Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England

Article excerpt

IAN GREEN. Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. xxiii + 691, appendices, index. $110.00.

Print and Protestantism, the second volume in Ian Green's planned three-part series on Protestant education in early modern England, is a substantial contribution to the history of the book in post-Reformation England. Following Tessa Watt's and Alexandra Walsham's explorations of Protestantism in popular print, Green constructs a sample of over 700 "best-selling" and "steady-selling" religious works from the mid-sixteenth through early eighteenth centuries. Using a "wide angle" rather than "telephoto" lens, Green argues that the works which sold best (five or more editions over a thirty-year period), and therefore had the "most impact," were those reference texts which disseminated a conservative, didactic, and devotional message of faith and redemption, rather than works of a controversial or highly polemical nature such as the Marprelate Tracts, anti-Catholic dialogues, or "high Calvinist" cases of conscience. Though the enormity of Green's project presents a formidable survey of the varieties of religious print in early modern England, his snapshot blurs the edges of theological distinctions, clouds details of potential meanings, and fuzzes the focus on the social and political contexts that informed the production, purchase, and reading of printed texts.

Green identifies three different types of Protestantism in these bestsellers: the first, an orthodox, "official" Protestantism in educational works, demonstrates that a wide consensus existed among clergy over doctrinal and pastoral issues; the second, an ethical Christianity based upon reason, order, and classical humanism, resonated particularly with the gentry through verses, epigrams, and devotional materials; and the third, published in the cheapest materials, exhibited a "mix" of pre-Christian, medieval, and nationalistic popular Protestant ideals in which semiPelagianism and simple moralism prevailed. …