Receiving the Reformation

Reception of ReformationA review of The Reception of Continental Reformation in Britain

This volume, edited by Polly Ha and the late Patrick Collinson, explores the relationships between reformations on the continent and in Britain, which are still, far too often, studied in blessed isolation from each other. Once we start discussing the relationship of our island story to “Europe”, we enter, of course, into a perennially tense debate!

It has become fashionable amongst early modern historians, though not amongst some high churchmen, to draw thick and tight lines between the reformers in Zurich, Wittenberg, Geneva, Strasbourg, and the English Reformation. The Church of England emerges from this as part of an international Reformed movement, and far less as an exceptional case (the invention of “Anglicanism” per se being a myth promoted by Newman and the Oxford Movement).

This volume contributes to that scholarly movement of thought by rediscovering the Continental dimensions of the Reformations in Britain. Individual theologians such as Peter Martyr Vermigli, Martin Bucer, Martin Luther, and John Knox come under scrutiny, as does the politics of book purchase in the sixteenth century parish. All most enlightening, reminding us of the “strange death of Lutheran England” and the clear shift after Edward VI to a more Reformed version of Protestantism that characterised the settled state of the Church here in this formative period.

Atherstone ReformationWhile I’m on the subject of the Reformation, honourable mention must go to the terrific survey of the Reformation in Andrew Atherstone’s The Reformation: Faith and Flames. This is a beautifully produced hardback, exceptionally well-written, and theologically reliable. More than that, it takes the reader on an inspiring journey. Dr Atherstone has an enviable ability to reduce his great learning and thorough research into readable and pithy prose. It is not as racy as Mike Reeves’ The Unquenchable Flame: Introducing the Reformation, but it would be an excellent book at bedtime or book of the term to read with others.

This review was first published in Churchman 128/2 (2014).

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