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From Penitence to Charity: Pious Women and the Catholic Reformation in Paris (Europe) [Kindle Edition]

Barbara B. Diefendorf

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Book Description

When in 1570 the widow Marie Du Drac took to a life of godly devotion, fasting, wearing hairshirts, and doing good works at hospitals, prisons, and with the poor, her contemporaries thought her behavior bizarre. Her family and friends worried for her health. Although not a nun, this elite Parisian spend hours every day in contemplative prayer and related to her spiritual advisors her mystical visions and sins against God. While Du Drac's ascetic practices and penitential spirituality were considered odd in her own time, half a century later they were broadly adopted by other dévotes, also elite lay women, amidst the Catholic renewal following the Wars of Religion. From Penitence to Charity radically revises our understanding of women's place in the institutional and spiritual revival known as the Catholic Reformation. Focusing on Paris, where fifty new religious congregations for women were established in as many years, it examines women's active role as founders and patrons of religious communities, as spiritual leaders within these communities, and as organizers of innovative forms of charitable assistance to the poor. Rejecting the common view that the Catholic Reformation was a male-dominated movement whose patriarchal leadership controlled and confined women, this book shows how pious women played an instrumental role, working alongside-and sometimes in advance of-male reformers. At the same time, it establishes a new understanding of the chronology and character of France's Catholic Reformation by locating the movement's origins in a penitential spirituality rooted in the agonies of religious war. It argues that a powerful desire to appease the wrath of God through acts of heroic asceticism born of the wars did not subside with peace but, rather, found new outlets in the creation of austere, contemplative convents. Admiration for saintly ascetics prompted new vocations, and convents multiplied, as pious laywomen rushed to fund houses where, enjoying the special rights accorded founders, they might enter the cloister and participate in convent life. Penitential enthusiasm inevitably waned, and new social and economic charitable service supplanted asceticism as the dominant spiritual mode. Capitalizing on the Council of Trent's call to catechize an ignorant laity, pious women founded innovative new congregations to aid less favored members of their sex and established lay cofraternaties to serve elites as well as society's outcasts and the poor, especially those adversely affected by the recurrent warfare. Service activities have remained a cornerstone of religious practice, imbuing the lives and works of these religious women of the Old Regime with lasting significance.

Product Description


..".meticulously researched and compellingly written.... Diefendorf's study goes a long way toward recovering ways that women, as well as men, steered the development of early modern Catholicism."--CSS NEWSLETTER"Diefendorf captures in broad brush strokes and in telling detail the lives, spiritual yearnings, and charitable impulses of seventeenth-century Parisian women who fulfilled their lives in the new, immensely varied communities they created for themselves. The research is awesome: the saints come alive through narratives of social, financial, and institutional successes and failures. A major contribution to the history of women, Paris, and the mystical quest for union with the divine."--Orest Ranum, Johns Hopkins University"Diefendorf's book is the first major attempt to piece together and explain the powerful religious movement which made Paris the second capital of the Catholic Reformation by the early seventeenth century. Based on extensive research, it shrewdly sifts and weighs the constituent elements of religious revival, and convincingly shows how central the role of women in it really was. It sets both the standard and the agenda for future research, inside and outside of France."--Joseph Bergin, University of Manchester"This brief review can hardly do justice to a book that includes a number of gripping stories and intriguing details on its way to a successful, convincing synthetic approach to recent scholarly debates on women's experiences of the developing piety of the Counter-Reformation....Aside from its contributions to ongoing debates in the field, the true triumph of the picture of Catholic women's piety that emerges in this book is the fact that it could be read sympathetically both by secular scholars of the field and interested religious readers."--H-Catholic"This remarkable work revises our understanding of the Catholic Reformation in France in major ways. Certain Parisian women, Diefendorf demonstrates, fashioned a new style of piety that met their own spiritual needs. Then, as lay founders of convents and as prioresses in new institutions, they developed means for serving the needs of other women, both elite and poor, lay as well as religious. Diefendorf combines extensive new findings and new critical ways of reading contemporary sources with deep reflection and smooth, engaging writing."--Carolyn Lougee Chappell, Stanford University"From Penitence to Charity gives us a new view of women in early modern Catholicism. We see them not just as other-wordly mystics but as engaged, socially aware individuals active in their society and determined to remedy some of its worst ills. Diefendorf's highly readable book makes a strong case for women's agency and women's ability to transform mysticism into social action."--Kathryn Norberg, Editor, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society

About the Author

Barbara B. Diefendorf is Professor of History at Boston University. She is the author of Paris City Councillors in the Sixteenth Century: The Politics of Patrimony and Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris (OUP, 1991).

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 4601 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (15 July 2004)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000SBGJK6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,682,841 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
5.0 out of 5 stars It is a wonderfully researched account of the role of women in the ... 22 April 2015
By AnnaVM - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It is a wonderfully researched account of the role of women in the Catholic Counter-reformation. It is a fresh look at the inner-workings of the new pious communities, their role and their legacy for the religious and cultural history of France. An engaging read.
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