The Unintended Reformation
How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society
Harvard University Press, $39.95, 592 pp.
I was a child of the 1950s and ’60s, but came of age in a medieval intellectual tradition. A boy from a medieval village, I first taught at a medieval university (Aberdeen). My mentor there had spent a scholarly lifetime in the Vatican archives assessing the church in late medieval Europe. Inspired by his definitive biography of the university’s founder, the reforming humanist bishop William Elphinstone, I published an essay on the contemporary relevance of Erasmus’s approach to church reform. Subsequently, as a professor of theology and director of an interdisciplinary research center in theology and public issues at the University of Edinburgh, I adopted an approach to university and public life formed by the public-spirited piety of Elphinstone, Erasmus, and John XXIII.
No one informed me that this mix of medieval formation and Catholic reform was simply not possible. No one, that is, until I read Brad Gregory’s book, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. Imagine my shock to discover that, far from being the conduit of catholicity I had always thought myself to be, I was in fact a cause of secularism. Why? Because—according to Gregory—I was actually a Protestant, a religious revolutionary who was meant to have destroyed the Christian order of medieval Europe, not embraced it as his own. I was a case of theological false consciousness, that walking, talking oxymoron, a...