The Late Medieval English Church


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Vitality and Vulnerability Before the Break with Rome

G.W. Bernard

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The later medieval English church is invariably viewed through the lens of the Reformation that transformed it. But in this bold and provocative book historian George Bernard examines it on its own terms, revealing a church with vibrant faith and great energy, but also with weaknesses that reforming bishops worked to overcome.

Bernard emphasizes royal control over the church. He examines the challenges facing bishops and clergy, and assesses the depth of lay knowledge and understanding of the teachings of the church, highlighting the practice of pilgrimage. He reconsiders anti-clerical sentiment and the extent and significance of heresy. He shows that the Reformation was not inevitable: the late medieval church was much too full of vitality. But Bernard also argues that alongside that vitality, and often closely linked to it, were vulnerabilities that made the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries possible. The result is a thought-provoking study of a church and society in transformation.

"Superbly researched and coherently argued."—Peter Marshall, Literary Review

"Bernard has again achieved what he does best: making us go back to an old problem and start thinking afresh."—Lucy Wooding, Times Higher Education

"England experienced one of the most muddled Reformations in Western Europe and that’s what makes studying it so fascinating and so infuriating. Even the most basic questions remain open: why, when and how quickly did England become a Protestant nation? Bernard has done as much as any historian to bring us closer to nuanced answers and in his latest book he is on particularly fine form."—Jonathan Wright, Catholic Herald

"The combination of a perennially appealing subject and Bernard’s clear, engaging prose make for an extremely readable book which deserves a wide audience."—Katherine Harvey, Reviews in History

"A sumptuous account of religious life inside the heads of late medieval men and women… It is very much a ‘yes, but’ complement… to the work of Eamon Duffy, but it has all of the latter’s vitality and vividness to boot. It is massively researched and packed with startling detail." —John Morrill, BBC History Magazine

"G.W. Bernard… offers a nuanced account of the Church in the late Middle Ages that avoids both the old interpretation, with its stress on the unpopularity of the clergy, and the new account that claims the old religion was in good shape."—Paul Richardson, Church of England Newspaper

“Bernard places provocative question-marks over the revisionist accounts of late, and allows us to ask again what the proper criteria for judging the late medieval church should really be. Within this big picture are many details, which the author handles with care and, at times, an appropriate scepticism.”—Lee Gatiss, Theology

“It gives a convincing picture of the medieval church on the brink of the Reformation. As our reviewer put it, ‘it avoids both the old interpretation, with its stress on the unpopularity of the clergy, and the new account that claims the old religion was in good shape.”—Church of England Newspaper

ISBN: 9780300197129
Publication Date: August 13, 2013
320 pages, 5 11/16 x 8 7/8
12 b/w illus.
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