Reformation -- Book Review

Reformation by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto and Derek Wilson (Bantam Press, 1966, $89.95) reviewed by Lloyd Geering in SOFN Newletter #20

A Roman Catholic historian has joined with an evangelical Anglican historian to show that religious reformation is not confined to the sixteenth century Reformation sparked by Luther, but has been much in evidence in both Protestantism and Catholicism for five hundred years.

This is not a chronological history of the theme of reformation, let alone a history of the Catholic-Protestant divide, but a vast collection of historical snippets, arranged according to selected themes. Much interesting and often little known information has been assembled to challenge both Catholic and Protestant readers to broaden their perceptions of each other in today's ecumenical climate. For this purpose the book could be read with great profit from within the churches.

But the book was also intended for those outside the churches. Although the authors acknowledge the fact of modern secularisation they have failed to understand how much the Western world has changed during this century. The Catholic-Protestant rift which divided it for four hundred years has today become irrelevant, not so much because of growing ecumenism but because Christian orthodoxy itself has become irrelevant.

The authors assert "The death of God has been prematurely reported" and that "today, secularism is on the defensive", while "religions are back reshaping a spiritually charged world". This can only be judged pious wishful thinking rather than informed comment and there is little in the book to support such claims

This book contains much historical information, which deals with what "divided Christian from Christian" and it encourages Christian unity, but it fails to deal at all adequately with what now has "divided the Church from the world". Written in 1896 it could have won much praise for its broad Christian sympathies and ecumenical spirit. Published in 1996 it appears to be narrowly parochial in today's multi-cultural, religiously pluralistic and increasingly secularised global village.

Lloyd Geering