Surviving the reformation

30th June 1995 at 01:00

By Martin Jones Cambridge University Press Pounds 7.50. - 0 521 43993 0

A level books are gradually becoming more attractive to the reader, and the Cambridge Topics in History series has followed its rivals in producing an attractive full-colour cover for its new volumes. Pictures appear inside too, though perhaps that is only to be expected in a volume on the Counter Reformation for all those popes and inquisitors took painting very seriously.

One of the most intriguing documents in this collection is the interrogation of Paolo Veronese by the Inquisition for filling up the space on a painting of "The Last Supper" with miscellaneous "clowns, drunkards, Germans, dwarfs and other lewd things". What would they have said to David Hockney?

Religious history, particularly religious conflict, is not always easy to put across to students, especially in what might be called today's post-religious society, and Martin Jones summarises the competing philosophies very clearly. The Thomist and Augustinian views of salvation are neatly laid out for comparison, and papal reservations about calling the Council of Trent are well explained. Case studies of well-known groups like the Jesuits and the Inquisition are complemented by studies of particular problems facing the Catholic Church as it renewed itself: that mixture of religion and popular folklore known as parish religion and the growing conflict between an increasingly rationalistic church and the persistent popular belief in witches. This was a Church with serious internal discipline problems - Vincent de Paul complains of priests saying the mass half dressed - yet trying to find a way to reach the hearts of ordinary people in the face of active and hostile competition.

A-level students who profit from this clear and comprehensive handbook may see some interesting modern parallels.

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