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The Radical Reformation, 3d ed.

George Huntston Williams. 3rd ed. (Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies, 15.) Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992. xlvi + 1513 pp. $125.

This greatly expanded edition of the standard survey of the Radical Reformation incorporates the results of other scholars' extensive research as well as Williams' own further studies in the field from the last thirty years. Although a second edition appeared in Spanish ten years ago, it is unlikely that many whose first language is English will have consulted it, and the following comparison bypasses that edition.

While many of the chapters and subchapters retain their earlier titles, new sections were added to some chapters in recognition of new foci of scholarly interest. One example is chapter 2, which now includes not only sacramentism but also mysticism, the influence of which, as Williams notes, the heirs of both Luther and Menno had been reluctant to admit. The more recent scholarship on which Williams now draws has brought recognition of the importance of mystical sources for the Radical Reformation. His treatment of other topics also reflects the increased attention to the medieval background of the Reformation which has characterized the field in recent decades. Changing beliefs concerning sacraments, the mediatorship of Mary and Christ, and eschatology are examined more extensively than in the first edition.

Other new sections result from Williams' own more recent research, particularly in the history of the Polish Reformation. Although Eastern Europe was by no means neglected in the first edition, the chapters focusing on these countries have been most extensively reshaped for this edition. Not only does he trace the origins of Polish Unitarianism, but he provides more information on the Reformed churches of Eastern Europe than is available in other histories of the Reformation. It will surely be one of Williams' lasting contributions to have revealed the limitations of scholarship shaped by post-World-War-II boundaries. As those political boundaries are being relaxed and reconfigured, his work should direct attention to neglected areas of research.

Another greatly expanded chapter reflects the dramatic increase in scholarly attention to gender and family issues since the first edition. Integrating the results of research not only on radical reformers but also on humanists and magisterial reformers, Williams modifies his earlier views to recognize that Puritans and Pietists may have contributed more than Anabaptists to companionate marriage. An added excursus into the area of conception and embryology also favors the magisterial reformers' position on those topics as enhancing the status of the fetus.

Williams' general predilection for the radicals, then, is carefully nuanced. He admits the excesses and failures of the movement, yet urges us, at the very least, to respect the courage of these deeply committed men and women. Moreover, he credits them with significant contributions toward the principles of democracy and separation of church and state as well as the largely unrealized ideals of pacifism and toleration.

The major drawback of the book is stylistic: in contrast to the material taken verbatim from his earlier version, many of the new paragraphs consist of a single complex sentence, resembling Germanic constructions but often surpassing them in length and intricacy. Even after several readings I was unable occasionally to disentangle the clauses or to be certain that what was printed was what was intended. It is unfortunate that, as it seems, no editor assisted in helping Williams communicate his vast knowledge to a wider audience.

In contrast to the first edition, which had no separate bibliography, this volume contains 60 pages of bibliography (mostly secondary literature), a 24-Page index of source documents and 114 pages of other indexes. Because few readers will want to read the work in its entirety, these extensive aids will greatly increase the book's usefulness.
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Author:Irwin, Joyce L.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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