Quite often, when reading a good book, the thought comes to mind that I would love to read the book again. With this particular book I actually assented to that challenge, and immediately after the first reading I read it from cover to cover again. The book is so full of interesting stories recalling the battles of the 16th Century Reformation in Europe, and there is so much information to take in, that even after two readings I was left feeling I could revisit the book a third time.
The Reformation was a bloody affair, and the author doesn’t shy away from recalling the gruesome deaths on the side of both Catholics and Protestants during the 16th Century. Many martyrs on both sides were burnt at the stake, hanged, drawn, and quartered, tortured, or beheaded, all for the sake of their beliefs. The author often recounts the last words spoken by these martyrs as they faced their deaths.
While the reformers looked to the Holy Bible as their authority in theological matters, the Catholics saw the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and its Papal teachings as God-given and requisite for salvation. The debate still rages today, although the freedom we are afforded in Western democracies means that we are far less likely to pay with our lives for our beliefs than those who were arguing about such matters in the 16th Century.
As the Epilogue of the book states, the questions at the heart of the Reformation struggle were, “How can I be saved? How can I be in right relationship with Almighty God? How can I be sure of a place in heaven?”. Depending on one’s view concerning the supremacy of Scripture, different answers were to be found among Reformers (such as Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli) and Catholics.
Atherstone has obviously researched the subject matter thoroughly, and the book is academic and historical in nature. I can’t put it better than the Church Times’ review of the book, which stated it is “A punchy, pithy, and engaging account… Thoroughly researched and well-informed… this is a book as lively as it is learned.”
There may well be other books about the Reformation that go into greater depth about the theological conflicts than were raging in Europe at the time, and I would say that Atherstone’s offering is more historical than theological. The subject matter moves quickly and I did get a little lost at times as so many different figures were mentioned in passing. But this isn’t necessarily a criticism, more a reason to read the book more than once.
In conclusion I would highly recommend this book, which I discovered in my local library, as a thorough account of Reformation history, both for the scholar and academic and the lay reader. I would be amazed if I could find another book to compete with this in terms of the thoroughness of research and readability. If you want to learn all about the history of the Reformation in a concise and well-written form, this is the book for you.
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