But we shouldn't all turn back to Romeby Giles Fraser / April 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
“That’s my wine,” Eamon Duffy teased, as I mistakenly sipped from his glass. “First you pinch our churches, now you pinch my wine.” This won’t be a conventional review of Duffy’s exciting new collection of essays on the Reformation—or reformations, as he prefers. Not least because after having read a few chapters of this fabulous book, I was so buzzing with questions and ideas that I went up to Cambridge and took him for lunch.
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther challenged the authority of the Catholic Church by nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. What began as a complaint about turning salvation into an income stream for the Catholic church through the selling of indulgences, soon broadened into a wholesale rejection of papal authority. Translating the Latin Bible into the language of ordinary people broke the grip of a priestly class that had set itself up as an intermediary between the congregation and God. Turbocharged by the printing press, Luther’s protest led to the break up of the pan-European church, and the start of more than a century of religious war. On these solidly Catholic islands, an opportunistic Henry VIII borrowed the theology of the revolution, to which he was not personally inclined, in order to sort out his bedroom bother with his wife Catherine of Aragon—and to steal the wealth of the monasteries.
The two sides would, of course, tell the story differently. Since an Anglican priest such as myself and—on the other side—an Irish Roman Catholic historian like Duffy come to the qu…