All Things Made New, by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Second paragraph of third chapter (“The Virgin Mary and Protestant Reformers”):

The scandal of Cranmer on the Lady altar tells us a good deal about the ambiguous feelings of the Reformers for Our Lady. On the one hand they saw it as a major work of piety to demolish and demystify the cultic and devotional world of which she was the centrepiece. On the other, they needed her as a bastion to defend the Catholic faith against the more militant forces which the Reformation had unleashed. They wished her to play her part in the biblical narrative which they were proclaiming to the world, and which they felt was threatened from the two opposed forces of papistry and radicalism. But in the ambiguity of their feelings towards Mary, they were being true to what they found in the biblical text: here was a story of Mary which not only was restricted in scope but also contained elements of both praise and reserve. The Reformers’ task was one of restoration as much as destruction.

I hugely enjoyed MacCulloch’s massive History of Christianity when I read it in 2012; this is a shorter collection of essays on different aspects of the Reformation. I found most of it very interesting, though I must admit I had not heard of Richard Hooker and am little the wiser now. But in general, it’s a set of please for English Reformation history to be understood as a specifically English historical experience, but also one that was linked to developments on the European continent and which also had reverberations in America. (I wish there had been more on Scotland and Ireland, or indeed Wales, but this is a collection of pieces mainly published elsewhere so it’s unreasonable to expect global coverage.)

MacCulloch comes back to the question of English religious texts several times, and explains why on the one hand the King James Version (and he unpacks that name) is used for most of the Anglican services, but on the other the Psalms are generally Myles Coverdale’s version. There’s also an interesting short piece on the Bay Psalm Book, the first book in English known to have been published in America (in Boston, in 1640). I like that sort of thing myself, though of course we have to be aware that we tend to focus on the artefacts that survive from history which can lead to a lack of perspective on less tangible things.

Anyway, apart from Hooker I enjoyed this and learned from it, and you can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2017. Next on that pile is Recollections of Virginia Woolf by Her Contemporaries, ed. Joan Russell Noble.