Church, Society and Religious Change in France, 1580-1730

By Gres-Gayer, Jacques M. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview
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Church, Society and Religious Change in France, 1580-1730


Gres-Gayer, Jacques M., The Catholic Historical Review


Church, Society and Religious Change in France, 1580-1730. By Joseph Bergin. (New Haven:Yale University Press. 2009. Pp. xviii, 506. $55.00. ISBN 978-0-300-15098-8.)

Scholarship on the Church and society in France is a crowded field. As Joseph Bergin readily acknowledges, the work of John McManners on the eighteenth century did not leave one stone unturned. In 1683 pages, McManners described how the church's presence or relationship evolved to the times of the French Revolution. Although more humble in format and price, Bergin 's work is no less impressive. For him, evolution is the operative concept. Centering on the internal history of the French Church, he describes its complex organization (part 1), clerical structure (part 2), bishops and priests as "agents of change" (part 3), and the effect of these "instruments of change" on French Catholicism at large (part 4). The last part offers an assessment of the key agents of this religious change: the sodalities, the Dévots, and thejansenists.

Bergin, who is well versed in Catholic reform efforts in France (he previously wrote on Cardinal François de La Rochefoucauld, an early, major "agent of change"), seems to hesitate to use the concept in favor of a more elusive term. Bergin demonstrates that he knows perfectly well what to be a Catholic in seventeenth-century France meant, and he knows how to communicate this knowledge in a way that makes sense to both the believer and the historian. For example, in the pages devoted to spirituality (pp.

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