Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 08:1 (Spring 1987)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous

Book Reviews

War Against Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin by Carlos M. N Eire. Cambridge University Press, 1986. 325 pages.

Liberation from idolatry — the idea encapsulates Reformed Christianity. It sets off the centrality of Reformed concerns from Lutheran (justification by grace). It carries us to the heart of Calvinism and its social expression. In drawing out this theme Eire has systematically taken us to one of the central issues of the Reformation, one with special relevance for contemporary religious and social life.

Eire’s thesis is that the focus upon idolatry was distinctive of Reformed Protestantism, setting it off from Catholicism and other Reformation movements. His work lays out the history of the development and application of the idea. It focuses upon the clear boundary that was sought between the spiritual and material realms, particularly in Calvin’s” new, scripturally based, theological metaphysics” as also affirmed in “the centrality of ‘spiritual’ worship.” The distinction between spiritual and material reality was central to Reformed piety and the foundation for the political ideology “that accompanied the spread of Calvinism” (p. 3).

This thesis is demonstrated out of the general critique of popular devotion in the later Middle Ages. The form given this criticism by Erasmus is shown to have influenced early Protestant thought in a deepened spiritual and rational direction. The first defenders of the Protestant revolt, such as Karlstadt, Zwingli, Bucer, and Bullinger, are shown to have pushed the point further. For these, the externalization of piety was idolatry, the Church and its decretals had usurped the place of God in religious matters, and the focus of worship had now become the creature rather than the Creator. As a result of this, as presented in the teachings of the reformers, there developed a popular iconoclasm in society. Furthermore, a division in theological emphasis occurred with the Reformed underscoring a sharper distinction than Luther between spiritual reality and the place of material instrumentality in the worhip of God. These themes are further fleshed out in the early years of the Swiss Reformation.

A tactical shift is made by Eire at this point. He turns to the development of Fabrican reform and the French religious environment in order to lay out the way in which Calvin would give enduring shape to the attack upon idolatry. In Eire’s account, Fabrican Humanism is shown to be similar to that of Erasmus but with more pointed practical application. This is demonstrated in the open iconoclasm of Guillaume Farel and in the Placard affair. Calvin would shape this element of Reformation thinking to show that the purpose of humanity is spiritual: to kno...

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