Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Beyond the Reformation? Authority, Primacy and Unity in the Conciliar Tradition

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Beyond the Reformation? Authority, Primacy and Unity in the Conciliar Tradition

Article excerpt

Beyond the Reformation? Authority, Primacy and Unity in the Conciliar Tradition. By Paul Avis. (NewYork: T and T Clark. 2006. Pp. xx, 234. $120.00.)

The times are not long since gone when, for church historians, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were of interest mainly because "they were the age which nursed the [Protestant] Reformation" (William Hunt). With the abject humiliation of Pope Boniface VIII at Anagni in 1303, one simply embarked on the tides of destiny, to be swept forward with irreversible momentum over seas scattered with the wreckage of thirteenth-century hierocratic ambitions, to arrive at one's destination on October 31, 1517, with the banging of Luther's hammer ringing in one's ears. And one of the required ports of call on that providential voyage was the scandal of the Great Schism and the sharp challenge posed by the Conciliar movement to the high pretensions of the papal monarchy.

It is, of course, no longer fashionable to write history in that way; nor, in this interesting and informative essay on the role played by "conciliarism" and/or "conciliarity" in the Roman Catholic Church and the churches of the Reformation, is Paul Avis moved by any nostalgia for the old preoccupation with the providential role played by the "Forerunners." Nor, beyond that, is he quite willing to endorse J.T. McNeill's later (and more complex) argument that the Reformers were "in a large sense the heirs of the Conciliarists" (p. 107). Instead, in this weU-informed and "first full-length study" of the matter, while acknowledging obvious discontinuities, he is concerned to describe, probe, and draw renewed attention to the widely-ignored strands of continuity that link the conciliarist ecclesiology hammered out during the Great Schism with the subsequent ecclesiological commitments of the Lutheran, Reformed, and, above all, Anglican churches.An eminently worthwhile project, and he is to be commended for undertaking it.

General Secretary to the Council for Church Unity of the Church of England, Avis acknowledges that his "motive in undertaking this study ... is ... not purely historical" (p. xiii). …

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