Monday, December 27, 2004

The Stripping of the Altars

Shortly before Christmas, I finally finished reading The Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy.

As you can probably tell already, I have mixed feelings about the book. There’s no question it’s painstakingly well researched. But I wish more effort would have gone into editing. Frankly, I spent too much time wading through wills and untranslated pre-Elizabethan English. This is a 600 page book that could have been a more readable 450 page book. Much of what Duffy included in the body of his book should have been put in an appendix instead.

Also, I wonder if Duffy had an axe to grind. His book clearly has an anti-Protestant slant to it. Now I don’t have the academic background to make a judgement on how fair he is. And there’s no question both Protestants and Catholics often conducted themselves poorly in 16th century England.

The book does give an excellent and detailed picture of what pre-Reformation English religion was like. That was probably the biggest benefit to me.

Reading The Stripping of the Altars confirms to me my current preference to be somewhere in between Catholicism and Protestantism. Seeing what English Medieval religion was like confirms that a reformation was needed. But excesses such as wanton iconoclasm also confirm that aspects of the Reformation went too far.

I would suggest English Reformations by Christopher Haigh as a more readable, more balanced overview of the same years Duffy looks at. But if you want to learn about pre-Reformation English religion or if the only English histories you’ve read make it sound like Jolly Old England merrily cast off popery, then Duffy is well worth the time.

And reading Stripping of the Altars will take time. If you skim through the wills and the unreadable Medieval English and such, I won’t tell anyone.

(And thanks again to the good professor for the copy!)

No comments: