Heretics and Heroes (Hinges of History #6)

Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our WorldHeretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the most pivotal periods of Western civilization occurred during the Renaissance and the Reformation, to culturally impactful events that overlapped one another across Europe. Heretics and Heroes is the sixth book in Thomas Cahill’s series “The Hinges of History” highlighting the artists and the priests that changed how Europe viewed creativity and worshipped God.

Cahill begins this volume talking about philosophical struggle over the ages between Plato and Aristotle, through it is the fourth time he has discussed this millennia-long debate during the series it allows Cahill to refer back to it in the text and gives the reader a basis to understand its importance during this era. Cahill continued setting up both the Renaissance and Reformation by highlighting moments during the Late Middle Ages, especially the effects of the Black Death, leading up to and allowed for these two important moments in Western history to occur. The ‘discovery’ of the New World by Columbus and rise of the humanists begin the look at the titular heretics and heroes that will dominate the book, using both events Cahill shows the changing trends in Europe just before both the Renaissance and Reformation completely change it. The Renaissance and it’s complete change of artistic creativity of the previous millennium is taken up first through the lives of Donatello, Leonardo, and Botticelli before focusing on its height and sudden stop as a result of the Counter-Reformation in the life of Michelangelo. Then, save for a brief look at the art of Northern Europe, Cahill turns to the Reformation of Luther and the Catholic Counter-Reformation with brief looks at the Reformed movements and the development of Anglicanism.

The entire book is packed with information in a very conversational style of writing which has always been one of the strengths of Cahill’s writing. As always with a popular history book, Cahill had to pick and choose what to focus the reader’s attention on while covering as much as possible about the subject he’s decided to write about. While Cahill is pretty successful at hitting the high points and pointing readers looking for information to the appropriate place to look, his personal opinions at times overwhelm the history and themes he’s trying to bring to fore. All history authors have their personal opinions influence their work; however Cahill’s armchair psychiatry and personal theological arguments that actually have nothing to do with the debate he’s writing about at that moment in the text. While Cahill’s personal opinions have been in all of the previous books of the series, this volume it seems to not be subtle but almost blatant.

Overall Heretics and Heroes is a fine addition to the “Hinges of History” series written in a very readable style by Cahill. However, unlike the previous books in which the reader was left with wanting more, the reader will be wishing less of Cahill’s opinion and more of actual facts. Yet even with this drawback and forewarning a reader will find this book very informative.

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A Bold One for God

A Bold One For GodA Bold One For God by Charles G. Edwards

My rating: 1.5 of 5 stars

Although he did not begin the Reformation in Scotland, John Knox has become its most identifiable proponent not only in the almost 450 years since his death but also during the last 25 years of his life. In A Bold One for God, Charles G. Edwards writes a brief 160 page biography of “a not-so-well-known reformer” that served not only God but his nation as well.

Edwards’ biography of Knox begins in his early 30s after his conversion to Protestantism and his interactions with martyr George Wishart and how the influential preacher told him to remain a tutor to his pupils until God needed him. In the reaction after Wishart’s execution, Knox was asked to preach by Wishart’s followers to lead their congregation after they had assassinated the Cardinal of St. Andrews. His accepts and his powerful preaching began his rise as a man of note in the Reformation movement in Scotland while also resulting in his imprisonment after the movement is crushed for a time. Over the course of the next 12 years, Knox serves as a galley slave before living in exile in England then Geneva and Frankfurt then back to Geneva with a brief visit to Scotland in-between. In 1559, Knox returned to Scotland permanently and became a not only the leading Protestant preacher in the nation but also one with significant political power as he contended with the queen regent Mary of Guise then her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, and then under the regents of the young James VI.

In the synopsis above, I have hardly scratched the surface of John Knox’s life and career. Unfortunately Charles Edwards did the same in this short biography as well. Although his intended audience is easy identifiable for young adults through his writing style and larger font, Edwards doesn’t treat his audience with respect by crediting them with any intelligence and made his subject less than what he was. Through reconstructed conversations and paraphrasing of others, Edwards endeavored to give Knox’s life more depth but only made the man appear simple and artificial to the reader which seemed to indicate a condescending attitude towards his readers.

While Edwards does give an accurate picture of the chronology and historical background of John Knox’s life that does not make up for the lack of depth and unintended sterilization of his subject. The lack of discussion of Knox’s first 30 years of life and the, most likely unintentional, patronizing attitude towards his readers severely undercuts the worth of A Bold One for God.

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English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society Under the Tudors

English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society Under the TudorsEnglish Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society Under the Tudors by Christopher Haigh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Christopher Haigh’s book, English Reformations, begins by showing that before 1530 there was no strong undercurrent for the Protestant Reformation in England in fact the exact opposite was true as Catholic England was going strong. Unlike the general historical belief that once Henry VIII broke with Rome a Protestant England would be the result, Haigh shows it was never the case especially when documenting the reign of Mary I when the majority of the English welcomed a return to the Roman Catholic Church.

Haigh presents that development of a Protestant minority in England started when Thomas Cromwell brought Protestant elements little-by-little into Henry’s decision to break with Rome then promoted them even after Henry’s natural conservative religious views came into play. The Protestant minority truely came into being during the reign of Edward VI when his Protectors and Council systematically made the Church of England more Protestant. After surviving the reign of Mary, the Protestants overreached at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign when they tried to overhaul the Church of England in one-fell swoop instead of the step-by-step approached used by Crowmell and under Edward, and it was this overreached that most likely created the mixture of Reformed Protestant and Catholic beliefs that are present in the Anglican Church.

Haigh’s conclusions and the evidence he presents shows that after all these “reformations” England was Christian, it just wasn’t really majority Protestant or Catholic. And when considering the religious and political developments in Great Britain from 1603 to 1714 under the Stuarts along with the various colonies on the eastern coast of North America, this conclusion seems to be correct.

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