Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Writing Faith and Telling Tales: Literature, Politics, and Religion in the Work of Thomas More

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Writing Faith and Telling Tales: Literature, Politics, and Religion in the Work of Thomas More

Article excerpt

Writing Faith and Telling Tales: Literature, Politics, and Religion in the Work of Thomas More. By Thomas Betteridge. [ReFormations Medieval and Early Modern.] (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 2013. Pp. xii, 256. S38.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-268-02239-6.)

To recover the "traditions within which [St. Thomas] More wrote" (p. 7), Writing Faith slips past its author's interests in Tudor literature to snatch up four- teenth- and fifteenth-century texts. The concerns addressed by More in works ranging from his early epigrams to the polemical and later devotional treatises, Betteridge says, are reflected in works of Geoffrey Chaucer, John Lydgate, William Langland, Reginald Pecock, and others. When Betteridge is at his best, his parallels are striking, and readers will be glad to have his suggestive run at More's telling tales and striking arguments against the early English evangelicals. Yet Writing Faith may often leave readers clamoring for more of the late-medieval context, as when Betteridge sifts the effects of the Peasants' Revolt on the political opinions of Langland and Chaucer.

Betteridge's careful handling of More's polemical works will be especially appreciated. Some of his conclusions lean on James Simpson's work where Brendan Bradshaw's appraisals should have given pause; yet this is a quibble. Writing Faith does an impressive, insightful job with the pragmatism of More's Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529) and Confutation (1532-33). Betteridge's analysis of the latter accommodates several memorable observations and assessments: "in its sheer size and messiness," Betteridge suggests, More's Confutation "can be seen as an image of [his] church as a place for religious thought" (p. 146). By then, Writing Faith has already set up More's reliance on "the community of the church" in which "religious meaning" is-and ought to be-"constrained" yet also is a conversation that is not always swift to discern "the truth of Christ's teaching" (pp. 141-42). On this front, early evangelicals were guilty first of impatience, then of error. …

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