The Catholic Historical Review 89.3 (2003) 552-553
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Religious Warfare in Europe, 1400-1536. By Norman Housley. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2002. Pp. ix, 238.)
Norman Housley, who has already published extensively on the crusades in the later Middle Ages, has now written an analysis of the relation of religion to armed violence from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the modern world. He argues that the crusades and a crusading mentality did not end with the fall of Acre in 1291, but continued on through the early modern world. Furthermore, he argues that radical reformers, beginning with the Hussites and including the early Protestant reformers, adopted violence as part of their efforts at reform, demonstrating that religious warfare was not restricted to crusades against infidels but could be employed in wars among Christians as well. Thus, he sees the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a single period, one of the themes of which was the development of the role of religion in the wars that characterized the era.
For Housley, the Hussite wars of the early fifteenth century formed "A Crucible of Religious Warfare," marking the beginning of a new kind of religious war, leading to wars in which both parties were Christians employing religious language and symbols (p. 33). The crusades against the Hussites represented the traditional kind of religious war. There were, however, three new kinds of religious war initially found among the Hussites: "war in defence of a purified set of religious beliefs"; the "uncompromising form of combat waged by Taborite [End Page 552] and Orebit brotherhoods"; and finally, "the apocalyptic and purgative violence used by the chiliasts" (p. 34). These concepts subsequently found their way into Protestant thinking in the sixteenth century. Furthermore, although Protestants rejected the Catholic notion of crusade, the "reemergence of the Ottoman Turks as an expansionist power" generated a sense of a Christendom threatened that led even critics of war such as Erasmus to justify wars of defense.
Finally, Housley demonstrates that the development of new concepts of religious war had widespread consequences. Within Europe, these concepts led to the notion of an elect people serving as God's agents, an important factor in the development of modern national identities. Beyond Europe, these ideas justified the Spanish conquest of the New World.
This work has several important themes. In the first place, Housley takes religion seriously on its own terms, recognizing that religious language is not simply code language for political, social, and economic demands. In the second place, he emphasizes the importance of seeing the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a whole and not as a series of discrete elements that had no relation to one another. Thus, arguments about the use of force in the pursuit of Christian goals in eastern Europe in the fifteenth century played a role in defending aspects of overseas expansion in the sixteenth century. Housley has produced a tour de force, bringing together a vast amount of material that contributes to explaining how the followers of the Prince of Peace developed a theology of religious war in the course of reforming the Church.
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