Book Review: “All Things Made New: Writings on the Reformation” by Diarmaid MacCulloch

A collection of essays about Reformation by a renown world-class specialist

Diamaid MacCulloch is probably my favourite writer since 2017, when the quincentennial anniversary was celebrated for the posting of 95 thesis of Martin Luther in Wittenberg — an event that I personally hold in utmost high regard given its impact on the formation of freedom off conscience, a departurting point to the formation of a civic society (in parallel with humanism revolution and other methods and elements).

In this book, that is more of a collection of pieces penned on occasion in a variety of publications, MacCulloch dispels a number of myths surrounding Reformation, serving a good occasion to remind the reader of practical steps taken by both the proponents of reform and the defenders of the Roman Catholic Church. For example, the role of Luther is sometimes lauded too highly — where his role was big in Europe (yet often it was Zwingli and others), in Ireland the Reformation cause — however futile, was pushed by Franciscan friars.

It is not that religiously indifferent people instigated the Reformation — the very subject of this lengthy discussion was sparked not by the secular, but the die-hard believers: discussing the matter of life, death and afterlife — touching upon the concepts of salvation, absolution and castigation.

Reformation was based on profound pessimism about human beings, since it happened at dark times of Muslim invasion, expectation of the end of times (if seen through graphics of the era) and the advent of Antichrist (who by belief of Luther was the Pope himself). The debate was fueled by moral decay of the church and the propagation of indulgence that reformers believed to be a grand ruse — since the Church could not promise the “fast track” through Purgatory — the very concept of which arrived in Christianity because of massive diseases — when people did not have the chance to bury the dead in proper accordance of the ritual — and this castigated them to perennial misery in Hell. Purgatory allowed the souls of the dead to get to this staging middle ground where number of sermons held for them allowed them to save number of years to move to Heaven.

In the eyes of Reformation this was a trick never to be trifled with in the eyes of God — and so the Book should be taken away from the rotten Church and given to a man.

MacCulloch other grand books: Christianity, a recent one on Thomas Cromwell (a major politician at times of Henry VIII) and his seminal Reformation: A House Divided — give plenty of thought:

The study of dogmatism of the Church is based almost always on pride where pride is one of the original sins: the veneration of saints and their images goes in synch with pagan veneration of trees and stones (Erasmus showing similarities between these). The desire to purge churches of such things led to vandalism and bloodshed.

The history of Reformation is full of both trifles and anecdotes: in part the desire to get the land of English monasteries by Henry VIII was in part motivated personally — to absolve the marriage between himself and Katherine of Aragon — to marry a charismatic Anne Boleyn and national — to pay for the French campaign and protect against a sudden invasion. The sovereign made no expense in debasing the currency — before that considered one of the most stable ones.