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The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700: A Reassessment of the Counter-Reformation (European History in Perspective) [Hardcover]

Robert Bireley

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Book Description

11 Jun 1999 European History in Perspective
Unlike the traditional terms Counter-Reformation or Catholic Reform, this book does not see Catholicism from 1450 to 1700 primarily in relationship to the Protestant Reformation but as both shaped by the revolutionary changes of the early modern period and actively refashioning itself in response to these changes: the emergence of the early modern state; economic growth and social dislocation; the expansion of Europe across the seas; the Renaissance; and, to be sure, the Protestant Reformation. Bireley 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 and men, and the effort to create a spirituality for the Christian living in the world. A final chapter looks at the issues raised by Machiavelli, Galileo and Pascal.
Robert Bireley is a leading Jesuit historian and uniquely well placed to reassess this centrally important subject for understanding the dynamics of early modern Europe. This book will be of great value to all those studying the political, social, religious and cultural history of the period.

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'In summary, this book transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries to synthesise extremely well the best of recent writing on the history of modern Catholicism (the bibliography provides the proof of this).' - Marc Venard, Revue d'Histoire de l'Eglise de France

'The emphasis throughout on the centrality of the lay piety is an excellent corrective to versions of confessionalization theory which remain too institutionally concerned with the state's direction of its subjects. Instead both casuistry and Jansenism are admirably apporached with a proper Jesuit sensitivity.' - A.D. Wright, Catholic Historical Review

About the Author

ROBERT BIRELEY is Professor of History at Loyola University, Chicago.

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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Life Than Previously Believed 22 Oct 2003
By Thomas J. Burns - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an interesting introduction to an era that traditionally bears the name "Counter Reformation." Bireley, a Jesuit Professor of History at Loyola University of Chicago, argues persuasively in his opening remarks that the term "Counter Reformation" has outlived its usefulness in the study of Catholic history. In fact, he observes, nearly all of what we would call today post-Tridentine reform not only has roots in the fifteenth century but in many cases was in full bloom and inspired the council to do what it did. Trent, in his view of things, was the institutional crest of a wave that had been building for a century. Moreover, Bireley's global view-geographic, political, scientific, theological-invites the reader to view the Church against the backdrop of forces it could not control and critique the many accommodations made by the Church to the world of the seventeenth century.
Why 1450? One reason was geographic exploration. The exploits of DeGama and Columbus reflected a growing sense of the cosmos, later amplified by Galileo and others; a new economic world order, so to speak; and the increasing sense of nationalism and centralization of governments, later abetted by formalized "confessions" of religious doctrine and worship after Luther. Another reason for this new delineation of Catholic epochs was the Renaissance and the humanistic philosophy it nurtured, which the author maintains had significant impact upon many major Catholic leaders of the time, including Ignatius Loyola and Francis de Sales. At the other end of the chronological spectrum, Bireley designates 1700 as a marker because of the impact of Cartesian rationalism upon official Catholic thought in the bigger context of the Enlightenment itself.
Without ignoring the contemporary problems of the "Catholic confession"-papal excesses, poor training of priests, etc.-Bireley is remarkably upbeat about the condition of the Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation and the Council of Trent in the sense that the need for reform was widely recognized and in many places being addressed already. Popular piety throughout Europe was strong in pockets, and the printing press, so often termed a tool of Protestant reformers, was cranking out thousands of copies of "The Imitation of Christ." The author notes that in the late fifteenth century the existing religious orders, or at least many of them, were distinguishing themselves by excellent preaching, pastoral practice, and adaptation.
After 1500, however, the combined challenges of Protestant confessions, humanist demands of higher education, and missionary work, not to mention ecclesiastical reform itself, led to a veritable explosion of new religious orders. Not surprisingly, the Jesuit phenomenon is extensively chronicled. But to his credit, Bireley gives significant attention to Francis de Sales and the Salesian efforts to address the spiritual needs of the new humanized Catholic. Joined with the efforts of the new Capuchins, Ursulines, Oratorians, Hospitalers, Theatines, Oratorians, Visitandines, Piarists, Barnabites, Sulpicians, and the Christian Brothers, to cite several, these movements addressed the above cited needs in ways that have sculpted the Catholic experience to the present day.
It is probably obvious that none of the above named orders is, strictly speaking, contemplative. Bireley contends that the paradigmatic shift in Catholic thinking in this era was toward the world, not away from it. Educators, confessors, and spiritual directors and writers consciously or subconsciously picked up the gauntlet set down by Machiavelli, whose thesis broadly read argues that the marketplace is the arena of practicality, not faith. It is no accident that the curriculum of Catholic schools at every level broadened to include the best of classical thought, that Aquinas and the idea of synthesis came back into style, and the Jesuits added drama and the fine arts to their standard cursus studiorum. Theologically speaking, it was an age of "doing." Loyola himself did not impose choir upon his men to free them for mission. The case study or manualist method of moral theology was born.
Certainly no collective group was doing more than the missionaries. The work of the Church in the new worlds is complex and not without controversy on many levels. Bireley is somewhat limited by this complexity in his attempt to give an overview of the missionary situation, but in general no one can deny that it was not large scale and heroic. The argument is often made that Catholic missionary efforts were part of a larger colonization effort. Bireley implies in his overview that this accusation is probably more appropriate to those missionaries whose monarchs exercised state control of the Church in their kingdoms, such as Spain and Portugal. By contrast, missionaries working more directly with the papacy and the newly formed Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, such as the Jesuits in the East, worked with remarkably less baggage, the Malabar Rites Controversy notwithstanding.
Although only two hundred pages, this is a thought provoking work that on the whole depicts a Roman Catholicism of considerably more vigor and spirituality than is generally attributed to the Reformation era. Certainly the author's thoughts on the importance of the new religious orders, humanism, and ecclesiastical globalization call for further reading and reflection. Curiously, this work, published by The Catholic University of America, was printed in China. One way or another, Francis Xavier was going to get there. It was only a matter of time.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding Work on a Complex Topic 25 Nov 2009
By G. Gustin - Published on Amazon.com
Jesuit professor Robert Bireley's work "The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700: A Reassessment of the Counter Reformation" is without a doubt one of the best texts I've read about the subject of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Despite its relatively small size when compared to Euan Cameron's large volume on the Protestant Reformation in Europe, "The European Reformation," it contains a great deal of information that enabled me to gain a better understanding of the Catholic "Counter-Reformation" as it is traditionally called (although Bireley makes a good case that such a term is in fact outdated). It explores the Counter-Reformation as both caused by and, in some ways, a cause of emerging historical changes in the 15th-18th centuries, such as the growth in state power, socioeconomic changes in European society (especially colonialism) and the changes in education and learning due to the Renaissance. Although the role of the Protestant Reformation cannot be dismissed, Bireley's work was especially helpful since it helped me become aware of the fact that the Protestant Reformation was not the only factor that contributed to the Counter-Reformation (which is precisely what I had been taught in Catholic high school). Bireley's work also explored some of the consequences of the Counter-Reformation, such as the emergence of various new religious orders and new forms of education.

Bireley begins by making his position regarding terminology clear to the reader. He prefers the term "Early Modern Catholicism" to the traditional terms of "Counter-Reformation" and "Catholic Reform" since, in his opinion, the latter two terms make are parts of a whole picture of changes in the Catholic Church, and such terms link said changes too closely with the Protestant Reformation (p. 8). His point is a valid one. One of the most salient points of the book is, in my own estimation, that the reality of Early Modern Catholicism was more than just a knee-jerk reaction to the Protestant Reformation. Indeed, such an assumption is far too simplistic. Bireley breaks down the causes of the changes in Catholicism into five general categories.

First, he discusses the role of the centralization of state authority in Europe, devoting Chapter 4 to an intensive study of the conflicts between Church and state. Although he is careful to note that there were always clashes between Church and state throughout European history in one form or another, it was during the time period of Early Modern Catholicism that the state was gradually winning more of these conflicts. It was increasingly beneficial for rulers to intervene in the religious affairs of their subjects, as it gave them increased power, a more unified religious population and of course financial benefits. One factor in particular that facilitated the growth of separate, powerful European states was the fact that the sense of unified "Christendom" felt during the Crusades had weakened significantly. The state was becoming more important in peoples' lives.

Second, he discusses the various socioeconomic changes, especially the demographic resurgence in the late 15th century that spurred economic expansion, which in turn caused a wide gap between rich and poor, something which attracted the attention of both church and state alike. The economic expansion probably helped lead into the third factor that Bireley discusses, namely colonial expansion.

Colonial expansion into South America, Africa and other areas posed a new challenge for the Catholic Church, namely how it would bring its message to these potential Christians. Bireley devotes Chapter 7 to a detailed discussion of the various challenges that the Church faced in these regions, but he also brings up a conflict that resulted from the increasing power of the European states. The Church and the European powers tended to clash when it came to treatment of the natives, especially in Mexico and South America. This is where the roles of the new religious orders, such as Bireley's own Jesuit order, became particularly important in spreading the faith.

The fourth factor was, simply put, the Renaissance, and especially its intellectual offspring known as humanism. For our class, this is a particularly salient factor. Renaissance humanism encouraged the study of the classics, and had a large base of support in both courts and towns, among both the clergy and the laity. Humanism eventually became identified with religious reform, even amongst the clergy, especially with Erasmus of Rotterdam. The Renaissance also enabled humanist ideas to be spread more effectively thanks to the development of the printing press, and it set the stage for conflicts with the Church as the Scientific Revolution developed in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Of course, the fifth and final factor, the Protestant Reformation, cannot be ignored. While Bireley is careful to note that it is difficult to establish the state of the Church on the eve of the Reformation since local realities varied (Euan Cameron did a good job at discussing these various local realities), he points out something interesting that contributed to the desire for reform: "the desire for a more profound religious experience and practice on the part of a significant number of laity (p. 19)." This desire helped contribute to the development of new religious orders, discussed in Chapter 2. Catholics in general wanted a deeper experience with their faith, especially in light of the vast changes that were reshaping the world that they knew. The issue with most laity was not so much doctrinal. Indeed, the Council of Trent did not change much, if anything, in terms of doctrine but rather clarified and defended that which was attacked by the Protestants.

The results of Early Modern Catholicism included a radically reshaped religious map of Europe, new religious orders and a renewed emphasis on education from the Council of Trent, which recognized the importance of religious literacy in the face of Protestant challenges. Catholicism was no longer the only faith in Europe, and the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 essentially split Europe up into various Protestant and Catholic states. Whatever else it did, Early Modern Catholicism ensured one thing: Europe would never be the same again.

While the Protestant Reformation certainly contributed a great deal to the development of Early Modern Catholicism, this was only one of several factors that influenced the changes in the Catholic Church that became popularly known as the Counter-Reformation. Political, economic and social changes also contributed greatly to the upheaval that influenced not only the Council of Trent and subsequent developments in the European church, but also to the history of Catholicism in general. Robert Bireley did a fine job with this book, and I highly recommend it to students of Catholic history (just beware that it's probably something best read at the graduate student level).
5.0 out of 5 stars well written, brief but not superficial 27 Sep 2012
By Joseph M. Hennessey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Even high school students should have heard and read about the [Protestant] Reformation, a little bit about Luther, Calvin, Henry8 etc., but in my experience almost zilch about the Catholic Reformation, or Counter-Reformation, emphasizing the reactive portion of the period, or Early Modern Catholicism, Bireley's favored term, because it underscores that the Catholic reform was not just about containing Protestantism, but also about missionary efforts to evangelize the newly discovered Americas, and the new religious orders devoted to the poor, the sick, and the education of children.

Birely's book focuses on the Council of Trent, which occurred from 1545-1563,with many inactive years in between. Certainly the main object of the Council was to theologically distinguish traditional Catholic Christian teaching and practice compared to the Reformation. But on many issues, the Council fathers conceded that the Reformers'critique was completely on target, that the some of the Church, especially in the hierarchy of Rome, were engaging in decadent practices, such as clerical unchastity, warrior-popes, and the selling of indulgences, which are sacramentals, rather than the 7 sacraments, but all forbidden to be sold(simony) but donations would be accepted. However, more of the Council reasserted traditional teaching and practice, explicitly defending the content ofimmemorial doctrine, but this time with better, more up to date argumentation. Perhaps the most far-reaching concrete (in both senses of the term) result of the Counter Reformation was the seminary, the sequestered institution where would-be priests were, again in both senses of the term, indoctrinated, to more effectively teach the Faith, as opposed to the slip-shod previous regime of apprenticeship. Many of the practices and teachings of the Reformation were returned to Catholicism during the Vatican II council in the 1960's, especially those based directly on the Scriptures' description of the earliest years of the Church. Thus, the Catholic Church conceded many points raised by the Reformers, while lamenting that they had frozen into separate denominations, rather than an intra-family scrum.

On p. 68 Birely notes that the Roman Inquisition executed approx. 100 people in 200 years, and that is 100 too many, but negligible compared to the millions killed by atheist regimes in the 20th century. The Catholic heretical movement called Jansenism tried to out-purify Calvinism, but in stead called forth the so-called enlightenment, which is the foundation for today's secularism, which all Christian denominations have to struggle against.

Overall, I heartily recommend "The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700."
2 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars heavy going 8 Nov 2009
By T. France - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Actually, I cannot bear to read it. I would like all scholarly books to be witty in the best sense of the word, or "Chestertonesque" if you prefer.The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700: A Reassessment of the Counter ReformationI was attracted by the fine English Catholic name independently from the obvious high quality of the scholarship.
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