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By Douglas M. MacDowell

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Such literary expressions of God's general plan could take various shapes, 16 and although their importance faded considerably in the renaissance, it is clear that like their medieval predecessors, renaissance historians could never completely abandon the thought that providence shapes history. Taken in their totality, medieval histories span a broad spectrum. They range from non-narrative monastic chronicles detailing daily events of monastic life to ambitious Reformation arguments enumerating the corruptions of Rome and the essential purity of the English Church; from local topographical histories to universal histories; and from moral diatribes against the wickedness of princes to the interpretation of natural events as signs of God's displeasure.

The writings of the sincere or honest historian are of course no less ideological. The history of popular martyrologist John Foxe is an excellent case in point. The language of his Actes and Monuments assures the reader that Introduction 19 the historian believes in the objective truth of his account. The purpose of Actes and Monuments, the author tells us, echoing Tyndale, is the edification of those who are ignorant of the history of "the true descent of the church," and those who rely for their knowledge of history on "the multitude of chronicles and story-writers .

The central question to be addressed was how to live a life that would please God and be rewarded with a place in heaven. Convinced that God would not leave humanity wholly to its own devices, medieval Christians believed that "history demonstrated the working's of God's will on earth; as mankind proceeded towards its destiny, the last judgment and eternal life in heaven and hell, God rewarded virtue, punished vice and otherwise showed His omnipotence" (Gransden, Historical Writing 454). Of course it was not always possible to demonstrate clear and trustworthy links between earthly events and divine providence, and medieval historians would frequently "adopt a literary structure to reflect the divine scheme" (454-5).

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Aristophanes Wasps by Douglas M. MacDowell


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