Friday 23 December 2022

The Church and the Age of Reformations 1350–1650 - Joseph T Stuart and Barbara A Stuart - Reclaiming Catholic History Series Book 5

The Church and the Age of Reformations (1350–1650): 
Martin Luther, the Renaissance, and the Council of Trent
Reclaiming Catholic History Series Book 5
Joseph T. Stuart
Barbara A. Stuart
Mike Aquilina (Editor)
Ave Maria Press
ISBN 9781646800339
eISBN 9781646800346

I have greatly enjoyed the other five volumes in this series that I have read, and I have but 1 to go. They were not released in Chronological order, and have slowly been coming out over the last few years. The second The Church and the Roman Empire by Mike Aquilina, came out first in 2019 as did the second The Early Church by James L. Papandrea. There will be seven volumes in this series, and this one volume 5 was released second last. Mike Aquilina is the general editor of the series. I can easily state that this volume is an excellent read. This book and the whole series are great reads. I spent 20 years as an undergraduate, for the most part because I loved learning. My last degree was in Religious Studies with a focus on Roman Catholic Thought. I would have loved this book and those I have read in this series as resources, for several of the courses I completed.   

Many years ago when I did an Introduction to Church History course at Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo, our professor, Arnold Snider, often said throughout the year, “I do not care as much about dates and names and places, as the story of Christianity. On your final exam the main question will be ‘Your uncle Billy at Christmas dinner says: ‘I hear you did the history of Christianity, tell us the story in your own words?’” And that was the one essay question on the exam. This book and the others I have read in the series would have been great resources for that course. Maybe could have even served as textbooks if the course had not been taught at a Mennonite College, if it had been offered at St Jerome’s University I could see these being the books used today. If I had had them they would have been pulled out often for essays, papers and research. This is a great read in an excellent series. These books are written in an engaging manner that any Catholic could pick them up and benefit from reading them. And this one is on a very hard time frame in Church history. 

This is the sixth volume published in this series, Reclaiming Catholic History, though it is the fifth book in the series. The series is being edited by Mike Aquilina and the first published volume was by him as well. About this series we are told by Aquilina:

“The history of the Catholic Church is often clouded by myth, misinformation, and missing pieces. Today there is a renewed interest in recovering the true history of the Church, correcting the record in the wake of centuries of half-truths and noble lies. Books in the Reclaiming Catholic History series, edited by Mike Aquilina and written by leading authors and historians, bring Church history to life, debunking the myths one era at a time.”

Each of the book I have read so far I have benefited from greatly and recommended to several friends and family members. The chapters in this volume are:

Reclaiming Catholic History: Series Introduction
Chronology of The Church and the Age of Reformations (1350–1650)

Chapter 1: Reform in the Late Middle Ages
     Up Close and Personal: St. Catherine of Genoa
     You Be the Judge: Didn’t the Inquisition kill 
     and torture people because of their faith?
     Up Close and Personal: St. Philip Neri
     Up Close and Personal: The Papacy in Scripture 
     and the Church Fathers

Chapter 2: Protestants
     You Be the Judge: Didn’t the Catholic Church make 
     up which books were in the Bible during the Council 
     of Trent?
     You Be the Judge: Don’t Catholics pray to the saints 
     instead of Christ?
     You Be the Judge: Didn’t the Church prohibit Catholics 
     from reading the Bible?
     Up Close and Personal: St. Thomas More
     You Be the Judge: Should Pope Pius V have excommunicated 
     Elizabeth I of England?

Chapter 3: Catholics
     Up Close and Personal: Reforming Religious Orders before 
     the Council of Trent
     Up Close and Personal: St. Teresa of Ávila
     Up Close and Personal: St. Ignatius
     You Be the Judge: Did the Church sell forgiveness of sins?
     Up Close and Personal: Pope St. Pius V
     Up Close and Personal: St. Charles Borromeo

Chapter 4: Consequences
     Up Close and Personal: St. Francis de Sales

About the Authors

The introduction to this book states:

“In the Age of Reformations, numerous challenges converged to confuse people about true reform. The new literate culture emerging due to the invention of the printing press around 1439 seemed to make texts more authoritative than living people such as wise elders or Church leaders. This contributed to a catechetical crisis. In addition, the resurgence of a kind of spiritualism in the Renaissance cast doubt on the material world as a vehicle of spiritual reality, undermining the sacraments.

A new view of history emerged that negated the very idea of tradition. It characterized the “Middle Ages” as dark and unimportant, and the classical era of early Christianity as the ideal pattern for Christian life. All subsequent history was decline. This broke historical continuity and development of doctrine. It also injected a dose of utopianism into the intellectual life of the age by giving rise to unrealistic hopes for Christians to reform by purging all corruption from among themselves and society.

Because the gap between Christian ideals and the messiness of real life seemed wider than ever and corruption clearly remained in the old Church, that seemed to prove the need to “start over.” Several new Christian churches emerged. The resulting conflict of theological voices calling for divergent ideas of reform constituted one of the central dramas of the age.

Then there was the political temptation. Zealous Catholic and Protestant reformers often aspired to governmental control of society. This created militant religious ideologies seeking to force reform in ways that easily betrayed Christian charity and respect for religious freedom. The perceived need to seek political solutions created huge challenges for authentic reform in the long run.

Finally, apocalypticism and impatience with the “ungodly” led to dreams of social revolution and violence. This was the temptation of pride in reformers, wishing God would show himself powerful, put down evil, and create a better world—through their help!"

Further on it states:

“We approach our subject from the perspectives of both history and theology, our fields of expertise. That is because more than theological differences came into play during the Age of Reformations. Human spiritual freedom is not the freedom of pure spirits but rather the difficult freedom of people embedded in history and influenced by events outside their control. If one was born in 1550 in Spain, for example, one was likely to be a Catholic; if in Denmark, then a Lutheran. The religious choices of individuals were largely made for them by previous generations. The historian Christopher Dawson wrote that the decisions of one person—an apostle or a heresiarch, a king or a statesman—affected the spiritual destinies of millions of ordinary people. It is no less a mistake for the theologian to ignore historical context than it is for the historian to miss the “reality and the creative power of religious truth.”

I highlighted over 50 passages my first time through this volume. This book, as are all in the series, are excellent resource. It can be read by late high school students or undergrads and used as a resource. It can be read by anyone interested in church history. It is very engaging and often entertaining, though this volume does not have some of the humour of other offerings. It is an excellent resource! Most chapter’s follow the same format of the main history. Then two focused sections. The first is Up Close and Personal and is a profile of a specific person or people. And this volume has a few of each in each chapter. These sections usually focus on saints or blessed. The next is a section called You Be The Judge, which goes deeper into a question, point of interest or conflict. The book would be worth reading for either of these sections alone, and as a whole thing is very well written. The Stuart’s do an excellent job of presenting a balanced and fair view of the subjects and persons covered, maybe even too much so occasionally. 

I benefited from reading this volume, and already plan to read it again. And I am certain you will as well. I know that I will be reading the remaining volume in the series. And will likely circle back and reread them all in order. 

A good read in an excellent series! 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books in the Reclaiming Catholic History Series:
The Early Church - James L. Papandrea
The Church and the Roman Empire - Mike Aquilina
The Church and the Dark Ages
The Church and the Middle Ages
The Church and the Reformations
The Church and the Age of Enlightenment
The Church Facing the Modern Era

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