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Ancient and Modern

M.A. Screech, 19 November 1981

Masters of the Reformation: The Emergence of a New Intellectual Life in Europe 
by Heiko Augustinus Oberman, translated by Dennis Martin.
Cambridge, 269 pp., £22.50, June 1981, 0 521 23098 5
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by Peter Burke.
Oxford, 96 pp., £5.50, October 1981, 9780192875235
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... Does Luther explain Hitler? Oberman, an international Dutchman at home in Tuebingen, asks the question only to toss it aside: the Reformation was not a ‘German tragedy’. Into this English version of Werden und Wertung der Reformation he interpolates an abrupt sentence: ‘The appalling experiences of the Third Reich incline historians to assume that what went wrong with the Reformation was Luther’s sell-out to the princes’ – which supposedly led to a German tendency to give the last word in politics or morals, not to the individual or the Church, but to the collective and the State ...

In search of the Reformation

M.A. Screech, 9 November 1989

The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation 
by Alistair McGrath.
Blackwell, 223 pp., £25, March 1987, 0 631 15144 3
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Pastor and Laity in the Theology of Jean Gerson 
by Catherine Brown.
Cambridge, 358 pp., £35, March 1987, 0 521 33029 7
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Collected Works of Erasmus: Vols XXVII and XXVIII 
edited by A.H.T. Levi.
Toronto, 322 pp., £65, February 1987, 0 8020 5602 4
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... Reformation, Counter-Reformation, Renaissance, Humanism – we all break up the past into periods and movements convenient for study, yet it is impossible to understand the Europe of the 15th and 16th centuries if such labels are mistaken for realities. The Reformation is an infinitely complex and mysterious affair: unless and until there is agreement over what it was there can be no successful search for its causes ...

Possible Enemies

M.A. Screech, 16 June 1983

Collected Works of Erasmus. Vol. V: The Correspondence of Erasmus 
edited by Peter Bietenholz, translated by R.A.B Mynors.
Toronto, 462 pp., £68.25, December 1979, 0 8020 5429 3
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Collected Works of Erasmus. Vol. XXXI: Adages Ii 1 to Iv 100 
edited by R.A.B. Mynors, translated by Margaret Mann Phillips.
Toronto, 420 pp., £51.80, December 1982, 0 8020 2373 8
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Le Disciple de Pantagruel 
edited by Guy Demerson and Christiane Lauvergnat-Gagnière.
Nizet, 98 pp.
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... like the Devil. The bone of contention was Hebrews 2, 7. Does the Greek and its Hebrew source mean that Christ was made ‘a little lower than the angels’, or was he made ‘for a while, lower than God’? We have learned to live with such uncertainties. Lefèvre had not. He did, however, have the art of slinging at Erasmus precisely the insults which ...

Homage to Rabelais

M.A. Screech, 20 September 1984

... fable of the Woodcutter and the Axe in ways which link the virtue of humility to the Golden Mean. The result is a comic sermon of extraordinary power. Rabelais could read Homer, Plutarch, Ovid, Genesis, the Psalms or the Gospels through the eyes of Lucian and then spin round on his toe and present them to us in a more straightforward way. But not even ...

What mattered to Erasmus

James McConica, 2 March 1989

Erasmus’s Annotations on the New Testament. The Gospels: Facsimile of the final Latin text with all earlier variants 
edited by Anne Reeve.
Duckworth, 284 pp., £35, March 1986, 9780715619902
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Erasmus’s Annotations on the New Testament: From Philologist to Theologian 
by Erika Rummel.
Toronto, 234 pp., £24.50, January 1987, 0 8020 5683 0
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A New Rabelais Bibliography: Editions of Rabelais before 1626 
by Stephen Rawles and M.A. Screech.
Droz, 691 pp.
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The Library of Robert Burton 
by Nicholas Kiessling.
Oxford Bibliographic Society, 433 pp., £25, May 1988, 0 901420 42 5
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... here we no doubt ask too much of her publisher. One must wonder, however, what urgency denied M.A. Screech the opportunity for a complete revision of his graceful and informative introduction.* Erika Rummel’s book is an account of the background to Erasmus’s great enterprise, of its inception and execution, his sources and authorities, and of the later ...

A Foolish Christ

James McConica, 20 November 1980

Ecstasy and the Praise of Folly 
by M.A. Screech.
Duckworth, 267 pp., £24, June 1980, 0 7156 1044 9
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... heavily to his reputation as a salon sceptic from his day to ours. It is the purpose of Professor Screech’s latest book to show that the only thing right about this familiar verdict is that the Moriae Encomium is central to Erasmus’s thought. At the heart of its paradox, however, there is not doubt but ecstatic faith. It has long been realised that the ...

Excessive Guffawing

Gerald Hammond: Laughter and the Bible, 16 July 1998

Laughter at the Foot of the Cross 
by M.A. Screech.
Allen Lane, 328 pp., £30, January 1998, 0 7139 9012 0
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... William Tyndale identified him as a permanent dweller in the halfway house, and now even Screech, for all his sympathy for Erasmus’s pioneering humanity, finds him ultimately lacking. In the Praise of Folly and, more unexpectedly, in his annotations to the New Testament, Erasmus taught Christians to laugh, but he did not teach them to laugh at ...

Viva la joia

Roy Porter, 22 December 1983

Montaigne: Essays in Reading 
edited by Gérard Defaux.
Yale, 308 pp., £8.95, April 1983, 0 300 02977 2
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Montaigne and Melancholy: The Wisdom of the ‘Essays’ 
by M.A. Screech.
Duckworth, 194 pp., £19.50, August 1983, 0 7156 1698 6
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... pontificating? These contributors might not stay for an answer – perhaps just as well. Michael Screech, however, offers some clues, pointing out, in his characteristically moving, erudite, but self-effacing study, Montaigne’s great antipathy towards pedantry, blather and bleating. For hard-line deconstructionists ...

Rabelais’s Box

Peter Burke, 3 April 1980

by M.A. Screech.
Duckworth, 494 pp., £35, November 1979, 9780715609705
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... even that there could not possibly have been any. For Febvre, Rabelais was an Erasmian. Professor Screech, however, argued in 1959, as he still does, that Rabelais was an ‘evangelical’, sympathetic to Luther as well as to Erasmus. Commentators who are less convinced that there is a serious message hidden in the box disagree just as much about the place of ...


Gary Taylor, 9 January 1992

... in, discussing Cicero, who was at the time the most admired of prose stylists: as rendered in M.A. Screech’s learned but digestible new translation, Montaigne confesses, ‘to tell the truth boldly (for once we have crossed the boundaries of insolence there is no reining us in) his style of writing seems boring to me.’ Why should French philosophers have a ...

Madness and Method

Mark Philp, 3 April 1986

The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry Vol. I: People and Ideas, Vol. II: Institutions and Society 
edited by W.F. Bynum, Roy Porter and Michael Shepherd.
Tavistock, 316 pp., £19.95, November 1985, 0 422 79430 9
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Madness, Morality and Medicine: A Study of the York Retreat 1796-1914 
by Anne Digby.
Cambridge, 323 pp., £27.50, October 1985, 0 521 26067 1
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... on the transition which Quakers underwent from religious ecstatics (or ‘good madmen’, as M.A. Screech terms such states in Volume One) to humanitarian-asylum keepers. These essays and Anne Digby’s monograph on the Retreat add to our understanding of the development and activities of psychiatric institutions in the 19th century and allow us to see the ...

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