The Catholic Reformation

By Michael A. Mullett | Go to book overview
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The impact of the Catholic Reformation

In this chapter we shall consider the implementation of Catholic reform in Italy, France and the Netherlands in the early modern period. We shall be particularly concerned with the integration of reformed Catholicism with cultures, and especially with popular culture, and also with the question of the adaptation of the reinvigorated Catholicism that had been devised in the course of the sixteenth century (in the forms we have considered in Chapters 2, 3 and 4) to national and regional traditions and identities and to vernacular cultures. A running theme is the relationship between Roman centralisation and standardisation in Catholic practice and a pull in the opposite direction towards adaptation to the requirements, conditions and traditions of particular areas and cultures. We shall also consider reconciliation between popular demands for the continuance of therapeutic and magic-centred religion and the spiritualising, anti-magical trends and opposition to local religion found in Tridentine Catholicity, especially amongst the upper and seminary-trained clergy. The first ‘nation’ we shall investigate, Italy, was not a nation at all, and for that reason will provide us with information on the way in which the application of Catholic reform took close account of regional varieties in culture and politics.

Italy, above all with Carlo Borromeo in Milan, was the primary laboratory of the Tridentine episcopal renewal. The Borromean model, on the face of it, provided a standardised programme of diocesan reform. However, Milan was itself an idiosyncratic diocese or group of dioceses, with a strong collective sense of its own traditions, not least its liturgical traditions, and of its historic ‘Ambrosian’ identity. In modelling himself on his Milanese episcopal predecessor, St Ambrose, Borromeo presented himself in the specific identity of a Milanese pastor. He made the Duomo, the ‘metropolitan church of Milan’, dedicated during his archiepiscopate, with its vast array of relics and of altars including St Ambrose’s, as much the ritual centre of his episcopate as the popes were making St Peter’s the focus of theirs. In adapting the Tridentine programme to the Milanese environment, Borromeo’s prestige as the model episcopal reformer implicitly validated local and regional adaptations of Tridentine change. And in sending bishops back to their dioceses, the Council encouraged a reintegration between regional identities and episcopal leadership. Thus, for example, Florence’s Archbishop Antonio Altoviti (1521-73) abandoned ecclesiastical poli-


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