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Kenneth Fowler

Kenneth Fowler is a professor of history at Edinburgh University.

Pretenders

Kenneth Fowler, 13 June 1991

Perez Zagorin’s suggestion that the 16th and early 17th centuries, the era which encompassed the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, might aptly be described as the Age of Dissimulation comes in the conclusion to an exhaustive study. This was an age of new spiritual energies, of intensified faith, of heightened religiosity, of new religious sects, an age, in the memorable phrase of Lucien Febvre, ‘that wanted to believe’. The concomitant religious and intellectual intolerance presented those reluctant to conform with the need to equivocate, to dissimulate their true beliefs, a practice which Zagorin demonstrates was debated by theologians, casuists, philosophers and political theorists, who were able to draw upon an inherited literature concerning the legitimacy of deception. This stretched back through Medieval theologians to the Church Fathers and was based almost entirely on Biblical precedents.

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