The Reconstruction of the Church of Ireland: Bishop Bramhall and the Laudian Reforms, 1633-1641/james Ussher: Theology, History, and Politics in Early-Modern Ireland and England

Article excerpt

The Reconstruction of the Church of Ireland: Bishop Bramhall and the Laudian Reforms, 1633-1641. By John McCafferty. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, Pp. xiv, 268. $110.00.)

James Ussher: Theology, History, and Politics in Early-Modern Ireland and England. By Alan Ford. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, Pp. xi, 315. $120.00.)

Books on Irish bishops are like buses - you wait for ages for one, and then three come along at once. These monographs on John Bramhall and James Ussher were published in the very same year as a comparative study by Jack Cunningham tided James Ussher and John Bramhall: The Theology and Politics of Two Irish Ecclesiastics of the Seventeenth Century. That book, while useful, would have been stronger if it had been able to draw on McCafferty and Ford, for both writers have produced splendid monographs. The two books are stylishly written, and each displays an assured command of archival sources, Christian doctrine, ecclesiastical politics, and Irish history.

McCafferty and Ford have previously co-edited a collection on The Origins of Sectarianism in Early Modern Ireland (2005), but they approach their subjects from different angles. McCafferty has roots in the Irish Catholic tradition and lectures in the School of History and Archives at University College Dublin; Ford was raised in the Church of Ireland and is a professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Nottingham University. They offer different - sometimes rival - versions of key events in the 1630s, but ultimately their perspectives are complementary rather than clashing. McCafferty writes with an outsider's eye, looking wryly at the "haze of myths" that surround Irish Protestantism, and offering in his introduction a brilliant short account of why the English Reformation failed so comprehensively when exported to Ireland. Ford is also keen to get beneath the myths that enshroud his subject, and is fully alert to how Ireland's Protestants were shaped by their minority status, but he is clearly sympathetic to Ussher who remained "personally calm, gentle and unresentful" toward his foes.

Both books concentrate on the ecclesiastical politics of Bramhall and Ussher, not on their most famous intellectual contentions. …