Reformation Divided

by Eamon Duffy, Bloomsbury, £30

Another blockbuster arrives from the professor (emeritus) of Christian history at Cambridge. This time it is a collection of 14 pieces, all but two of them first published in learned journals over the years and now reworked and/or expanded.

Reformation Divided begins with two powerful essays defending Thomas More against his many recent detractors (including Hilary Mantel and her lamentable Wolf Hall). It ends with a dazzling piece on George Fox, founder of the Quakers. And in between is a galaxy of clever offerings.

Duffy writes stylish, lively prose. He greatly admires (rightly) the late John Bossy, while often disagreeing with him heartily – for the latter could sometimes be very wrong. Above all, Duffy is prodigiously learned. Again and again as I progressed through this book I found myself wanting to bang on the table in front of me in hearty assent – or in gratitude for having so much fall into place. For example, the piece on Cardinal Allen, a deeply controversial figure in Counter-Reformation English history, gets him right at last. And surely it is right to see that what fired so much of Catholic recusancy (including Thomas More and the ardent Catholic polemicist Nicholas Sander) was the conviction that Protestantism had seduced, pillaged and plundered, desecrated and unleashed violence and disorder, that its “martyrs” were pseudo-martyrs, its leaders intruders, usurpers and apostates.

Likewise, thanks to Duffy’s vivid account of the wretched squabbles between (some) Jesuits and secular clergy, I now have a much greater appreciation of what the egregious Blacklo and his “Cabal” were about; how their campaign to have missionary Jesuits and other Religious brought under the control of a restored hierarchy formed an unholy alliance (or at least flirtation) with Jansenism; how deeply involved in all that were the English seminaries in Douai and Lisbon; how difficult all this made the work of the vicars apostolic when England was at last given a hierarchy in 1685, especially after the bull Unigenitus (1713) condemned Jansen’s main tenets; and finally, how anti-Jesuit Cisalpinism, so assiduously promoted by the likes of the English Church historian Charles Dodd, lived on until well into the 19th century.

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