Book Review by Luke Mountain of Euan Cameron’s The European Reformation.

Over the next week I will be posting the excellent book reviews that my Advanced Study: Reformation Theology class wrote at Biola University. Here’s one by Luke Mountain.

Cameron, Euan. The European Reformation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991 (2012). 616 pages. $47.95 .


This book review is on The European Reformation, written by Euan Cameron. The European Reformation gives a complete account of the Reformation that took place in Europe during the sixteenth century. Euan Cameron gives a broad and detailed analysis of the Reformation from the individual Reformers and their message, the establishment of the reformed churches, and the growing community beyond the Reformation. Euan Cameron’s theme for The European Reformation is to comprehensively describe the entirety of the Reformer’s protests to the Catholic Church across Europe and the political changes that came along with it. Euan Cameron is a distinguished scholar who studied at Eton and Oxford. He is a Doctor of Philosophy and is the Professor of Reformation Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York and holds the same position in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. Cameron also served as the academic vice-president of the seminary. He is also an ordained deacon and priest in the Episcopal Church. Cameron applies critical scholarship to his writing using sources and literature from all the major Western European languages, being thoroughly extensive in his research.

Euan Cameron’s work in The European Reformation offers a comprehensive study of sixteenth century Christianity. The first six chapters of Cameron’s book gives a background of the European Reformation. Euan Cameron describes the religion of the people of Europe, “Medieval Christianity formed a vast, diverse, and seamless texture.” (11) He then describes the vulnerability of the Church and the economic problems that it faced. This is crucial to Cameron’s work in a comprehensive study of Reformation Europe because the economy of the sixteenth century led to the problems the Church faced. Cameron also considers if the reform from within is a lost cause and the ‘unreformable’ bishops and the secular clergy. In chapter four Cameron says, “The Late Medieval Church was its own sternest critic; however, it was also exposed to external challenges, political, legal, moral, and institutional…” in order to consider the challenges from outside and their limits. (54) Cameron in chapter five considers heresy and uses the following quotation in his work, “One who does not consent to the decrees of the apostolic see is deemed to be a heretic.” (207) The Church and the Christian soul is covered in chapter six in Cameron’s account of the European Reformation. In these pages he considers the lifelong cycle of sin, absolution, and penance. He also explains the theologies of justification and the matters within the Church.

Chapters seven through thirteen consider the Reformers and their message. In chapter seven Cameron moves on to the Reformers and their message. He begins with Martin Luther and discusses how the Reformation message spreads and diversifies throughout Europe. Cameron outlines the development and influences of Martin Luther. One of the main characters that rejected the Reformation was Erasmus as Cameron says, “Erasmus rejected Luther’s speculations on free will as ‘irreverent inquisitiveness’ into ‘things which are hidden, not to say superfluous.’” (134) Cameron then outlines the aspects of the Reformers’ message, which are salvation, scripture, the church, and the sacraments. He does so considering the human race, sin, and the law as well as faith in its nature and object. Scripture was invaluable to the Reformers message as they pitted the authority of Scripture against the authority of the Church. Cameron explains the Reformers set up the authority of “‘the Word’ against that of an institutional church.” (163) Cameron uses chapter twelve to describe the Church as the ‘community of the faithful and explains the Reformers’ choice of preaching ministers over priests. Cameron defines the sacraments by stating, “Most agreed on two basic components in a true ‘sacrament’: a promise of God, to which a sign was added”.(184) Cameron concludes this section explaining how the Reformers’ message corresponds to baptism, the communion, and rejecting the rest of the sacraments.

Chapters fourteen through seventeen consider the establishment of the reformed churches. In chapter fourteen Cameron considers the reformed cause in Germany and their communal movements in his comprehensive study of Reformation Europe. He then discusses the urban Reformation of Germany as well as Switzerland and the introduction of new ideas in the cities. In order to be exhaustive in his work Cameron also analyzes the political pressures of these reforms and the unsuccessful civic Reformation movements that took place. Cameron also covers the German Princes, Scandinavian Kingdoms, and the fragmented kingdoms of Eastern-Central Europe. Further, the text covers the Partial Reformation of England and the delayed Reformations of France and Scotland before 1559. Cameron concludes this section on the establishment of the reformed churches by considering the motives for it. Some of motives as Cameron explains might be wealth or power, an appeal to classes or social structures, or answering a spiritual need. Ultimately, what the reformed churches accomplish however is reformed preaching honoring the lay population.

In the last chapters of the book Cameron discusses what happens beyond the Reformation movement. Chapter eighteen reviews the Radical and Anabaptist movements and rejecting the ‘coalition.’ Cameron also explains the new heresies in Eastern Europe as well as religious and social teaching in order to cover the comprehensive study of the European Reformation. Cameron uses chapter nineteen to further explore politics and political theory. The study of rebellion and martyrs or Warriors of the Gospel as Cameron said is also important to the knowledge of sixteenth century Europe. The second to last chapter considers the ‘Confessional’ Reformation and the Reformers at odds. This includes the Lutheran controversies, Germany’s ‘confessional’ movement, and the reform movements in the British Kingdoms and France and the low countries. In the last chapter Cameron analyzes the importance of the lay-people for the Reformers in building a religious culture. He discusses instilling correct doctrine and the new standards of piety and Godliness. Before his conclusion Cameron considers the lay-people’s response also.

Euan Cameron proves his thesis throughout the entire book in providing a broad overview of the European Reformation. He is continually building upon the theme of comprehensively describing the entirety of the Reformer’s protests to the Catholic Church across Europe and the political changes that came along with it. Cameron uses countless evidences to support all the conclusions that he makes about the Reformation. All of the textual evidence he uses as well backs the claims about the Reformers. Sources were integrated multiple ways into The European Reformation by Euan Cameron. His notes/bibliography section at the end of his book was 107 pages long so it is fair to say he was comprehensive in his study and use of sources. The book was written extremely well and integrated the numerous sources efficiently and effectively. However because of its comprehensiveness The European Reformation by Euan Cameron loses some detail. Cameron could have done a better job in considering each major Reformer and what they accomplished for the Reformation. Instead the work mainly covers Luther and his contributions. However, for the goal it set out to accomplish in being a comprehensive study of the Reformation as a whole, there is not much I think Cameron could have done better.

I agree with the conclusions that Cameron made about the Reformation. While Cameron did leave certain aspects of one’s opinion about the Reformers up to interpretation the conclusions he makes about the Reformers positions and history is so well backed by sources it would be difficult to disagree with him. One of the major strengths of the work was its comprehensiveness. I have not read a book who was so vast in its nature of research, which lets The European Reformation’s credibility speak for itself. One of the weaknesses might be its length and readability. Cameron’s book is definitely aimed at a high level of reading that would be intimidating for someone who isn’t at the very least extremely interested in sixteenth century Europe. This work is a leader in its field due its comprehensiveness once again. From cover to cover The European Reformation covers so much information, so fluently it is an example for other books in this field. I would absolutely recommend this book but probably only someone who is as interested in Reformation Theology as I am. At the very least it is an undergraduate level read and I would only recommend it to someone who was asking for a reliable and exhaustive text on the Reformation.

Reviewed by Luke Mountain (Biola University)




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