Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Histoire Des Curés

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Histoire Des Curés

Article excerpt

Histoire des curés. By Michel Lagree, Nicole Lemaitre, Luc Perrin, and Catherine Vincent. (Paris: Fayard. 2002. Pp. 523. euro23,00.)

The four authors of this work have set themselves a formidable task. Drawing on a vast body of scholarship, most of it published in the last thirty years, they describe and analyze the history of the Roman Catholic Church from the fourth century until the present, focusing, as much as possible, on the perspective of the parish priest, the person placed in charge of the "care of souls" in a specific territorial space within a diocese.

Catherine Vincent is the author of the introduction and the first section, which in a little over a hundred pages covers the period from the fourth century until the fourteenth. It is a remarkable achievement. Vincent draws on a wide range of studies, most of them in French but including a respectable number of works in Italian and English as well. She emphasizes that our knowledge is still fragmentary and that much of the written record reflects the ideal and not the reality of parish organization and priestly conduct.

Adapted from the structures of the Roman Empire, the organization of the Church into dioceses and parishes was the distinct contribution of the church based in Rome. It was not present in the Eastern Church or in Celtic Christianity, which until the Middle Ages was essentially autonomous. The establishment of the parish system was a process of centuries, articulated by Carolingian and Gregorian reformers but not firmly in place until the thirteenth century.

The second section, on the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, is the work of Nicole Lemaitre. A central theme is that from the perspective of the parish clergy, the period reflects two contrasting notions of the nature of the Church, both of which had had their advocates in the previous millennium. The reformers, at least those of the mainline Reformation, rejected the notion of hierarchical authority within the clergy and the special calling of the clergy, living within communities but set apart from them, to embody spiritual and moral perfection. Those who adhered to Roman authority were equally committed to reform, but only within the traditional structures of authority. The Council of Trent, Lemaitre argues, was a genuine work of reformation, addressing the concerns of the past and resolving many of them. …

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