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Susan R. Boettcher
Department of History, University of Texas at Austin
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Ute Lotz-Heumann
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Susan R. Boettcher: Katholische Kirche und Katholizismus im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert (Rezension), in: sehepunkte 4 (2004), Nr. 4 [15.04.2004], URL:

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Katholische Kirche und Katholizismus im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert

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The last three decades have witnessed a proliferation of terminological disputes about how to characterize the condition of the Catholic Church and Catholic piety in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. From the traditional Counter-Reformation to Hubert Jedin's Catholic Reform, from Ernst Walter Zeeden's "Konfessionsbildung" to Wolfgang Reinhard's "Katholische Konfessionalisierung", and finally John O'Malley's special pleading for the potentially neutral "early modern Catholicism", the terminologies all ask similar questions about the relative places of continuity and change, tradition and innovation, organic development and assertive positive activity in determining the trajectory, flavor and condition of Catholicism in the age of Reformation. Interestingly, none of the four works profiled in this review specifically addresses such issues with any rigor; nonetheless, the terminological debate has been so wide-ranging in its application that all of them should cast light upon its fundamental questions.

The introduction to "Visitation und Send" addresses these questions directly, placing the book's contents into the debate on what effect Trent actually had. In his 1989 dissertation on electoral Cologne, Thomas Becker traced the uneven progress of Tridentine Reform in the territory along a number of typical issues such as the condition of parish buildings and devotional objects, the education of parish pastors, and rates of concubinage, as reflected in surviving records from visitations under the supervision of the Wittelsbach archbishops. In "Visitation und Send", he and fellow editors Claudia Beckers-Dohlen and Annastina Kaffarnik edit and translate one segment of the sort of documents used in his research: visitation records from Bonn archidiaconate, a subsection of the Cologne archdiocese. Its publication in a series devoted to the history of the German countryside may unfortunately create the impression that its primary audience is readers of "Heimatkunde". As the editors suggest, however, the documents reveal that countryside in a position "on the threshold to the eighteenth century [...] [in] a world in which Catholicism as it was prescribed in the catechism and superstitious practices [...] existed next to each other, and in which the much freer forms of custom and heritage continued their existence next to strict moral conceptions of the church" ("[a]n der Schwelle zum 18. Jahrhundert [...] [in] eine[r] Welt, in der vom Katechismus vorgeschriebene katholische Frömmigkeit und abergläubische Praktiken [...] nebeneinander existieren können und in der neben den strengen Moralauffassungen der Kirche die weitaus freizügigeren Formen des Brauchtums und des Herkommens noch Bestand haben", 11). The segment of records is brief, covering only fourteen years, so in many ways it is more of a snapshot of the district than a source that offers comparative evidence. Despite the limited view, the records allow the editors to answer some of the questions about the equilibrium within the regional Catholic hierarchy raised by August Franzen. The visitation records reveal that one of the ways the provosts asserted their independence against the resistance of their subordinates and the growing authority of the bishop was to exercise their privilege of visitation - an action they had not taken throughout much of the preceding period. So despite the apparent continuities in large areas of traditional Catholic life, at the same time the records reveal an increased administrative interest in local affairs. The work intersects in important ways with other studies on the long-term outcomes of Catholic reform efforts in the countryside, like that of Marc Forster. Increasingly, researchers are painting a picture of delayed Catholic confessionalization due to factors easily seen in these records: insufficient administrative resources and stubborn local populations that clung to their customs. Similar factors are shown here to have been at work in Bonn, where the stresses of war probably prevented local visitations from taking place at least until the second half of the seventeenth century. The editors provide a useful edition that will be of interest not only to regional historians, but also as an introduction to students seeking familiarity with the procedure and language of visitation records.

The 2002 "Pirckheimer Jahrbuch" edited by Klaus Arnold offers a program of contrasts to the picture from the countryside around Bonn, shedding light on a subset of the population (pilgrims) and an area where both laity and clergy were heavily occupied with the demands of piety. The detailed essays, drawn from a symposium in 2000, deal with pre-Reformation pilgrimage piety in and around Nuremberg. The contributors support strongly the case made in numerous Reformation histories of the last generation, that rather than being onerous or corrupt, Catholic piety was robust in the period immediately preceding the Reformation. In an essay with detailed references to a burgeoning secondary literature, Franz Machilek discusses the exhibition of relics in Nuremberg as a case study in the pilgrimage piety of the Christian West. Nuremberg was similar in many ways to other important fifteenth-century pilgrimages, but was distinguished through the ways in which relic displays emphasized the imperial loyalties of the city - a tendency it inherited from the relic displays in Prague upon which its pilgrimage displays were modeled - as well as its frequency. These long-term continuities point to a robust urban piety reaching back at least to the mid-fourteenth century. Nurembergers, accustomed to the presence of pilgrims, were in turn active pilgrims themselves, as Klaus Herbers' essay on Nuremberger pilgrimages to Iberia shows. Herbers' examples reveal that the wealthy prerogative of a Santiago pilgrimage became a family tradition (a point underlined in a miscellany by Klaus Arnold that concludes the volume). The trip itself, however, did not always sustain the theme of pious devotion. Reports from Nuremberg patricians reveal local squabbles around the pilgrimage in Spain and other details that Herbers interprets as an implicit but growing skepticism about the merits of pilgrimages developing across the fourteenth century. While less well-educated pilgrims were more pious in their descriptions, Hieronymus Münzer, a university-educated doctor, made both a more detailed report and a less pious naïvely devoted one. While pilgrimage reports from Nuremberg became more detailed, their accounts describe Santiago as increasingly despiritualized and point more often to rational details that question naïve pilgrimage piety. The reports are surprisingly sober, for example when speaking of the devotion at the grave of St. James. In a further essay drawing on the author's dissertation, Randall Herz details Hans Tucher's Jerusalem pilgrimage and the reception of his report in later generations as a sort of Baedeker for the Holy Land - showing similarities to other Jerusalem pilgrimage literature like that of Felix Fabri. Finally, Bertold von Haller describes the services the "Pilgerspital zum Heiligen Kreuz" provided to pilgrims in Nuremberg in a recapitulation of his father's 1969 history of that institution.

Turning from a picture of Catholic piety with strong contrasts between city and countryside, Max Dreher's Salzburg dissertation on the history of the Munich Augustinian cloister from the Reformation to secularization addresses another central aspect of the challenges facing early modern Catholicism: the impact of the Reformation on the Catholic orders. Dreher's topic is an important one - the German Augustinians were strained to the breaking point by Luther's apostasy - so that the case study offers an ideal opportunity to characterize the nature of and motivation behind the changes. Dreher's affinity for the topic and respect for previous scholarship are apparent in every word of the book. Unfortunately, he appears to be unaware of the recent terminological debates, since he writes off "Counter-Reformation" in favor of "Catholic Reform" and does not assess his results in light of any recent paradigms. Nonetheless, his work reveals important results: Tridentine Reform was as delayed in Munich as it appears to have been in other parts of Germany. Before Trent, Italian Augustinians were sent to fill up the rapidly emptying cloister, but their worldly behavior scandalized locals. Only under the supervision of Antonius Keerbeck in the 1580s did the Bavarian Augustinians complete necessary reorganization. The Munich cloister thus remained under the influence of outsiders through the mid-seventeenth century. The high educational level of the cloister increased during the seventeenth century as a program of spiritual renewal in service of improving discipline and preaching led to the augmentation of the cloister's library (whose collections, used by Dreher, are now housed in the Bavarian State Library). The blooming of the cloister in the Baroque was followed by a slight decline in intellectualism and piety due to the Enlightenment. The cloister, which was still functioning successfully, was secularized in 1803. Dreher's (separate) examination of the cloister's financial position reveals that at its closing, the cloister brought the state a not insignificant 130,000 Gulden. Dreher reads secularization as a tragedy for Catholic piety and education. The separate parts of his work are graced by meticulous detail, including numerous admirable biographies of the cloister's notables. Occasionally, the structure of the analysis is repetitive, however, and a synthetic chronology rather than a division between spiritual administration and economic life would have been welcome. Moreover, it would have been helpful to read a fuller discussion not only of what the Munich example tells us about Catholic reform efforts, but how it compared in scope and results with other Augustinian outposts suffering similar problems. As a history of a single cloister, however, the book will be of considerable interest to readers in the subfields of Bavarian and Augustinian history.

The last work to be considered, Stefan Benz's massive "Tradition und Kritik", is devoted to combating the impression of a "subgrade" early modern Catholic historiography that was practically an article of faith in the development of professional historiographical methodologies in Germany after the Enlightenment. Benz is concerned with the usually hidden confessional discourse in the area of the historical sciences (15). Most studies covering such a large topic decide either for the big picture or the little picture; Benz seems torn between both, charting macro-developments while noting masses of detail, a rhetorical strategy that multiplies both the number of pages and the gradually increasing disorientation of the reader making his or her way through the book. To the big picture, Benz contributes the insights that the mass of early Catholic historiography after the Reformation both drew upon the annal style of medieval chronicle and responded to the project of the Magdeburg "Centuries". Such projects were taken up not only by Jesuits, but in a number of orders that guarded the necessary sources through the stresses of war and carried on correspondence that provided a basis for the detailed work of the Bollandists, one of the most typical Catholic historiographical projects of the early modern era. This cultivation of sources also eventually fostered a blooming of the history of individual orders and cloisters. Benz goes on to examine the centrality of discussions of historical continuity to Catholic historiography and the resulting rehabilitation of the Middle Ages. Eventually, he suggests, the original connection between controversial theology and historical argumentation waned, though it was influential upon the tradition of regional historiography. Catholic authors became occupied with a late humanist collection of historical information characterized by antiquarianism and interest in local etymologies. Territorial courts also participated in historiographical projects, sometimes to increase their confessional profile, or often to control the production of contemporary history. Various territories cultivated a tradition of regional history, which usually proliferated at times when identity issues were at stake (as in Bohemia and Moravia after the Thirty Years' War). The development of a Catholic public sphere was hindered by the limited access of Catholic authors to printing presses and distribution outlets. Juridical conflicts and interest in the history of the orders fed history writing, although Catholic authors were always torn between their allegiance to their particular territorial identification and the (universal) Church - which also increased their difficulties in writing.

Benz's work presents a colossal amount of information in its closely printed pages, and it surely brings a neglected phase of the historiographical record (and a number of little-known authors) back to our attention. But the tension between the macro- and micro-levels of the book works to the detriment of its conclusions. Masses of minutiae on the biographies of individual authors crowd out interesting comparative questions: while content is one aspect of the Catholic historiographical discourse, boundaries between it and other historiographies are also crucial for understanding just what a "Catholic" history is. At the least, we might assume that Catholic history is written by Catholics, but Benz notes a marked tendency in the early period of his study for Catholic histories to have been written by converts to Catholicism - a phenomenon that would have borne further reflection. Even a slightly greater comparison between the Catholic and Protestant situations might have aided the contextualization of Benz's conclusions. The problem of apostolic and historic succession, for instance, was also a central one for Lutherans in the 1560s; is there any possibility that the two developing discourses informed each other? In 1561, for instance, the Protestant antiquarianist, historian and polemicist Cyriakus Spangenberg became involved in a dispute with the Cologne printer Gennep's revision of Sleidan's "De statu religionis" that offers an interesting perspective on this matter and on the confessional conflict over historiographical strategies. Similarly, juridical and controversial concerns, if they influenced Catholics, must also have been central for Protestants as their partners in argument.

At the same time, the greater emphasis on the large picture leads to the neglect of information (some of it also drawn from the comparative perspective) that makes some of the more sweeping conclusions questionable. Benz writes off the role of university curricula in shaping historical understanding (681), claiming this was the case for Protestant as well as Catholic universities. This position neglects the centrality of histories like the "Chronica carionis" to the Lutheran university curriculum in the later sixteenth century - a model tremendously influential upon the authors of the "Centuries" that in turned so effectively moved Catholic authors to historical production. Benz argues that antiquarianism was a refuge from historical narratives that were invariably tied into confessional controversies (164). Returning to Spangenberg, his example reveals that Protestant antiquarians were interested in the German and Latin Middle Ages for their own merits and not only as evidence of ecclesiastical decline - and Spangenberg was also one of the most active polemical writers of his age; indeed, etymological techniques garnered from antiquarianism bolstered his polemical style. While no theory can account for every detail of information, at the same time, readers familiar with sections of Benz's narrative (albeit from a different perspective than his) may find themselves questioning his conclusions.

That four recent works examining fundamental matters relating to issues of the condition of early modern Catholicism can so easily separate themselves from larger historiographical debates is a bit surprising. It is impossible to garner a general impression of the condition of the paradigms currently driving such research from such a coincidental selection of works. Taken together these volumes present an fragmented picture that more than anything points out a continued need for further research, particularly research emphasizing comparative perspectives. In any case, researchers in this area will be well-served if they succeed in combining the meticulousness of Becker et al., the erudition of the authors of Arnold's volume, the dedication of Dreher, and the comprehensive determination and stamina of Benz.

Susan R. Boettcher