Thursday, January 26, 2012

TRENT AND ALL THAT: Catholic Reformation or Counter Reformation? Or Something Else??

One of the last purchases on my Eighth Day Books gift certificate from my husband this Christmas is Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era by John W. O'Malley. Previously, I have enjoyed reading his book Four Cultures of the West (prophetic, academic, humanistic, performance/art). Re: this book, Harvard University Press states:

Counter Reformation, Catholic Reformation, the Baroque Age, the Tridentine Age, the Confessional Age: why does Catholicism in the early modern era go by so many names? And what political situations, what religious and cultural prejudices in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries gave rise to this confusion? Taking up these questions, John O’Malley works out a remarkable guide to the intellectual and historical developments behind the concepts of Catholic reform, the Counter Reformation, and, in his felicitous term, Early Modern Catholicism. The result is the single best overview of scholarship on Catholicism in early modern Europe, delivered in a pithy, lucid, and entertaining style. Although its subject is fundamental to virtually all other issues relating to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, there is no other book like this in any language.

More than a historiographical review, Trent and All That makes a compelling case for subsuming the present confusion of terminology under the concept of Early Modern Catholicism. The term indicates clearly what this book so eloquently demonstrates: that Early Modern Catholicism was an aspect of early modern history, which it strongly influenced and by which it was itself in large measure determined. As a reviewer commented, O’Malley’s discussion of terminology "opens up a different way of conceiving of the whole history of Catholicism between the Reformation and the French Revolution."

Table of Contents:
Introduction: What’s in a Name?
1. How It All Began
2. Hubert Jedi and the Classic Position
3. England and Italy in Jedin’s Wake
4. France, Germany, and Beyond
Conclusion: There’s Much in a Name

The work he highlights in chapter three is H. Outram Evennett's Spirit of the Counter-Reformation, based on his Birkbeck Lectures of 1951 edited by John Bossy, one of Evennett's students and the author of the major study on English Catholicism, The English Catholic Community, 1570-1850 . What both O'Malley and Bossy point out in their evaulation of Evennett's achievement in this book (which has NOT BEEN OUT OF PRINT since publication), is that he was working in a cultural milieu, British academia at the University of Cambridge that of course had not considered the Catholic side of early modern history at all. I read Evennett's book a few years ago while preparing a couple of presentations on the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic/Counter Reformation for my parish's RCIA program.

After tracing the development of the names of what O'Malley calls "the Catholic side" of the religious changes that happened in Europe during the 16th and 17th century, he summarizes their effectiveness and proposes a new name (as of 2001, at least): Early Modern Catholicism. The other terms used: The Counter Reformation (describes the actions taken by the Catholic Church to "counter" the Protestant Reformation; The Catholic Reformation (describes the actions taken by the Catholic Church to address abuses, improve discipline); The Tridentine Age (focuses on the efforts of the Council of Trent); Confessional Catholicism (focuses on the efforts of states and nations to identify themselves politically as Catholic)--each have strengths and weaknesses in attempting to summarize the Church's activities in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The term O'Malley proposes, Early Modern Catholicism, suffers, as he admits, from some vagueness but benefits by comprehending all the other names under its big tent, and other names besides--like the Baroque Era, the Age of Gold in Spain, the Great Century in France, etc. Robert S. Miola uses that term in the title of his great anthology.

Although he uses yet another term for the Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation ("The Reinvention of Catholicism") I thought of Nathan Mitchell's book on the Rosary as I read O'Malley describing how his term Early Modern Catholicism allows much more leeway in discussing people and events that don't fit under the categories claimed in the names listed above: the missionary efforts (including England); the devotional and confraternity movements and new orders founded in the 16th and 17th centuries, like the Oratory; and the role of women, the Ursulines, Mary of Agreda, etc.

Another book that represents that broader reach and uses YET ANOTHER TERM, "Catholic Renewal" also demonstrates the dating issue O'Malley brings up, extending the period from 1540 to 1770, up to Enlightenment times. The second edition added a chapter on "The Catholic Book", which means I need to supplement the edition I already have!

Finally, there is Robert Bireley's book, The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700: A Reassessment of the Counter Reformation published by Catholic University of America Press:

Throughout its history, Christianity has adapted to contemporary society and culture in order to reach people effectively and have an impact on the world. This process often evokes controversy. Certainly this is the case in the current century, and so it was in the sixteenth. Robert Bireley argues that early modern Catholicism, the period known more traditionally as the Counter Reformation, was both shaped by and an active response to the profound changes of the sixteenth century--the growth of the state; economic expansion and social dislocation; European colonialism across the seas; the Renaissance; and, of course, the Protestant Reformation.

Bireley finds that there were two fundamental, contrasting desires that helped shape early modern Catholicism: the desire especially of a lay elite to lead a full Christian life in the world and the widespread desire for order and discipline after the upheavals of the long sixteenth century. He devotes particular attention to new methods of evangelization in the Old World and the New, education at the elementary, secondary, and university levels, the new active religious orders of women as well as men, and the effort to create a spirituality for the Christian living in the world.

This book will be of great value to all those studying the political, social, religious, and cultural history of the period.

What term do you think best describes "the Catholic side" of the 16th and 17th centuries? Please cast your vote in the comment box and tell why:

1) Catholic Counter Reformation
2) Catholic Reformation
3) Tridentine Age
4) Confessional Catholicism
5) Early Modern Catholicism
6) Catholic Renewal or Catholic Refashioning
7) Your Own Term

1 comment:

  1. My vote, BTW, IYC (if you care) is for Early Modern Catholic Renewal, combining O'Malley's term with Hsia's.