Right Thinking and Sacred Oratory in Counter-Reformation Rome

Article excerpt

Right Thinking and Sacred Oratory in Counter-Reformation Rome. By Frederick J. McGinness. (Princeton:Princeton University Press. 1995. Pp. xii, 337.)

Professor McGinness has made a major contribution to our understanding of preaching in Rome during the Counter-Reformation and Tridentine spirituality more generally. In this beautifully written book, McGinness demonstrates with clarity and conciseness the dramatic changes that occurred in preaching by the mid-sixteenth century and illustrates how profoundly this affected the image of the pope and the city of Rome. Rome itself, which had become a negative symbol to Protestants, now stood for religious rebirth and regeneration. The role of preaching was fundamental to this conceptualization, and positively shaped the directions and representations of the Church and papacy as it emerged into the modern world.

Right Thinking is a study of oratory in the papal court at Rome, not social history or popular culture, for these subjects have been examined elsewhere. This was a wise choice, for McGinness is able to show very clearly how what was preached on high was integral to the re-creation of the Church. In the immediate post-Reformation period, the goals were to repair the damage done to the Church by Protestant attacks. The later objectives and achievements were far more grand--the setting in place of a new and more splendid Church Triumphant. Rhetoric and eloquence, following the Renaissance tradition in which these skills had been exalted in the service of civic virtue, were now used to promote "right thinking" in religious matters.

The preachers and writers who glorified the new Rome insisted they were not innovating; rather, they were returning to the classical and Christian past in search of edifying and inspiring models suitable for conveying the highest truths of the Roman Catholic faith. Preaching coram papa meant following a set of rules that covered length (brevity was now considered a great virtue), tone, gestures, and of course, content. …


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