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Reformation : Europe's House Divided 1490-1700 [Paperback]

Diarmaid MacCulloch
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Sep 2004

Winner of the Wolfson Prize for history, Diarmaid MacCulloch's Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700 charts a seismic shift in European culture that marked the beginning of the modern world.

At a time when men and women were prepared to kill - and be killed - for their faith, the Reformation tore the western world apart. Acclaimed as the definitive account of these epochal events, Diarmaid MacCulloch's history brilliantly re-creates the religious battles of priests, monarchs, scholars and politicians, from the zealous Martin Luther nailing his Theses to the door of a Wittenburg church to the radical Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order; from Thomas Cranmer, martyred for his reforms, to the ambitious Philip II, unwavering in his campaign against Europe's 'heretics'.

Weaving together the many strands of Reformation and Counter-Reformation, ranging widely across Europe and even to the new world, MacCulloch also reveals as never before how these upheavals affected everyday lives - overturning ideas of love, sex, death and the supernatural, and shaping the modern age.

'Magisterial and eloquent'
  David Starkey

'A triumph of human sympathy'
  Blair Worden, Sunday Telegraph

'From politics to witchcraft, from the liturgy to sex; the sweep of European history covered here is breathtakingly panoramic. This is a model work of history'
  Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph Books of the Year

'A masterpiece of readable scholarship ... In its field it is the best book ever written'
  David Edwards, Guardian

'Monumental ... Reformation is set to become a landmark'
  Lisa Jardine, Observer

Diarmaid MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University. His Thomas Cranmer won the Whitbread Biography Prize, the James Tait Black Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize. He is also the author of A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (2 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140285342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140285345
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 4.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

As a historical document Diarmaid MacCulloch's 750-page narrative Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700 has all the key ingredients. MacCulloch, a professor of history as the Church of Oxford University, is an articulate and vibrant writer with a strong guiding intelligence. The structure is sensible, starting with the main characters who influenced reforms, then spreads out to the regional concerns and social intellectual themes of the era. He even fast forwards into American Christianity--showing how this historical era influences modern times.

MacCulloch has written what is widely considered to be the authoritative account of the Reformation--a critical juncture in the history of Christianity. "It is impossible to understand modern Europe without understanding these 16th-century upheavals in Latin Christianity" he writes. "They represented the greatest fault line to appear in Christian culture since the Latin and Greek halves of the Roman Empire went their separate ways a thousand years before; they produced a house divided." The resulting split between the Catholics and Protestants still divides Christians throughout the Western world. It affects interpretations of the Bible, beliefs about baptisms, and event how much authority is given to religious leaders. The division even fuels an ongoing war. What makes MacCulloch's account rise above previous attempts to interpret the Reformation is the breadth of his research. Rather than limit his narrative to the actions of key theologians and leaders of the era--Luther, Zingli, Calvin, Loyola, Cranmer, Henry VIII and numerous popes--MacCulloch sweeps his narrative across the culture, politics and lay people of Renaissance Western Europe. This broad brush approach touches upon many fascinating discussions surrounding the Reformation, including his belief that the Latin Church was probably not as "corrupt and ineffective" as Protestants tend to portray it. In fact, he asserts that it "generally satisfied the spiritual needs of the late medieval people."

MacCulloch is a top-notch historian--he uncovers material and theories that will seem fresh and inspired to Reformation scholars as well as lay readers. --Gail Hudson, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Diarmaid MacCulloch is a Fellow of St. Cross College, Oxford, and Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University. His Thomas Cranmer won the Whitbread Biography Prize, the James Tait Black Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize. He is the author most recently of Tudor Church Militant (2000).

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
68 of 68 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Historians are always torn between writing chronologically or thematically. Here, MacCulloch offers his readers the chance to have their cake and eat it: first, a grand narrative of the Reformation through the 16th and 17th centuries; then, a thematic section treating subjects as varied as witchcraft, idolatry and homosexuality.

It both serves as an introduction to the Reformation, introducing and explaining the key figures and their roles (e.g. Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Borromeo and St Ignatius...), and as a critique on established ways of thinking.

For MacCulloch, it is the ideas behind the Reformation that are most significant and that must take priority over an interpretation of the Reformation that primarily views it as a contest for power e.g. between the Pope and nascent nation states or as a battle for Europe among key elite families.

Thus, he unashamedly has a chapter on St Augustine's theology since he views interpreting Augustine as so central to the issues. In this, overall, he is very convincing. More than that, he is brilliantly lucid. For example, his explanation of the distinction between Calvin's eucharistic theology as opposed to Luther's or Zwingli's (or the Pope's, of course)(p248ff) is both clear and also sympathetic. (Those five pages have allowed me to think through my own eucharistic theology more than any other article I have ever read, theological or historical.) That said, his intellectualism occasionally leads him to make some odd points: e.g. paraphrased from p83, "If there is one explanation of why the Latin west experienced as reformation and the east did not, it lies in listening to the New Testament in the new voice of Greek (not Latin)." Really? That sounds like the bias of an academic to me.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, enlightening and readable 14 April 2007
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I disagree with some of the other reviews here that this is bland or a difficult read - I approached it with some tripidation but found it both reassuringly scholarly and yet immensely readable, probably because the author has a distinctive 'voice' which mediates perfectly through the vast amount of material he covers. MacCulloch knows his material intimately and yet manages to convey the complexities without ever resorting to the fatal dumbing down of many authors. As someone with a vague idea of the history of the period, but little knowledge of religious philosophy, I wasn't sure if this would be too 'technical' but actually I found it fascinating and unputdownable. It dropped a star because at some points I felt MacCulloch was trying to cram in too much e.g. the complexities of religious thought across the whole of Europe, but the third section in particular on the differences the reformation made to actual peoples' lives in terms of the way they thought about sex and the family, for example, more than made up for some of the intricacies. All together a brilliant read.
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75 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 'standard' for many years to come 5 Dec 2003
Format:Hardcover
It is a rare delight to read a book that is so crisply and wittily written yet formidable in its academic rigour. The narrative runs through the Mediaeval era to ca. 1700 and encompasses all parts of Europe and the European overseas territories in an enjoyable yet thought-provoking prose. It is a good book to read as much as a useful reference for students of the Reformation and early modern Europe in general. MacCulloch takes the English Reformation from its splendid isolation and puts it within the wider European context – something that was urgently needed and accomplished with great success. The book’s greatest strength lies with the ability of the author to communicate theological and ecclesiological subtleties that were so contentious during the Reformation and divided the Latin Christendom. One of many personal favourites of this reviewer’s is on p.25 (second paragraph) explaining the Aristotelian nature of existence, a concept which is crucial in understanding the idea of transubstantiation – it is indicative of MacCulloch’s ability to write calmly but with wit.
MacCulloch deals with all aspects of the Reformation, not merely the theology and politics of it. It tells more than the stories of great Reformation and Counter-Reformation figures (e.g. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli or Borromeo, Loyola) – they receive their due treatment – but this work also mentions ‘Radicals’ (e.g. ‘Anabaptists’) on the fringes and those hitherto neglected characters such as Bullinger and Bucer. Politics is integrated seamlessly to the narrative. Also, how Reformation(s) changed the attitudes of many early modern people in matters such as witchcraft and sex are discussed succinctly in the third part of the book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A point of view 30 Jan 2008
Format:Paperback
Is it an advantage, as MacCulloch says to "not subscribe to any form of religious dogma" in trying to "describe the Reformation to a world which has largely forgotten or half-understood what it was about" (p xxv) ? One wonders whether indeed it is possible not to subscribe to some dogma(ie a belief or system of beliefs held on authority) religious or secular whether consciously held or not, and whether in all cases historians do not have a viewpoint conscious or unconscious lurking in the background to which they "bend the story to fit irrelevant preconceptions". Keynes accused practical men who eschewed theory as being slaves to some long defunct economists, one wonders if historians are any different.

However this is an excellent book, whatever one may make of the distinctive viewpoint which comes out so strongly in the section on Outcomes.

As well as the information concerning the ideas of the Reformers, going well beyond Luther, Zwingli and Calvin to Bucer and Bullinger, not to mention many others, it gives considerable space to the ideas and influence of Erasmus, and Cardinal Pole. As he says "Social and political history cannot do without theology in understanding the 16th century". MacCulloch gives succinct and accurate descriptions of the ideas , not exactly for dummies but with a secular audience in mind.

How many of us knew that there were one million Christian slaves enslaved by Islamic raiders between 1530 and 1640,roughly equivalent to the trade across the Atlantic? (p 57) That lay people with the dissolution of the guilds lost much control of what went on in church at the Reformation? (p 16)that in the 1930's the Popes did not excommunicate Hitler because among other reasons it was remembered that doing so to Elizabeth I had been counter productive?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book
I came at this book from a Reformed background that many would fine to be rather extreme, however I got an immense amount out of this excellent book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Hippo
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed account.
MacCulloch has found fame with his wide ranging TV series but this book is his specialist period and he is on sound ground here. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Robert J. Yates
1.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic book but a terrible edition
Since my old, much-thumbed paperback was falling to bits, I bought the Kindle version. I'm a huge fan of the book and its author. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Stephen Allenson
5.0 out of 5 stars Right for all...
MacCulloch achieves the very difficult with effective and readable coverage of a long period yet spanning different nations and cultures. Read more
Published 6 months ago by roger j parker
5.0 out of 5 stars History that reads like a classic thriller
The subject is important fascinating and enlightening. The writing is of a very high order: it reads like a classic novel and claims attention and serious thought. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Raymond J Hocknell
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read
If you are interested in the Reformation then this is a good purchase, the narrative style is easy to read and the evidence is nicely referenced.
Published 13 months ago by Rae Hammerbacker
4.0 out of 5 stars As a student.
I will keep this review simple as I have yet to read the full text and do not wish to be misleading. Read more
Published 14 months ago by SCM
5.0 out of 5 stars The reformation is similar to our present crisis
This book may well be called a "saga in theology." It takes us across Europe, from religious centers such as Geneva and Wittenberg via the great kingdoms and Empires of Henry VIII,... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Jacques COULARDEAU
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writing
The Reformation may not be everybody's idea of an exciting subject but this book goes a very long way to making it one. Read more
Published on 23 Dec 2011 by Mr. Christopher Harris
5.0 out of 5 stars Up the the task of explaining one of the great conflicts
For years I have wanted to read a comprehensive history of this period, which is far less well covered than the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Read more
Published on 10 Aug 2011 by rob crawford
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