Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Being Protestant in Reformation Britain

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Being Protestant in Reformation Britain

Article excerpt

Being Protestant in Reformation Britain. By Alec Ryrie. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, Pp. xiii, 498. $65.00.)

This book asks two main questions: "What did early modern Protestants do in order to live out their religion; and what meaning did they find in those actions" (2)? The answers substantiate the thesis that "devotional life shows us early modern British Protestantism as an intense, dynamic, and broad-based religious culture" (3). As the thesis indicates, Ryrie analyzes that culture through the lens of "devotion rather than doctrine" (2), relying on both published sources such as sermons and devotional guides and unpublished ones like diaries, journals, memoirs, and commonplace books (10). He has mined this rich vein thoroughly; the list of primary sources in the bibliography is far longer than the list of secondary sources. Reformed Protestant piety is evaluated as to its emotional life (chapters 1-5), theory and practice of prayer (6-10), reverence for scripture (11-12), corporate devotion (13-14), and life narrative (15-16). What emerges is a fine-grained depiction of pious practices, in England and Scodand, for the period 1530-1640, before the disruption effected by the Civil War.

Of the three parts of his thesis, the best defended is the third. Ryrie argues convincingly that despite their doctrinal differences, conformists and puritans shared a common devotional milieu, which included fasting before communion, observing holy days besides the Sabbath, and valuing, besides the Lord's Prayer, both public and private prayer, extempore and written (104, 471). (These puritan-conformist convergences make it regrettable that Ryrie scants Hooker as "distinct" [6].) The intensity and dynamism of early modern Protestant piety are not to be denied, and each is nicely captured by wrestling as metaphor for both prayer and fasting (251-52). However, they are harder to distinguish from each another, and the rhythm of religious observances and of efforts to maintain one's initial zeal (412-13) must qualify the claim that the dynamism of Protestant piety "deplored rhythms" (4). …

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