Protestants: The Radicals Who Made the Modern World by Alec Ryrie - review by Edward Vallance

Edward Vallance

Love Affair with God

Protestants: The Radicals Who Made the Modern World


William Collins 514pp £25

One problem for anyone writing about Protestantism is trying to define what the hell it is. The OED will send you in circles: Protestantism is the ‘condition of being Protestant’. Going to ‘Protestant’ in hope of enlightenment will also do you little good: the word ‘Protestant’ has been used to define both those who have conformed to a state church and those who have dissented from it. At least Alec Ryrie is prepared to stick his neck out and offer a general (if very broad) definition. He begins his sweeping global history of Protestantism with the arresting claim that Protestants are ‘lovers’: following Erasmus, Ryrie identifies the defining characteristic of the Protestant faith as the ‘love affair’ with God that lies at its heart.

They have also, Ryrie admits, often been fighters. The first two centuries after the Reformation were drenched with blood as Europeans waged religious warfare, burned heretics and ‘witches’, and overthrew the established order in church and state through revolutions directed by divine revelation. Tens of thousands died in the German

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