Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
O'Malley begins with a simple observation: Protestantism, "the Reformation," has a name, one that people universally recognize and understand. On the other hand is the Counter Reformation, the Catholic Reformation, the Tridentine Reformation, and so on. What, exactly, is the right name for "the Catholic side"? What do these names mean? Here, it's not so obvious. Having raised the question, O'Malley introduces his own solution:
"This book is about the problem of naming in early modern Catholicism. It proposes a solution to the problem by arguing that, first, we need to accept the multiplicity of names as a good thing, for each of them captures an important aspect of the reality. Second, for such acceptance to be fruitful, we must apply these names more reflectively than heretofore, careful to indicate precisely what we mean to convey by each of them. Third, we need to add "Early Modern Catholicism" to the list as a more comprehensive designation than the others, a designation that provides for aspects they let slip through their grasp" (5).
With that as his starting point, O'Malley traces the historiography of the problem and attempts to demonstrate the validity of his proposal.
In Chapter One, he reaches all the way back to the eleventh
century, when the idea first emerged that the church itself
"might be subject to reform and indeed, required it" (16). So it was that
terms like reformatio and renovatio were circulated in religious
contexts long before the sixteenth century. In time, of course, “the
Reformation” came to refer to 1517 to 1555, the date for the Peace of Augsburg
(19). The term Anti- or Counter Reformation was used for the first time in 1776
by Putter. As he saw things, Reformation meant 1517 to 1555 (again, to the time
of the Peace of Augsburg) while the "Counter Reformation" lasted from
1555 to 1648 (that is, to the end of the Thirty Years War).
In the early nineteenth century, some Roman Catholic
writers attempted to fight back with the term "Protestant Revolution," a name that obviously never caught on. Even later, historians began to accept the term
"Catholic Reformation.” The two terms--Counter Reformation and Catholic
Reformation--meant different things at different places and times in
history. Above all, how those terms were heard had everything to do with the speaker
and audience. Thus, for someone like Gustav Droysen, writing in the 1890s, the
expression "Counter Reformation" sized up perfectly the essence of
what he deemed to be reactionary and repressive Roman Catholicism (29). Coming
into the twentieth century, the Catholic historian Pastor proudly used the term
"Catholic Restoration." Of course, English Protestants typically
preferred "Counter Reformation."
In Chapter Two, “Hubert Jedin and the Classical Position,”
O’Malley contextualizes the life and work of the twentieth century’s great
expert on Roman Catholicism during the sixteenth century, especially the
Council of Trent. He notes that Jedin’s conclusions are so commonly known
and accepted that "we never think to challenge the basic
construct" (54). Yet, a crucial sentence in Jedin’s famous essay of
1946—“The Catholic Reform is the church's remembrance of the Catholic ideal of
life through inner renewal, [and] the Counter Reformation is the self-assertion
of the church in the struggle against Protestantism"—serves to remind us
of how scholars operated in the old school, before the rise of what is called
social history (55). Furthermore, the Council of Trent was something short of
the "miracle" that Jedin made it out to be. Subsequent historians
have observed that things were neither so bleak before Trent, nor so
wonderful afterwards. And, not everything that improved within Catholicism after
Trent was the result of Trent, as Jedin assumed.
Chapter Three, “England and Italy in Jedin’s Wake,”
begins an exploration of the ways in which Jedin's scholarship on Catholic
Reform, the Counter Reformation, and Trent inspired other
scholars in various parts of Europe. H. Outram Evennett was
Jedin's best-informed discussion partner from England. Unlike Jedin,
Evennett did not have access to the resources of the Vatican. Still,
he was able to advance the idea that what Jedin had called
"Catholic Reform" was "the soul of the Catholic side" of
the Reformation. The majority of this chapter focuses on Italy, where a variety
of scholars, secular and religious, took up the challenge presented by
Jedin's work. What was the essence of what many still called
"the Catholic Reformation"? Was it Jedin's "Catholic
Reform," or was it the "Counter Reformation"? And what were the
sources of these: Trent, the Papacy, or the Jesuits? All of these options
assumed causality "from above." But, again, twentieth century
historiography turned that emphasis on its head.
fourth chapter is titled, “France, Germany, and Beyond.” O’Malley observes that, compared
to English and Italian academics, French scholars came to the question of
Jedin’s work quite late. Of course, that is because they were busy changing the
world. Still, as early as
1929, L. Febvre published a piece in French whose title means, "A Badly
Put Question: The Origins of the French Reformation and the Problem of the Causes
of the Reformation." It said that it was ridiculous to assume, as
historiography did, that "revulsion at ecclesiastical abuses caused the
Reformation" (95). The Reformation was about religious sentiment. To
understand it, said Febvre, you have to study religion, not churches. Because
he denied that "abuses" were at the root of the Reformation, he took
the foundation out from underneath the old Counter Reformation and Catholic
Reform. Fifteen years later, Jedin would hardly even take up Febvre's basic question. In addition to Febvre, there were others not connected with the Annales
school who took much the same approach.
By contrast, in Germany Jedin became a hero after
the appearance of the first two volumes of his Trent, though Protestant scholars paid little attention to him. Later, in
1976, Gottfried Maron attacked Jedin's distinctions between Catholic Reform and
Counter Reformation. It seemed like a ploy to make Catholicism look better than
it was (107). On a different front, E. W. Zeeden came up with a fresh approach to the period by
examining confessions, the various groups that had them (Catholic, Lutheran,
Calvinist/Reformed) and how the contents and processes were similar. Scholars in Italy and North America have more recently entered these
conversations. By the 1990s, leading European scholars neglected the term "Counter
In his Conclusion, O'Malley comes back to where he
began. "What's in a name?" He now answers, "Very much,
indeed." But, he observes, the names for "the Catholic side"
have proliferated through the centuries, raising the question of their
usefulness. In addition, "chronological demarcations have proliferated."
Given these realities, the author acknowledges that "many of these names
are here to stay" but that, often, too much has been claimed for them
(120). And so it is that he offers yet another name: "Early Modern
Catholicism." O’Malley suggests that this appellation does no damage to
what is sublime and wondrous about the historical moment it describes. Moreover,
"Catholicism with its sluggish continuities as well as its realities was
bigger than what the other names intimate" (143).