Rethinking Catholicism in Reformation England

Rethinking Catholicism in Reformation England

Rethinking Catholicism in Reformation England

Rethinking Catholicism in Reformation England

Synopsis

This book considers the ideological development of English Catholicism in the sixteenth century, from the complementary perspectives of history, theology, and literature. Lucy Wooding argues that Erasmian humanism had laid the foundations for Catholic reformation in England, but that it wasHenry VIII who turned an intellectual trend into an actual reform programme, reshaping English Catholicism in the process. The reformist strand within Catholic thought remained influential during the reign of Mary I, and in the early Elizabethan period, but was then reconfigured by the experience ofexile and the onset of the drive for Counter-Reformation uniformity. Dr Wooding shows that Catholicism in this period was neither a defunct tradition, nor one merely reacting to Protestantism, but a vigorous intellectual movement responding to the reformist impulse of the age. Its development illustrates the English Reformation in microcosm: scholarly, humanist,didactic, and preserving its own peculiarities independent of European trends. Rethinking Catholicism in Reformation England makes an important contribution to the intellectual history of the Reformation.

Excerpt

The Reformation is usually seen as being first and foremost a conflict, a savage struggle between two unyielding religious identities. the rival faiths are depicted chiefly in terms of their conflicting dogmas, in a war which had as many political as spiritual dimensions, and from which the only legacy was one of division. This emphasis upon conflict has always dominated views of the Reformation, and it has nearly always dictated the terms of the historical debate on the subject. Historians of the Reformation are entangled, unconsciously or sometimes wilfully, in attempts to defend, as much as explain, either the Catholicism or the Protestantism of the sixteenth century. It is uncanny how historical endeavours to evaluate the achievements of one or other grouping frequently read like declarations in favour of the belief systems or ecclesiastical institutions involved. Despite the advances of revisionism, there is still a Whiggish legacy influencing our perceptions of the English Reformation. We may no longer accept the inevitability of Protestant superiority, but we are still inclined to insist on the inevitability of religious conflict in terms we recognize, and in so doing tend to write Reformation history as if the identities in that struggle were clear from the very first.

Clearly conflict was an integral part of the English Reformation, and it would be absurd to deny it. Yet to concentrate upon it is often to risk making assumptions about the polarities of belief involved, with unfortunate consequences. First, there is a grave danger that we end up with a stereotype of the religious identities involved. An ‘ideal type’ of Catholicism or Protestantism might be of use to the theologian, but it is usually an obstacle to the historian. and yet Reformation history can still be written in terms of ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’ advance, frequently without any attempt to clarify exactly what those terms might have meant in practice, and ignoring the subtleties and variations within those traditions. This is particularly the case when it comes to Catholic history, in which assumptions about what constituted ‘orthodoxy’ are commonplace, frequently dictated by the concerns of a later era, or based on the attitudes of a church establishment at odds with popular belief and practice.

This tendency has been impressively routed, however, by some recent work, particularly A. Walsham, Church Papists: Catholicism, Conformity and Confessional Polemic in Early

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