EAMON Duffy is the writer of an article which I saw in the UK magazine The Tablet. The heading of his article says: Reformation Divided: Catholics, Protestants and the Conversion of England.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the bold protest against the trade in indulgences, when Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on a church door in Wittenberg. This possibly apocryphal historical event has become permanently etched in the Western imagination.

It is 25 years since the publication of Eamon Duffy’s The stripping of the Altars, a book that transformed our understanding of the process by which vibrant tradition of piety was violently dismantled by Henry VIII and his successors, and by which this country severed its links with the rest of Catholic Christendom. Decisively undermining the idea that the Late Medieval Church was a moribund institution, no single work has left a larger imprint on academic and popular thinking about the Reformation and the spiritual world that it sought to consign to oblivion.

Duffy charts what he calls the “strange death of Erasmian England”. It fills out the picture of the precocious and dynamic “northern counter-reformation” he painted in his book Fires of Faith, and traces the pastoral initiatives of the godly Protestant clergy who strove to bring about the inner conversion of ordinary people.

A study of “attempted reformation” and their repercussions, this book begins from the position that “the Reformation” is “an unsatisfactory designation concealing a battery of value judgments”. But if Duffy has no truck with conventional myths about the Reformation as midwife of progress and modernity, nor does he endorse the recent controversial diagnosis of the unintended but devastating consequences of Protestantism: hyper-pluralism, rampant consumerism and secularization.

Duffy is continuing his spirited conversation about the evolution of the post-Reformation English Catholic community and the translation of Christianity from s collective “social miracle” to a rigorously disciplinarian and individualist religion. Duffy investigates dimensions of English Counter-Reformation in both its Marian and missionary phases.

Reformation Divided is a characteristically stimulating and provocative volume. It skillfully excavates the powerful passions unleashed by a cataclysmic movement that continues to shape how we live today.

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