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The English Reformation: Second Edition Paperback – 1 Jan 1989

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Pennsylvania State University Press; 2nd edition (1 Jan 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0271028688
  • ISBN-13: 978-0271028682
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 618,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

A.G.. Dickens is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of London and co-author of The Reformation in Historical Thought (Harvard, 1985).

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Hound01 on 4 May 2011
Mr Dickens' account of the English Reformation is an extremely readable and fact-filled book. For anyone studying this period of English history I suggest this is a must-have book. I purchased this as a study aid, having had little knowledge of the Reformation apart from the usual stories about Henry VIII and his spat with the pope and now feel I have a reasonably in-depth knowledge.
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Amazon.com: 1 review
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Wonerful Book-must read 3 Jan 2007
By C-Rock - Published on Amazon.com
A.G. Dickens book, the English Reformation, is one of the most influential books on the Reformation ever written, and this fact makes an evaluation very difficult. For Dickens, the Reformation had much less to do with the divorce of Henry VIII than with the corruption and decay of the Catholic Church and the rising expectations of a literate, educated laity. When Protestantism emerged, according to Dickens, it was rapidly taken up by the average Englishmen who was tired of Catholic ritual and hungry for preaching and direct experience of reading Scripture. There was a "magnetic process" that attracted the English to Protestantism because of its intrinsic merits, something that Dickens argues makes it a viable religion today (81). That Dickens' argument found a warm reception in the twentieth century should come as no surprise, for it made the Reformation not an act of state--imposed by fiat on an unwilling populace--but the natural progression of a literate, rational, hence modernizing society. To make his argument, Dickens relies on varied primary and secondary source material, ranging from parish records, prayer books, to the state papers of Henry VIII, and even the memoirs of a Venetian ambassador in England. However, Dickens' favorite and most problematic source is doubtless John Foxe's propagandistic martyrology, The Acts and Monuments (1563). Foxe an early Protestant who saw first hand the Marian persecutions, recounts the history and the development of the English Church from the time of John Wycliffe through the "Marian reaction" to Elizabeth I.

Dickens shows the English Reformation to be "an integral part of the European movement," which was propelled by the new learning of the Renaissance (13). Its emphasis on philology and history revealed the medieval church's estrangement from biblical teaching and, therefore, deviation from the teachings of the purer, early Christian church. According to Dickens, this humanist critique foreshadowed the later criticisms by Lutheran reformers against the "superstitious" doctrines of the medieval church and the authority of the papacy. The emphasis on history and Scripture inherent in humanism superseded churchly, Aristotelian, scholasticism. Dickens shows that this spirit of reform found a warm reception in England, as the followers of John Wycliffe were already advocating a Bible-based Christianity and denouncing the hierarchical corrupt Catholic Church. That Lollardy was a precursor to the Reformation, according to Dickens, is indisputable, but rampant anti-clericalism among all social classes also contributed to the ground swell of popular sentiment against the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church after all, according to Dickens, was in total decay, which contributed to England's inevitable happy separation. In Dickens, the bishops and higher clergy were secular figures and solely concerned with enriching themselves at the expense of the parishioner: Christian teaching was dismissed and the Catholic administration, "hard, mechanical, and institutional" (66). The monasteries, once a central part of the vitality of medieval Catholicism, had become "an uninspired and lukewarm establishment," secular in nature and a haven for "rogues and vagabonds" (78-79). Dickens sets this state of the Catholic Church in stark contrast to the emergence of a literate laity imbued with knowledge of the Bible engendered by Lollardy and humanism. This rift between the laity and the Catholic hierarchy is central to Dickens' thesis that Catholicism was as unpopular as it was unedifying and superseded by a popular Protestant Christianity. The machinations of Henry VIII merely began a political process which fulfilled the aspirations inherent in English culture and society since the fourteenth century.

The Second Edition of Dickens' book, published in 1989, contains a new chapter (13) and some ameliorations, the most significant being a new section on Thomas More. Despite the revisionist assault directed almost exclusively on this work, Dickens holds his ground that there were long term causes of the Reformation and that the "Marian reaction" was unpopular. Interestingly, the most damning criticism against him, that he engages in Whig history and accepts too wholeheartedly John Foxe's account of the Reformation, goes unmentioned. Dickens' book, although certainly diminished in stature, is still a significant and powerful explanation of the English Reformation. Paradoxically, because of the revisionist onslaught, Dickens book is still relevant to the ongoing discussion of the English Reformation.
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