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Intellectual Origins Euro Refo Paperback – 22 Sep 2003


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"A significant study for those with a serious interest in Reformation thought." Reformed Theological Journal

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It is widely recognized that the sixteenth–century Reformationremains one of the most fascinating and exciting areas ofscholarship. A central and important question, raised by intensivemodern research on the Renaissance and late medieval scholasticism,concerns the intellectual origins of the Reformation.

This updated and expanded version of the original,highly–acclaimed edition of 1987 explores the complex intellectualroots of the Reformation, offering a sustained engagement with theideas of humanism and scholasticism. McGrath demonstrates how theintellectual origins of the Reformation were heterogeneous, anddraws out the implications of this finding for our understanding ofthe Reformation as a whole. McGrath′s reading of the Reformationagainst its complex intellectual background opens up new insightsinto this highly significant historical phenomenon. Yet this ismore than a fascinating exploration in the history of ideas; it isalso a defence of the entire enterprise of intellectual history inthe face of social historical approaches, and a reaffirmation ofthe importance of ideas to the development of history.


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The intellectual, social, and spiritual upheavals of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries define the context within which the development of the Reformation of the sixteenth century must be approached. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Hyper-Augustinianism: Sub-Augustinianism 12 Oct. 2004
By benjamin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Being something of an armchair church historian, it was with a good bit of interest that I picked this book up. The Reformation was a very complex set of events on religious, political, technological and economic fronts; to understand the theological developments that gave rise to someone such as Luther is often made difficult amidst the seemingly unending narratives of socio-political upheaval and the rise of merchant classes. Hence, a volume such as this, devoted to the intellectual origins of the Reformation, comes for this reader as a welcome addition to my library.

Towards the end of the book McGrath, citing B. B. Warfield, sums up what the Reformation was: the triumph of Augustine's theology of grace *over* Augustine's theology of the Church. The Reformation, often mis-characterized as a return to the Scriptures was, in fact, the cementing of a particular reading of Augustine which was, at the same time, a hermeneutic for reading the Bible. In fact, the Reformation owes very little to any real theological break; certain trends in late Medieval thought are what gave Luther (more so than Zwingli) the tools for cementing a theology that eventually broke the mold that gave birth to it.

McGrath is a thorough historian, noting that the Reformation was really a collection of local reformations, the earliest of which were the Lutheran and Swiss. The difference between the Lutheran and Swiss reformations could not have been more different, it would seem; the former was concentrated in certain readings of Augustine and confined to the university, while the latter was concerned far more with moral exactitude among the clergy. The Lutheran Reformation appears to be far more in keeping with late medieval Scholasticism, whereas the Swiss Reformation appears to be more of a break done along moralistic-political lines.

This book focuses more upon the origins of the Reformation, and therefore the Reformation in its earlier stages; references to reformers such as John Calvin are largely to the side. However, what McGrath offers are tantalizing bits - particularly a short statement that Calvin did much to bring the Swiss and Lutheran reformations together. Yet, because Calvin is among second generation of Swiss reformers, McGrath does not follow up on this noodle.

This is an excellent, excellent volume. I highly recommend it to everyone interested in the Reformation, particularly those who view the Reformation as being either extremely disastrous or as being extremely triumphant. It was neither. Rather, it was the triumph of a particular reading - and questions of hermeneutics present themselves constantly throughout the book - of Augustine and through Augustine, the Bible. It was the triumph of particular themes at the expense of others - most problematically, the sacrifice of any notion of the Church as a catholic (= universal) and unified body.

Regardless of how one feels about how the Reformation ended (has it ended???), it is well worth noting how it began: and this book illuminates just that.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant Historical and Theological Work 15 Sept. 2011
By Michael Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The author has in less than 190 pages written the clearest, most cogent explanation for the growth of Protestant and proto-Protestant ideas. The bibliography is almost as long as the text! McGrath's excellent and dispassionate explanation of the period, the people and the ideas is truly excellent. There is also a wonderful critique of Reformers and historians of Reformers to place the context in a more centered and less ideological frame. His being a former atheist and currently an Anglican priest gives a truly excellent balance to the work. The diversity of the early Reformers is also skillfully distinguished. This is very readable for all, yet still erudite. Anyone with interest in the era and the origins of Protestant churches should read this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Two Protestant Reformations 8 April 2014
By Nova - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Since others have offered much in their reviews, I will confine myself to the element from it I appreciated the most. While not entirely original, McGrath brilliantly sets forth the argument that there were fundamentally two intellectual origins for the two magisterial strands of the Protestant Reformation: Late Medieval and Humanistic. He does so in a manner that is eminently scholarly, succinct, teeming with good evidence and insight, and very convincing. He engages directly with the primary texts both of the major reformers as well as their predecessors, while also taking stock of important surrounding literature and history. Some readers might get frustrated at the rather extensive inclusion of original Latin phrases without translation, however this is not really an obstacle to comprehension as the point is typically reiterated in straightforward English. As I said, the basic argument is not exactly new, however this book is so far the best overall that I've found for making it.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
very helpful 14 April 2010
By richard miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love this book because of the philosophical nature and review of the good and bad philosophical roots of the Reformation. This helps understand the errors of the Reformers, and why they thought the crazy things they did. It also helps appreciate the good philosophy of theologians today such as Dr. N. Geisler. This was helpful for research paper
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