Anthony Kenny

Across the Great Divide

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450–1650


Yale University Press 893pp £25 order from our bookshop

was once asked by the late Sir John Templeton to join the panel of judges that awards the munificent annual Templeton Prize, which was then known as a prize for ‘progress in religion’. I declined the invitation, saying that I thought there could not be any objective measure of such progress. ‘Tell me, John,’ I said, ‘was the life and work of Luther a great leap forward, or was it a terrible catastrophe?’

This massive and remarkable book presents convincing evidence that it was both at the same time. Of the many histories of the Reformation period on the market, this may well be the most even-handed available. Carlos Eire’s concern for impartiality is already exhibited in his choice of title. Both ‘Reformation’ and ‘Counter-Reformation’, he points out, are Protestant coinages betraying Protestant bias. He aims to tell the story of parallel reform movements that long antedate and postdate Luther’s Wittenberg theses. His narrative starts in around 1450 with Pope Nicholas V’s project for rebuilding St Peter’s in Rome and ends just before 1650 with the Peace of Westphalia, which brought to an end the Thirty Years’ War.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The erecting and immediate destruction of a series of straw men rather detracts from what is for the most part an… ,
    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying… ,
    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,
    • The author 'seethes with contemptuous indignation at the shiny junk that an unregulated construction industry dumps… ,
    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,