Skip to content

Response to Review of The Reformation of the Decalogue: Religious Identity and the Ten Commandments in England, c. 1485-1625

I would like to thank John Reeks for his generous and probing review of The Reformation of the Decalogue. It has provoked me to consider the book in new ways, which is perhaps the highest achievement a reviewer can aspire for.

Reeks is quite right that the book is deliberately framed as both a contribution to ‘post-revisionist’ scholarship on the English Reformation, as well as an attempt to move the scholarly discussion forward in several ways. He is also persuasive in his explanation of some of the ways in which taking the discussion of the Commandments forwards into the 1630s might help to shed new light on the character of Laudianism, for example. On sources, again Reeks makes a valid point that many later commentators on the Commandments were of a godly religious persuasion. But many were not, and it is one of the subsidiary arguments of the book that there was significant continuity between the beliefs of early reformers, for instance William Tyndale, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Becon and John Hooper, and later authors of all stripes, from the ‘Calvinist Episcopalian’ Gervase Babington to puritans such as Richard Greenham and William Perkins. Where Reeks is understandably interested in the 1630s, I was more concerned with mapping how the evangelical preoccupations of the 1530s evolved and matured across the mid- and late-16th century, and into the first quarter of the 17th.

This is therefore not a book solely about puritan readings of the Decalogue, in two important ways. Firstly, because it seeks to demonstrate that, in all of their essentials, later puritan readings of the Commandments had clear origins in early evangelical interpretations. These were not simply ‘puritan’ views, but views over which there was an effective consensus amongst most Protestant clergy across most of the long 16th century. And secondly, because it aims to use a range of sources to illuminate a ‘popular’ reading of the Commandments that was entirely divergent from the shared position of godly authors and the institutional Church of England (originally including a section on ballads, which was whittled down to a single footnote, p. 296, n. 53, as part of the editing process!). The Ten Commandments shaped the English reformation, not in a single way, but in multiple ways, of which some were complementary, while others were contradictory.

Reformation history must continue to evolve, or risk becoming stale, and it is precisely through these kinds of discussions and interactions that it will do so. Those of us inside and outside the post-revisionist ‘oeuvre’ (as Reeks terms it) owe it to one another to engage so thoughtfully with one another’s work, to help keep the discipline fresh and exciting.