Yea, verily, Magister Duffy doth rock

There’s a new one out from Eamon Duffy: Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor (Yale, 2009). This be ye blurbe:

The reign of Mary Tudor has been remembered as an era of sterile repression, when a reactionary monarch launched a doomed attempt to reimpose Catholicism on an unwilling nation. Above all, the burning alive of more than 280 men and women for their religious beliefs seared the rule of “Bloody Mary” into the protestant imagination as an alien aberration in the onward and upward march of the English-speaking peoples.

In this controversial reassessment, the renowned reformation historian Eamon Duffy argues that Mary’s regime was neither inept nor backward looking. Led by the queen’s cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, Mary’s church dramatically reversed the religious revolution imposed under the child king Edward VI. Inspired by the values of the European Counter-Reformation, the cardinal and the queen reinstated the papacy and launched an effective propaganda campaign through pulpit and press.

Even the most notorious aspect of the regime, the burnings, proved devastatingly effective. Only the death of the childless queen and her cardinal on the same day in November 1558 brought the protestant Elizabeth to the throne, thereby changing the course of English history.

I also noticed that Eamon Duffy contributed to the catalogue of the ongoing British Library exhibition Henry VIII: Man and Monster. Oops. That should read “Man and Monarch.” Silly me. The exhibition catalogue is avaialble from the British Library Store.

I shall now exhibit (I hope) some self-control and prevent myself from purchasing those two delectable items until I have finished reading the three Eamon Duffy books that I already have: The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (Yale, 2003), The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580 (Yale, Second Edition 2005), and Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570 (Yale, 2006). The latter is profusely illustrated with beautiful images of pre-Protestant English prayer books. Duffy’s work is a corrective to that triumphalistic Protestant propaganda which, ever since the Reformation, has depicted every populace as eager to get out from under the heel of Papistry and the rule of the Whore of Babylon, yadda, yadda, yadda.


    1. Sorry, Steve!

      Once you’ve read of a bunch of the absolutely horrible things that Henry VIII did, and that the English Reformation did, I think you’ll understand it better.

      The Protestant Reformation was not in any way, shape, or form a good thing. No one should kid themselves that it was or is. It has taken millions of people even further away the Orthodox Church than they were and placed their souls in greater peril. I will not pussy-foot around that!

      God is merciful and perfect. I’m not there yet.

  1. I have to admit I’m surprised it was a Catholic and not a Protestant who got onto you for this!

    My Anglican friends notwithstanding, I agree with you about the Reformation in general, and the English Reformation in particular (apart from the executions, I particularly loathe the dissolution of the monasteries), but I can’t help but be a little partial to Queen Elizabeth. Maybe it’s because we were born on the same calendar day (though hers was the real 7 September)! Or maybe it’s because the papal bull releasing Catholics from the obligation to obey her and, indirectly, encouraging plots against her life seems so wrong and the ‘usurper’ charge so inconsistent. But her reign inspired so much great poetry that it can’t have been all bad!

  2. They burned Saints, destroyed their shrines, and stole the churches in England as on the continent, destroying over a thousand years of art and culture in their dim iconoclastic heresy motivated by pathetic rationalizations. Luther was nothing but another Jeroboam.

    I absolutely despise Henry Tudor, who did all all of it ultimately for the sake of lust. How weak and despicable! Monster! (And how fitting that it is lust that now burns down the C of E! Ashes to ashes, lust to lust!)

    Elizabeth I’m more ambivalent about. I don’t think she was at all responsible for the literary explosion, though. That was already under way, and there’s a healthy contribution made by the Recusants, who were not even “in town”. I’m one who considers that the Spanish Armada sinking was not a good thing. Even so, by then the greatest damage had already been done by that monster Henry.

  3. I’ve read the 3 you have, and just received notification before I came to your blog about “Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor” being available. Looking forward to reading it. As you write, Eamon Duffy is a great corrective to much of what is out there, and while he has his view, to me it is far more balanced than others. And he does write well, and the illustrations he chooses are sublime.

  4. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580 is quite good — I can’t speak to the other volumes (although, unnecessarily limited because of it limits itself to England when Iconoclast activities in Germany and the Low Countries were even more dramatic.)

  5. Whatever one may think of the English Reformation, it is not really accurate to say that it took people further away from the Orthodox Church. A reading of classic Anglican divines reveals a strong affinity for the Eastern fathers, often preferred over the Western ones. One might particularly note Jeremy Taylor in this regard.

    In terms of worship, one strand of the Anglican tradition (represented by the Episcopal Church of Scotland), took the Eastern tradition (particularly the liturgy of St. James) as their model.

    1. Thanks, Byron. That is certainly the case, but it is not the case that these practices brought them closer to the Orthodox Church as in “approaching the Church for entry”, and that’s the direction I’m coming from. If anything, the rehabilitation of iconoclasm and a deepening of scholasticism yet with a rejection of Tradition led them further away from Orthodoxy doctrinally and practically. That’s what I was getting at.

      Liturgically there may be some borrowings, but there is really nothing substantial there. It is certainly not the case that any aspect or subgroup of Protestantism is recognized as somehow “close” to Orthodoxy or to the ways of the original Church by Orthodox, particularly in comparison with Catholicism, where there is a clear historical development. Protestantism is seen as an invention of self-willed heresiarchs, and its adherents (however righteous some may be, as God works with who He will!) as deceived. Orthodoxy is The Church, and everything else is not The Church. This is dogma for Orthodox.

  6. Kevin:

    The tone of your response and some of the comments hardly seem consonant with the agreed statements of the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue over the years, nor with the hospitality often shown to Orthodox by Anglicans. These statements do not speak of other ecclesial bodies as the “inventrion of self-willed heresiarchs.”

    My own parish made its facilities available to a group of Serbian Orthodox for several years, and this is but one of a number of such offers that I know of.

    1. Hi Byron,
      Yes, there are certainly good relations and much good will, but dogmatically, there is a vast difference. “Dialogues” do not produce dogma, and dogma is what I’m discussing. You will not find an Orthodox hierarch admitting that the Church is anything but the Orthodox Church, yet it is generally considered poor manners to state this outright, particularly in mixed company. Our ecclesiology isn’t that of others. But a spade is a spade, and The Church is The Church: Christ has one Body, not two, not three, not tens of thousands. While there may be some good here and there in the writings of the Reformers, there is much, much more that is bad. Luther was another Arius, and Protestantism is not something that receives a pass in Orthodox theological circles.

      I’ll post a pithy hierarchal quotation on the subject that comes to mind later.

  7. Another question then. Why as Orthodox, do you care what happened to the Roman Catholic Church, which you view as heretical as well? Honestly, not arguing.

  8. Byron> I’ll just add two things to what Kevin has said here. You’ll find that very few Orthodox put any stock whatever in ‘agreed statements’, which are generally drafted by commitees of professional ecumenists all more or less out of touch with the faithful. In my experience most Orthodox view them either as nice sentiments that actually mean very little, or else as dangerous betrayals of the Faith. I myself try never to say anything consonant with these statements!

    As for the hospitality, I’m not sure what you mean. Are you suggesting that the hospitality shown by Anglicans is offered on condition that we betray our consciences and teach an ecclesiology that we believe to be false? Or that our differences in ecclesiology are such that Orthodox ought never to accept such offers?

  9. From note 100, page 324, of The Precious Pearl: The Lives of Saints Barlaam and Ioasaph, by St John of Damascus, with annotations by His Eminence AUGUSTINOS (Kantiotes), translated by Fr Asterios Gerostergios:

    Satan seeks to induce the young man to the precipice of sin through the tongue of the woman using passages from Holy Scripture, which if interpreted well go against her invitation. But Satan was hoping that Ioasaph, as a neophyte in the faith, would ignore the true meaning of the passages and be easily captured through the lure of sin, sin supported by passages from Holy Scripture!! What a trap! What cunning by Satan! He used the same method also with the Lord in the temptations in the desert. (Matthew 4:7) He tried to tempt Him with passages from Holy Scripture, but the Lord, Who is the one speaking in the Bible, repelled the temptations and disgraced the devil with other passages which gave the true interpretation of the Word of God. A thorough study then, of Holy Scripture, as the holy Fathers of the Church interpreted it, is the spiritual weapon by which the children of Orthodoxy will be able to escape the precipices, destroy the traps, combat the temptations and the various errors of the heretics, who, by using many passages from Scriptures as did the beautiful young woman of this book. They seek to lead the faithful out of the Church, outside the will of the Lord, presenting their own wishes, the wishes of their flesh, as the will of the Lord.

    His Eminence’s note here is not speaking of some hypothetical heretics, but of those existing and endangering the audience of his own day. And who would these be? They are those who a.) are not Orthodox, and b.) who use the Bible, and c.) who want to turn Orthodox from Orthodoxy to their own beliefs. He makes it clear in other notes that these are Catholic and Protestant heresiarchs.

  10. Kevin> I agree that Elizabeth wasn’t exactly responsible for the literary explosion, but one must acknowledge that besides many lesser works the great epic of her age, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, was inspired by the figure of the Queen. (Have you read Frances Yates’s study, ‘Queen Elizabeth I as Astraea’?) Also, I meant to suggest that apart from responsibility or direct influence, it seems to me that she fostered a climate in which great literary art could develop.

    By the way, when you say that you do not believe the sinking of the Spanish Armada was a good thing, do you mean merely that you wish it had not sunk so that it could have gone on to do other things (fight the Turks, for instance!), or do you mean that you wish it had not sunk so that it could have gone on successfully to invade England? I’d be interested in hearing more of your view either way!

    1. I do think the sinking of the Spanish Armada was one of those pivots of history, and that history didn’t go in quite the best direction for the spiritual benefit of the people, as usual. A Spanish victory in England would have decided Elizabeth on a suitor at last (even if by force!), and a return to Catholicism for herself and her people, a step closer, at the very least, to Orthodoxy. It’s a possibility. The other possibility would have been her replacement with a Catholic monarch, and the result the same: the return of the people to Catholicism. They would’ve been better off.

      Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I see much of the vibrancy of language and literature of her time to be a direct result of Henry’s violent and unconscionable misappropriation of the wealth of the monasteries, and the chaos thereupon attendant in the remaking of the social order. More wealth means more leisure, and with religion in chaos, some jettisoned it from its central role, not just institutionally, but personally, mentally. Centuries of stability were overthrown for the sake of new structures rooted in lust, whether for lands, money, people, or personal preference. The catchphrase is “self-will.” A vibrant and religious England became something else, vibrant in a different secular way, one based in corruption and this temporary world.

      But there were certainly some who maintained a focus on the spirit (John Donne, George Herbert, and all the other Metaphysical Poets), in the midst of such secularization, and they benefitted from the newly more widespread literacy, of course. But what is the value of the simple titillation of the plays and poems? Yes, we recognize great literary value, but what of eternal value is there, what of a value determined by the Holy Spirit? In that sense, “What has Stratford-upon-Avon to do with Jerusalem?”

      It’s something I wonder about, a lover of my language that I am.

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