A Visual Feast of Reformation Documentation

THE REFORMATION edited by Pierre Chaunu, New York: St. Martin's Press, 295 pp., $49.95

FOR all its contemporary appeal to visual documentation, this book was composed sub specie aeternitatis, from the focal point of infinity.

Thus, according to the editor, the ``twenty-five brief centuries of meditation'' that separate us from scriptural origins can seem like the blink of an eye. Indeed, for Pierre Chaunu, professor of modern history at the Sorbonne in Paris, the disappearance of significant differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths provokes intense and complex responses, this book being one.

Composed in the spirit of ``true ecumenism,'' ``The Reformation'' combines the efforts of 17 scholars of various religious and academic persuasions. A Catholic priest and theologian was entrusted with John Calvin, whose triumphant imposition of the Reformed discipline on the city of Geneva in 1536 is remembered by the publication of this volume.

Framed by editor Chaunu's pointed and debatable reflections on the signs of the times, the essays, diverse and expert, cover all aspects of the subject, from theology to daily life, and they are abundantly reinforced by a splendid menu of pictures - more than 350 engravings, paintings, drawings, and photographs - many in full color. It's all clearly too much for one sitting; only the heartiest appetites can approach the buffet with relish.

But then, Chaunu himself seems overwhelmed by the phenomenon of ``ancient, betrayed Christianity'' and the strength of his book may be beyond the appetite for spiritual and historical fast food that does seem to have caught on somewhat recently.

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