BBC kicks off Reformation season with a very fair history of the Reformation in Germany and England

Martin Luther nails his ‘95 Theses’ to the church door at Wittenberg, 31 October 1517
Martin Luther nails his ‘95 Theses’ to the church door at Wittenberg, 31 October 1517

On Tuesday BBC Two opened this month’s inevitable series of programmes on the Reformation with a very fair and informative history of the Reformation by David Starkey.

Entitled “Reformation: Europe’s Holy War,” the programme recounted the early history of the Reformation — beginning with an obscure German friar named Martin Luther who rose to fame overnight thanks to the recent invention of the printing press, and then quickly spreading across the waters to Catholic England.

I like David Starkey as an historian, but I must confess that in the opening five minutes I was wondering what on earth I was about to watch when he drew comparisons between the religious turmoil that swept across Europe in the 16th century, and the modern-day jihad with which we are all so familiar from the news.

Granted, there are certain similarities between what happened to Europe in the 16th century, and what’s happening today with the religious fervour — or threat — of jihad, but such similarities only go so far and it would be a grave misunderstanding to view the two movements as in any way synonymous.

Thankfully, the comparisons were not pressed too heavily, and what followed was in fact a very fair, balanced and informative history of the early Reformation, as it happened initially in Germany and then in England.

Indeed, David Starkey did get to the heart of what drove the Reformation in Germany — not just an insurgent German nationalism, but chiefly a concern for the newly-rediscovered ideas of “Faith alone” and “Scripture alone” — and made it so wildly popular a cultural movement and one so significant throughout Europe, even down to this day.

If the BBC continues producing output on the Reformation of this standard for the next month, then I will certainly be writing them a letter of thanks in November.

Watch this space!

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