Wednesday, February 1, 2006

On writing truthfully about history ...

Oxford's Christopher Haigh has been criticised for his revision of Reformation history. He doesn't believe the Protestant faith was embraced in England as readily as scholars have traditionally portrayed, nor that it ever took possession of the hearts of the majority of the populace.

I believe Haigh's theses have been successfully challenged by the work of Nicholas Tyacke and others. Yet I did appreciate the following statement he makes in the introduction to his English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society Under the Tudors (1993). He urges us not to interpret any historical conflict on the basis of its eventual outcome:

Change will appear straightforward if history is reduced to a sequence of reforms, ignoring reactions, reversals, alternatives, and contexts. Change will seem easy if its opponents are left out of the story, or treated as silly old fogeys destined for defeat. But such distilled history is an illusion; it is not how the past was … Reformations were made by Catholics as well as by Protestants, because the Reformations came out of the clashes between them.
Haigh reminds us to look honestly at the evidence left to us and to accept the stubborn subtlety that characterizes human behaviour. Sometimes, we will find, it was our confessional opposites who acted more nobly in a particular case than those with whom we share the deepest of religious convictions. So be it. Our pride may suffer repeatedly in the process of research, but in the end we will be no worse for the wear. It is honesty that can never be sacrificed; the truth will set us free, in every context.

1 comment:

mdries1 said...

Just in the way he uses the word "reformations" and conflates it with Reformation shows he operating with a unique deck of cards...

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