Reformation: Europes House Divided, 1490-1700

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As well as Spain, Scandinavia and Italy. The book even touches on the impact of the Reformation for those who lived in the Americas and those who emigrated there as well as the slaves who were brought there.


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For MacCulloch the history of the Reformation is very much one of ideas. It's the changing attitude to the Church and its activities that drives the Reformation, but the Reformation in turn drives all sorts of other social, political and economic processes. He writes: The old Church was immensely strong, and that strength could only have been overcome by the explosive power of an idea.

The idea proved to be a new statement of Augustine's ideas on salvation. That is why there is so much description of apparently abstract thought in my account of the Reformation Monarchs, priests, nuns, merchants, farmers, labourers were seized by ideas which tore through their experiences and memories and made them behave in new ways Social or political history cannot do without theology in understanding the sixteenth century.

It is of course true to say that you cannot understand this period of history without understanding the ideological changes, and the ideas themselves.

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But I fear that MacCulloch reduces history down to "the idea" without really getting to grips with the thorny question of why it was in the 16th century such diverse groups of society would accept them and drive the change onward. Of course, some of this was about the role of individuals.

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MacCulloch highlights the contribution of men like Luther: He spoke at so many different levels: he debated with scholars, shouted from the pulpit, wrote vigorous German and sang his message in German hymns and songs. Perhaps the hymns were the most persuasive to the wavering because they were the least polemical. Luther's impact was naturally greatest on his fellow German speakers, but it was much wider than that in the s.


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It was not just he impact of print, vital through it was: the Reformation was a matter of the spoken and sung some might say, the ranted word, as much as the word on paper. But here again, MacCulloch fails to explain why these words had such power. I believe this is why a materialist historical analysis is so important, because it can show how the new ideas fitted more closely with a changing economic world - one based increasingly on trade and manufacturing for the accumulation of wealth.

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These events were not about reforming the Church but deciding, largely for secular reasons, which parts of Europe would be Protestant, which Catholic. Subscribe or Sign In to read the full article. Oct Categories more Christianity , Europe , Reformation , Renaissance. E I T F Sign Up to our newsletter Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

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