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39 of 63 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Catholic Apology as History., 30 April 2010
This review is from: The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 (Paperback)
The whole thrust of this history is to attempt to prove that Medieval Catholicism was in fine fettle prior to the Reformation, and to imply that there was no popular support for reform. The history of the Late Medieval church in England is looked at in great depth, and for that reason it is a useful and necessary text, but it is in the conclusion that Duffy reaches that he allows his own position to dominate. Duffy is a fine historian, but not an impartial one. The authors 'The Voices of Morebath' is a good example where the desire to support his views results in a propagandising of the account he gives. The main thrust is that there was no spiritual decline within the Catholic Church before the Reformation, and that the pseudo-histories/gospels that were allowed by the religious authorities filled the need for greater lay understanding of Christ and the Gospel. The problem with this is that he down plays the significance of the illegal English translations that were circulating (they are one of the commonest medieval manuscripts to survive - a sign of their popularity) and the draconian treatment of any who questioned the power of the Catholic Church. He is willing to rest on the assumption that the change in for example the style of wills was due to coercion by the non-persecuting state of Edward VI; yet he does not even consider the spiritual coercion, propaganda and shear violence used to maintain the status quo in the fifteenth century. The question is not answered as to why a supposedly popular religious leadership felt the need to see any who possessed an English Bible as an enemy and threat to them - why would such popular establishment position need to use threats to maintain itself, and fundamentally what was there to fear in a vernacular bible that made owning one a capital crime?
The decay of arguably the powerhouse of medieval religion - the monastic life - is not really dealt with, or the lack of respect that monks and others religious began to enjoy in this period (not just by Lollards, but by 'catholic' commentators such as Chaucer and Langland)
In short the whole book is shot through with a lamentation at the destruction of the superstition and papal deference that the Reformation brought to England, and a justification for the very practices that were done away with. If you can get beyond that Roman Catholic agenda then this is, as I say, a useful account of the nature of late medieval established religion; but to swallow the conclusions as 'fact' would be,I suggest, a mistake.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Jan 2011 16:04:19 GMT
manfriday says:
Thoughtful and valuable comments. Over and over again Duffy sees commitment when there is only conformity to a settlement imposed by the established church with the active support of the Crown. He does not grasp the scope for the English bible to change attitudes, through for example the publication of the second commandment or the absence of any reference to purgatory. Partly as a result he does not see the potential for radical reversal particularly when so many relics and miracle images were shown to be fraudulent. He cannot see the potential for the more Christ orientated elents of medieval religion to become 'bridges' into a Christ centered protestantism, in this changed environment
Experience suggests that any criticism of revisionist reviews, however mild or well informed, will produce negative ratings from some (presumably catholic) readers. It is very sad but a fact of life. So, a good thoughtful review. Write some more

Posted on 9 Jun 2011 18:49:34 BDT
B. A. Burns says:
Come on, where are you going to get a totally impartial historian? Would someone of a Protestant persuasion be so, I don't think so. Has that not been the problem with such histories of the past, when it has often been loaded on the Protestant side. Duffy is a fine historian and one of integrity. You judge him too harshly.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Aug 2011 09:52:10 BDT
shovelbeard says:
I agree. This review makes some fair points but the notion of an "impartial" historian is one I don't recognize. A historian chooses a subject, studies all relevant sources, develops a point of view and writes their version of events. The readers task is to read it but then read other accounts before making up their own mind. "Impartial" historians (a misnomer if there ever was one) belong in totalitarian societies. There is no one version of the past. Thank God (Protestant and Catholic) for that!

Posted on 26 Sep 2011 21:56:23 BDT
R. T. says:
Very helpful, thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Apr 2012 21:02:01 BDT
chris lane says:
Read Haigh's book on the Reformations.
He tells the story of being 'accused' of being a Catholic for his book!

He told that man that in fact Haigh is agnostic, just going on the evidence.

The Reformation was imposed on a mainly conservative populace, but then the people got used to it by 1575.
Agreed about monastic life being mainly in decline, but read about the Five Wounds rebellion and the monks of Glastonbury

Posted on 30 Apr 2012 10:53:37 BDT
J Whitgift says:
An interesting and reflective review. The point is that Duffy's book is a reaction to the Protestant narrative found within many of the histories of the Reformation, for instance it stands in opposition to Owen Chadwick's statement at the beginning of his history of the Reformation that `everyone who mattered in Europe was calling for reformation.' It's also a corrective to the view that the Reformation was a clearing out of a moribund and static Church. The Church was not static, though it may not have been moving in the direction wanted by those of a reformist mindset.

Duffy's book is, of course, massively (and sometimes naively) political in its pro-Catholic stance, but then again Duffy is a Catholic writer, writing in defence of the Church to which he belongs and is rightly correcting the anti-Catholic bias that has prospered in post-Reformation English society. As such it should never be read isolation, but alongside other books such as MacCulloch's magisterial biography of Cranmer which form a helpful corrective, but also show how history is always political and is hardly ever value free.

My own feeling is that Duffy's book should be enjoyed for what it is and used as a jumping off point for those interested in this fascinating subject, not as a single source on this subject.

Posted on 2 May 2012 08:16:37 BDT
only protestant apology is history!

Posted on 20 Jul 2013 16:40:51 BDT
According to Norman Davies (1), '... the first major Catholic-inspired History of England did not appear in its eight-volume edition until 1819. Its author was Father John Lingard (1771-1831); the son of a recusant family from Winchester, who had been sent abroad to study at the English Jesuit College at Douai.'

[1] Norman Davies; The Isles: A History; page 434;

Posted on 13 Dec 2013 21:07:01 GMT
Last edited by the author on 13 Dec 2013 21:10:32 GMT
Thomas Carty says:
Apart from totally revolutionizing how late medieval Catholicism and the English Reformation were experienced and perceived, Duffy's work leaves the previously dominant narrative on this decisive period of history revealed as little better than unexamined prejudice reflecting four-hundred year-old propaganda, and owing much to Anglican self-delusion about the origins of the state church, as well as to English nationalism.
It is apparent from comments posted here that some still cannot accept the essentially positive picture of English grass-roots Catholicism which emerges from Duffy's work. It is ludicrous to see a sectarian 'Roman Catholic agenda' in his thoroughly documented books. As for 'swallowing his conclusions', his fellow historians seem to have had no hesitation in doing so.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Dec 2013 21:56:30 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 10 Apr 2014 17:39:10 BDT]
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