Friday, June 30, 2017

Characters of the Reformation (Ignatius Press)

Hilaire Belloc was a Catholic, who is considered one of the most prolific writers in Englad during the 20th Century. He collaborated with G.K. Chesterton a fair bit, and one of his most well-known books is Cautionary Tales for Children, which are basically stories to scare your kids straight. As awesomely horrible as those stories are, today I'd like to tell you about one of his historical works - Characters of the Reformation.

Characters of the Reformation begins by talking about the significance of the Reformation. Belloc says that it was "the most important thing in history since the foundation of the Catholic Church." There are also brief paragraphs in this opening chapter, which identify the key players and set the stage for the coming individual chapters that will go into greater detail. We then are presented with the 23 people Belloc believes to be the most important during the Reformation.

The first person we encounter is King Henry VIII. Belloc describes how Henry sought an annulment from Catherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn. However, the annulment was not granted and sycophants encouraged him to go through with the marriage anyhow. Belloc speculates (probably correctly) that if King Henry VIII would have not followed his passions, then the Reformation would have died out in England first, followed quickly by the rest of Europe. Belloc then dedicates individual chapters to each of the two women just mentioned. Catherine was most likely abandoned by her lack of ability to produce a son, and Anne, unattractive as she was, had the ability to get men to be at her beck and call. The next two chapters contrast the two Thomases - Cromwell and More. The former was a flatterer to the King and made him a "pope" in England. The latter tried to serve as an absolute moral compass, but was not listened to, sadly. We also see the figures Pope Clement VII, Mary Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I, Descartes, and Pascal to name a few.

Each chapter in this book is more fascinating than the next. In addition, to getting a portrait of each of these important historical figures, we get an understanding of the part they played in the Reformation. What I like best about this book is that he looks at figures from both sides of the event, Catholic and Protestant. Now, granted, he has a strong Catholic bias, but that is to be expected, and if you know it going into it, you can read the book through that lens. He also omits/ignores the Eastern Orthodox Churches, when saying that if the Reformation had not occurred, there would only be the Catholic Church. Those weaknesses aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it was not a dry presentation of dates and facts, but made the time come alive. If you would like to know more about the Reformation, I highly recommend this book!

This book was provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review.