All Things Made New

The Reformation and Its Legacy

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Diarmaid MacCulloch
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , September
     464 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Diarmaid MacCulloch’s All Things Made New brings together a series of the author’s previous articles—book reviews, chapters, and journal pieces written between 1995 and 2015—on the subject of the Reformation and its lasting impact. The book is a wonderful, and sometimes delightfully quirky, collection of essays on topics including angels, Tudor monarchs, William Byrd, and the historiography of the English Reformation. Two voices, perhaps, by no means mutually exclusive, are on display—one voice briskly explaining complicated events, laced with pithy and insightful comments, the other debunking anachronistic readings of history.

MacCulloch is without doubt a gifted writer and the collection is readable and highly entertaining. We are introduced to the battle of the Cranmerian beard, where the portrait of Cranmer that was chosen by different authors represented their attempt to claim the Archbishop for a particular tradition. We are told that “the main point of royal daughters was as saleable breeding stock” (150) and that “the conventions of oil portraiture make unnecessary the wide smiles of the twenty-first century, which the deficiencies of Tudor dentistry would also render unwise” (158). MacCulloch quips, further, that the translators of the King James Bible did not try very hard to better Tydale’s translation of the scriptures, except where “they felt that it needed to sound more like the parish church than the alehouse” (180). Reviewing Christopher Black’s Italian Inquisition, he writes: “On the subject of the respective merits of torture by fire applied to feet coated in pork fat or by suspension of the arms tied behind one’s back, Inquisition suspects facing torture would no doubt nod sagely at Black’s opinion that ‘a fire that scalded the feet might be less harmful for a man likely to be sentenced as an oarsman to the galleys than injury to the shoulders’” (78). MacCulloch has a keen eye for the ridiculous, and his playful sensibility works effectively to highlight the oftentimes less playful truths that lie at the heart of his subject matter.

The themes of the nature of the Reformation and the Anglican tradition are the anchor points which tie together the oftentimes disparate subject matter in MacCulloch’s collection. In several of his essays he seeks to rescue the English Reformation from the instrumentalist readings of Anglo-Catholics, who, embarrassed that the Reformation occurred at all, “minimized its revolutionary character and stressed how different it was from the Reformation on the ‘Continent’” (240). Detailed essays on Richard Hooker and Thomas Cranmer show how leading figures in Anglicanism have suffered many things at the hands of later historians. MacCulloch paints a picture of the Anglican tradition with an “exhilarating variety,” an “engaging inability to present a single identity,” and an “admirable unwillingness to tell people what to do,” as perfectly exemplified by the protean Richard Hooker (319–20). Truly, to adapt an aphorism of John Cooke, the wells of Anglicanism are deep—so deep that each may draw a different bucket. One wonders if any trace of anachronism remains in this engagingly unobtrusive characterization.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Benjamin Saunders is Senior Lecturer in Consitutional Law at Deakin University, Australia.

Date of Review: 
July 5, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Diarmaid MacCulloch is professor of the history of the church at Oxford University. His Thomas Cranmer (1996) won the Whitbread Biography Prize, the James Tait Black Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize; The Reformation: A History (2004) won the Wolfson Prize and the British Academy Prize. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (2010), which was adapted into a six-part BBC television series, was awarded the Cundill and Hessel-Tiltman Prizes. His Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh were published in 2013 as Silence: A Christian History. His most recent television series, Sex and the Church, broadcast in 2015. He was knighted in 2012.


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