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41 of 67 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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