A People’s Tragedy: Studies in Reformation

Eamon Duffy
ISBN: 978-1472983855
Bloomsbury 2020
Hardback 272 pp £20.00
Pastoral Review bookshop £18.00
(To be published on 26 November 2020)

Nearly thirty years since the publication of The Stripping of the Altars, the effects of this ground-breaking study of the English Reformation are still being felt as a result of its positive appraisal of late medieval and early popular Catholic spiritual life in this country and its demonstration of the popularity of Catholic devotional practices, in spite of everything, until the later part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. While Duffy has been prolific ever since, the most controversial follow-up was his survey of the Catholic revival under Queen Mary, The Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor. Perhaps the controversy is a sign that religious faith is not entirely marginalised.

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The Journey to the Mayflower: God’s Outlaws and the Invention of Freedom

Stephen Tomkins
ISBN: 978-1473649101
Hodder and Stoughton 2020
Hardback 384 pp £20.00 
Pastoral Review bookshop £18.00 

Until comparatively recently Catholics in England and Wales were given in Catholic schools a thorough grounding in the sufferings of our forebears in penal times, ‘of dungeon, fire and sword’. This historical narrative has helped to shape the community, even if we probably reflect on it less than in the past; part of the reason for this is ecumenical sensitivity, a gut feeling that dwelling too much on the wounds of the past can impair their healing. The other side of this coin is that those born and bred as Catholics have not been taught very much about the sufferings in the Reformation period and afterwards of other Christians, whom in the past we would have been taught were ‘heretics’; the implication was that in contrast to the glorious martyrdom and heavenly triumph of Catholics, the Protestants killed in the reign of Queen Mary perhaps in some way deserved their fate.  

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Theology, Comedy, Politics


Marcus Pound 
ISBN: 978-1506431628 
Fortress Press 2019 
Paperback 258 pp £12.99 
Pastoral Review bookshop £11.70 

Marcus Pound’s book is published in a series called Dispatches: Turning Points in Theology and Global Crises. Within this apocalyptic frame, theology and politics are firmly at home as disciplines that are used to tarrying with crisis. Comedy, however, seems like the ‘odd one in’ (to quote one of Pound’s key contemporary interlocutors for the book, Alenka Zupancic). So, as Pound writes in the preface, ‘What relevance has comedy for the global crises of modernity and the theological critique thereof?’  

In order to answer this question Pound must suspend our assumptions about comedy’s relation to truth. This involves uncovering three major ‘elisions’ of comedy from classical thought, theology and liturgy, re-occurring through history. What accounts for the forgetfulness of the Christian tradition towards the various examples of intensively theological and social comic practices in the late Middle Ages? What happened to the risus paschalis (a tradition obliging parish priests to include a joke in the Easter Day homily), the comic portrayals of Christ in the York mystery plays, or the yearly conference organized by the University of Paris purely on the question of whether or not Jesus laughed? Pound outlines the presuppositions that have had the effect of screening out these Church-sanctioned comic feasts. 

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Matthew Kneale 
ISBN: 978-1786492371 
Atlantic Books 2020 
Hardback 344 pp £16.99 
Pastoral Review bookshop £15.30 

Despite the restrictions on travel during these months of pandemic, the interest and fascination with the idea of pilgrimage has not waned, even if many of these pilgrimages are by necessity virtual rather than actual. In a time when journeys are often beset with difficulty, reading about a very different and much more dangerous experience of travel may not be a bad thing.  

Matthew Kneale’s latest novel uses a familiar format, the tales that a motley crowd of pilgrims tell each other as they are on their way to their destination, tales perhaps of the many and varied reasons why they set out in the first place and what they are seeking to find. Among those journeying to Rome in 1289 is Tom son of Tom who seeks to atone for the death of his much beloved cat and other things besides.

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The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire 

Kyle Harper 
ISBN: 978-0691192062 
Princeton University Press 2019 
Paperback 440 pp £15.99  
Pastoral Review bookshop £14.39

‘Of course, the plague pandemic was a natural disaster in much the same way as the destruction of a hurricane that erases a settlement built precariously overhanging the sea. The pandemic was an unintended conspiracy between wild nature and the constructed ecology of the empire.’ 

Writing over three years ago, this passage is Professor Harper’s judgement on what is known as the ‘Justinianic plague’, an early bubonic ‘Black Death’ which ravaged the late Roman empire in the sixth and seventh centuries. Kyle Harper’s monumental study re-examines a well-trodden path – the decline and fall of the Roman Empire – paying special attention to climate change and infectious diseases. His words, read in the summer of 2020, are chillingly prescient.

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