Book Review: All Things Made New

All Things Made New
Writings on the Reformation
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Penguin, 2017 

Alongside his larger works on various aspects of the Reformation, MacCulloch has also written smaller pieces, book reviews, and occasional lectures. Some of these are gathered together in this volume. He has a few themes which run through the collection. His common sub-theme of sexuality is a very minor part of this book. One of the bigger ones is his crusade against the rewriting of Reformation history by the Oxford Movement

The first part concerns the Reformation in Europe. He has excellent chapters on Calvin, the Virgin Mary, Angels, the Spanish Inquisition and a very thoughtful book review of John O’Malley’s Trent: What happened at the Council. He regards this as the best history of the Council yet written.

The English Reformation is the second part and includes chapters on Tudor image making, Henry VIII, Tolerant Cranmer, the Prayer Book, the two Tudor Queens, and the King James Bible. A lot of helpful and new insights in all of this.

The third part is a look back at the English Reformation. It includes a number of chapters critical of modern studies on the Reformation. He critiques what he calls the “hegemonic narrative” of the twentieth century. The hegemony was Anglican – but specifically High Church Anglican. There had once been another narrative, the Evangelical Anglican Narrative but this had been lost in the Victorian era. So the “adherents of the Oxford Movement, or the wider world of Anglo-Catholicism, were dominant in the practise of religious history at university level ...” (240). This first chapter provides an excellent overview of the progress of historiography in the last century. McCulloch gives an example of the mythology of some history by recounting research into the removal of rood screens in certain parts of England. 30 – 40% disappeared in Norfolk churches in the nineteenth century, and 40-50% in Dorset, the work of High Churchmen who wanted the congregation to be able to see the consecration on the High Altar.

He has a similar critique of Thomas Cranmer’s biographers. Perhaps the best chapter is the 42 page essay on Richard Hooker, and the various people who hijacked him for their own purposes, not least John Keble. This chapter I think is worth buying the book for.

MacCulloch’s penultimate chapter concerns two reformation myths. He calls it a cautionary tale. One concerns the sermon Cranmer preached at Edward VI’s coronation where he referred to the King as like King Josiah. The other is the story of Queen Elizabeth berating the dean of St Paul’s for giving her a copy of the Book of Common Prayer adorned with devotional pictures. MacCulloch, says neither of these things happened although they have become part of the legend of the Reformation.

His last chapter is a potted summary of the history of Anglicanism underlining that it is really a Reformation church, but that in the face of too much dogmatism, it should be recognised as a “trial-and-error form of Christianity”. And we should keep on debating in public and allow ourselves to change.

One doesn’t need to agree with everything MacCulloch says to benefit from his many helpful insights and research. One of the great benefits of his writing is that he has challenged the narrative that the Reformation in England didn’t really happen. And has provided lots of new evidence not just that it did, but what actually went on between 1533 and now.

This is a fascinating book and worth reading. It also contains eight pages of colour plates with important images to go with the text.

Dale Appleby, WA