Angels in the Early Modern World

By Johnson, Richard F. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Angels in the Early Modern World


Johnson, Richard F., The Catholic Historical Review


Angels in the Early Modern World. Edited by Peter Marshall and Alexandra walsham. (NewYork: Cambridge University Press. 2006. Pp. xiv, 326. $99.00.)

In the post-medieval period, angels were very nearly erased, both literally and figuratively, from the spiritual landscape of Europe in the wake of the purges of Catholic devotional practices and iconography by Protestant reformers. And yet devotion to angels persisted in the popular imagination through the Enlightenment and well into the modern era; indeed, to this day angels remain immensely popular.

Professors Peter Marshall (Warwick University) and Alexandra walsham (University of Exeter) have edited an excellent volume which charts the fate of angelic guardians and messengers from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. The thirteen essays in this volume represent original research from a variety of perspectives on the persistence of angelic devotions in this period across confessional and intellectual landscapes from western Europe and the British Isles to Puritan New England and the Spanish Americas.

The veneration of saints had been rejected by Protestant reformers as being an unacceptable remnant of Catholic superstition. Met with vehement skepticism, devotions to angels were often associated with witchcraft and magic. Indeed, the cult and intercession of saints and angels were among the first casualties of the Reformation. Accounts of angelic apparitions were prohibited. The Book of Tobit, which recounts the interaction of the archangel Raphael and Tobit's son,Tobias, was excluded from the Protestant Bible. Artistic representations of angelic beings were equated with idolatry. By the end of English civil war, a new wave of iconoclasm swept across the British Isles and Europe, and the defacement and destruction of images of angels in churches was widespread.

As many of the essays in this volume demonstrate, however, angels continued to appeal at a popular level. Although the Reformation thinkers had a fundamentally different understanding of salvation from that of their Catholic antagonists, one which precluded the intercession of both saints and angelic beings, there was a split between theological elites and local populaces on the issue of the efficacy of angelic devotion. …

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