The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War: Kings, Courts, and Confessors

By Hsia, R. Po-Chia | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2004 | Go to article overview

The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War: Kings, Courts, and Confessors


Hsia, R. Po-Chia, The Catholic Historical Review


The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War: Kings, Courts, and Confessors. By Robert Bireley. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2003. Pp. xii, 300. $65.00.)

Thanks to the scholarship of Professor Bireley, a Jesuit historian at Loyola University Chicago, we know the important role played by two Jesuit confessors in the politics of the Thirty Years' War. Adam Contzen and William Lamormaini, confessors to Maximilian of Bavaria and Ferdinand II of Austria respectively, exerted significant influence during the earlier phases of the war in shaping a perspective of holy war against heretics. In his newest book, Bireley has built on his expertise in Central Europe to expand the study of Jesuit confessors to the courts of Paris and Madrid. Three questions guide this thorough archival research: first, what influence on policy in the war did Jesuits exercise in France, Spain, Bavaria, and Austria? Second, is it possible to identify a common Jesuit definition of the relationship between religion and politics during the war? And finally, what were the principles and policies of the generals in Rome as they navigated the conflicting interests of Catholic princes and popes?

Based primarily upon the correspondence of the generals in Rome (Vitelleschi and Carafa) with various Jesuit provinces and court confessors, Bireley's study is divided into nine chapters. After an introduction to the structure, constitution, and history of the Company, especially in regard to the service of Jesuits as confessors of princes (a role that St. Ignatius approved), Bireley guides the reader through the intricate history of war and diplomacy in seven chronologically organized chapters before offering a succinct conclusion in Chapter Nine. The general narrative of the war is skillfully employed to frame the specific analysis of Jesuit confessional politics. Bireley introduces each Jesuit confessor, analyzes his role in the respective courts of Vienna, Munich, Paris, and Madrid, follows the balancing acts of the generals in Rome, and evaluates the impact of the advice of conscience in the formulation of princely diplomacy. Some results of this careful scholarship confirm received notions of the Thirty Years' War while others open up a fresh perspective.

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