Fast paced centuries
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Date: 16 February, 2003

Click on the book cover above to purchase it and raise money for Christian Aid projects. Image: Cambridge Press


'It is this pace though that keeps the book alive, continually moving to the next occurrence or key person with a lightness of touch unusual in church history.'

Charlotte Haines Lyon is surprised by Doreen Rosman's book about the evolution of the Church over the last 500 years

I have to say I wasn’t overly excited when our esteemed editor asked me to review a book on church history.

I mean there must be easier and more exciting tomes for me to wade through for surefish - The complete works of Shakespeare, Ulysses etc. “Just do it,” he ordered and, grudgingly, I did. (Since when have I ever been able to order you about?!! - Ed)

But I am grateful to him for I would never have otherwise read what is actually a fascinating book.

The title, which would put off all but in the most ardent of readers, belies the fact that it is really a biography of Christianity in England in the last 500 years.

As Rosman takes us through the development of different churches and theologies alongside the political machinations of the day, she doesn’t hang around.

Blink and you might miss Henry VIII’s involvement in the reformation. It is this pace though that keeps the book alive, continually moving to the next occurrence or key person with a lightness of touch unusual in church history.

What becomes increasingly obvious through the book, is how culture and politics shape faith and churches, regardless of how much different groups profess to be going back to original Christianity – whatever that means.

The dominance of death in the 16th century, due to the severity of diseases, led to the development of purgatory and praying for the dead.

However by the First World War, when so many young men died for their country, the concept of hell came under suspicion and was very much weakened.


Politics dictated the dogma of even the most zealous puritans; tithing was seen a Catholic practice, thus abhorrent to many in the 17th Century but Cromwell allowed it to ensure the coffers were healthy.

As well as a myriad of other such examples of pragmatism, Rosman provides insight to the fluctuating role of women through the ages up until our current battles in the Church of England.

But aside from general interest, the book manages to provide it also offers a more useful service: with Rosman’s easy reading brevity, there are vignettes of many key thinkers and movements in Christianity.

The book therefore provides a great bluffers guide for those of us who want to know more about our history but not enough time to study in depth.

The Evolution of the English Churches 1500 –2000, by Doreen Rosman, Cambridge University Press, 399 pages.

Click here to buy the book and raise money for Christian Aid projects.

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