Tuesday, December 02, 2014

"Early Modern Catholicism"? O'Malley's Proposal

O'Malley, John W. 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.

The 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 Reformation."

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).

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