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Book places Europe's tumultuous religious history into wider context


This is the cover of "Christendom Destroyed: Europe 1517-1648" by Mark Greengrass. The book is reviewed by Brian Welter. (CNS)

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"Christendom Destroyed: Europe 1517-1648" by Mark Greengrass. 722 pages, Viking (New York, 2014). 752 pp., $45.

In "Christendom Destroyed," Mark Greengrass, a professor emeritus of early modern history at the University of Sheffield, takes readers on a long foray through one of the most tumultuous periods of European and Christian history.

It was a time that determined many present-day assumptions, such as the widespread belief that religion causes war and violence and that toleration of other people's creeds forms part of a healthy society and personal psychology. The author argues convincingly that the idea of Christendom became universal, as the good news was preached throughout the New World, the Far East and India by various Catholic orders.

Yet the author treats very few of the era's movers and shakers as self-aware revolutionaries. Recalling the book's title, he notes that Martin Luther, for instance, aimed to defend Christendom rather than upend it, a somewhat surprising argument for certain Catholics yet one that Greengrass supports carefully. Luther believed that the papacy could no longer be trusted with the keys to Christendom, and that more power had to be retained at the local level.

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