All Things Made New: The Reformation and its Legacy

All Things Made New: The Reformation and its Legacy.

9780190616816The 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.

The nice folk at Oxford Uni Press have sent a gratis review copy without any expectation of a positive or uplifting review.  For which I thank them.

Diarmaid MacCulloch has written widely on the history of Christianity and more specifically numerous studies of English Church history.  In his latest book, All Things Made New: The Reformation and its Legacy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), MacCulloch collects previously published essays in a volume that can only be described as utterly superb.  Comprised of three major sections, 1) ‘Reformations Across Europe’; 2) ‘The English Reformation’; and 3) ‘Looking Back on the English Reformation’, the essays herein challenge basic assumptions and provide compelling arguments for seeing the Reformation in general and the English Reformation in particular in a stunning new light.

M. has a gift for effervescent prose and that gift manifests itself on every page and in every paragraph.  For example

This … reflected Erasmus’s distaste for lay devotion; for all his loudly proclaimed vision of the labourer reading the Bible at the ploughtail, and his strictures on the clericalism of his age, he was profoundly repelled when he observed the everyday reality of Western Christiandom’s layfolk grasping at the sacred.  His nausea would become naturalized in Protestantism, particularly in its Reformed variety (p. 34).

It’s impossible for me to present this book to you for your consideration without doing so in terms that are not only glowing but might even be taken as fawning.  Many books have been written on countless aspects of the Reformation and 2017, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s efforts, will see a virtual flood of them.  But it is extremely doubtful that very many of them, if any, will plumb the depths of intellectual inquiry with the masterful skill MacCulloch seems to command with the sort of ease the rest of us use to command the tv remote.

Perhaps best of all, the volume is extremely affordable.  Consequently, it belongs in the personal library of every student of Christian history, from the specialist to the student to the interested lay person.  It also belongs in your local library.  And it deserves to be read.  Really read.  Thoroughly read.  Joyfully read.

As the voice of heaven said to St Augustine in the garden one lovely morning, tolle, lege, so too I whisper to you.  No,rather, I shout it to you from the rooftops.  TOLLE, LEGE!