. Salle Church and the Reformation \ 5. The End of It All: Medieval Church Goods and the 1552 Confiscations \ III. Two Cardinals \ 6. John Fisher and the Spirit of his Age \ 7. The Spirituality of John Fisher \ 8. Rome and Catholicity in mid-Tudor England \ 9. Archbishop Cranmer and Cardinal Pole: the See of Canterbury and the Reformation \ IV. Catholic Voices \ 10. The Conservative Voice in the English Reformation \ 11. Bare Ruin'd Choirs: Remembering Catholicism in Shakespeare's England

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