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The book focuses on Christianity in Western Europe in the Middle Ages between 1400 and 1700. Bossy is a revolutionist historian who focuses on the revolution of the way religious change has affected ritual, kinship and charity. He also takes a deeper look into the integration of culture of human tradition and Christianity. The author is more of a critic, so that he uses source critics’ methods to interpret the events within the time period between 1400 and 1700 in relation to Christian practices and beliefs.
The books’ subject is Christianity, not the Church. Christianity is about people’s physical body, their lifestyle and culture. The boundaries between different people are what lead to the reason of separations, e.g., Greek, Orthodox and Christiania’s from Latin, Western, etc.
Through his book, John Bossy poses two arguments: First he focuses on shunning the use of the word Reformation. He says this is like arguing that there existed a form of Christianity that was not acceptable, so that it is being replaced with a correct form of Christianity. He tries to answer the question: “Supposing that your account of what you call traditional Christianity is roughly correct, what difference does it make to the conventional narrative of the 16th century Reformation?” According to him, Christianity does not face a total transformation but rather keeps its very important components. Some of the practices that were carried on include the importance of penance.
In the earlier centuries before the Reformation, the Sacrament of penance was a core method of dealing with sins. It included the annual ceremony of repentance and was mostly conducted as one was about to die.
According to Bossy, this was a problem due to the spontaneous nature of the penance practice. This necessitated a need for a discipline practice within the Christian church to eliminate the spontaneous aspect penance, and the result of this need was the occurrence of confession. Confession involves a practice of admitting to a wrong doing, and feeling sorry followed by a promise not to do the same mistake again. Confession is seen to have a sense of discipline and responsibility since it is carried out all year round.
The important way of handling sin has not been changed but just altered to be handled in a different manner. Thus, once again the appropriateness on the word Reformation is brought to question by Bossy’s argument.
The second argument posed by Bossy in his work is focused on the uniting force that Christianity had on the Western European society until the 17th century. He argues that the Western Europeans were divided basically into two aspects: Society and Religion. Society had these two aspects struggling to unite and create wholesomeness in Christianity. Reformation may have brought a lot of change in Western Europe, but it failed to intertwine the history on Christianity and the people’s thoughts, feelings and culture.
The historical methods posed by the revolutionist historian include source critics, where he criticizes the practices of the early Christians and the practice brought in by the Reformists. He also uses synthesis technique where he uses historical reasoning.
Both arguments posed by the author hold a lot of water and are well thought out. The second argument, however, is more convincing than the first. It is easier to establish the uniting force behind Christianity than to question the use of the word “Reformation”.
The first argument is a bit weak in terms of discussion, though the loss of evidence is posed, e.g., penance and confession in penance what happens is more of advancement of the earlier practice or one taking responsibility being altered in terms of frequency of occurrence and level of responsibility associated with it. This is not much of change to be dubbed as a Reformation, but rather more of altering an old practice and making it look new. About integrating society and religion, it is evident that the Western Europe had been at war even before the Reformation and Christianity does not bring out the integration of the peoples culture, thoughts and feelings. It would have been more convincing, if the author gave a more detailed and comprehensive account. It is difficult even to find a replace meant to the word “Reformation”, so questioning its use becomes a weak argument since the author states: ”I certainly have no superior alternative to propose.”
However, it is still clear from this piece of work that what occurred in Western Europe in the Middle Ages cannot be concluded in one word “Reformation”.
A deeper insight into the events of the period between 1500 and 1700 in Western Europe is, therefore, made necessary by this argument.
The argument behind this concept is more of a grammar argument rather than revolution, reformation and change, so this makes not so convincing to the reader.
The second argument, however, does not seem to hold, since the book focuses on a section of Christians where by the Christians from Latin West, and the Orthodox Christians are well presented, but the Slav, Scandinavian and Irish Christians are represented poorly, yet they have been able to integrate most of their traditions into the Christian practice. Christianity focuses on uniting people from all societies, but the inclusion of traditions into the Christian practices is what might result into further separations. Thus accordingly, the elimination of traditions in Christianity would be the ultimate solution to reforms.
The historian also focuses on a time period that seems to be limited from 1400 to 1700. The activities that happened in these times are the only ones that are analyzed. Christianity and its transformation has been a long time change, so limiting it to this time period is like considering it as an event in human life, which is not quite an adequate description.
The analyzed time frame in the history of Christianity is limited, while the Christian practices are dynamic and change greatly over time. Thus, the second argument by Bossy may have more evidence, but is not fully convincing to readers, since the time frame seems to limit activities that would result into reforms.
There might have been lots of reforms in Christianity, in the Middle Ages, but that does not frame all the changes that have occurred in Christianity as a whole, therefore, limiting reforms to the time period between 1400 and 1700, which results in locking out very many activities that have resulted in the reforms.