Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Catholic Revival in the Age of the Baroque: Religious Identity in Southwest Germany, 1550-1750

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Catholic Revival in the Age of the Baroque: Religious Identity in Southwest Germany, 1550-1750

Article excerpt

Catholic Revival in theAge of the Baroque: Religious Identity in Southwest Germany, 1550-1750. By Marc R. Forster. [New Studies in European History.] (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2001. Pp. xiii, 268. $59.95.)

In this thoughtful and well-researched monograph Marc Forster expands upon issues he originally treated in his The Counter-Reformation in the Villages (1992), a study of Catholic religious reform in the bishopric of Speyer. In that work Forster challenged the confessionalization thesis of Ernst Zeeden, Heinz Schilling, and others, scholars who have long argued that the processes of state building and social disciplining were the major forces that shaped earlymodern Protestantism and Catholicism. The Counter-Reformation in the Villages, by contrast, detailed a rich and vigorous folk Catholicism that was little touched by the state's draconian measures. Forster showed instead that in the German Kleinstaat local communities and popular religious rituals had played a dynamic role in shaping Catholic identity. Catholic Revival in the Age of the Baroque continues in this vein, although Forster expands his scope to present a more general theory about Catholic renewal. Based upon the new breadth of his research, he argues that early-modern Catholicism was more the product of popular tastes and demands than of elite prescriptions. In Catholic Revival Forster also shifts his geographical focus to the German Southwest, a landscape that was a "patchwork quilt" of small political entities, all of which were overshadowed by Habsburg power in the region.

Forster's work reveals several major problems within the current discussion of the "confessionalization thesis," a thesis which some of its more dogged proponents have come to elevate beyond theory into principle. The work of Zeeden, Schilling, and others, Forster notes, fails to take account of the many small states within the empire where vigorous Catholic loyalties developed in the absence of strong state power. In these small states Catholicism rarely became a vehicle for elite social disciplining, a factor that confessional historians have long stressed as a common feature of religious developments in the period. Forster argues that the forces that shaped early-modern Catholicism in the German Southwest were largely popular, rather than elite. In this corner of Germany the communal Church, a vigorous development of the later Middle Ages, persisted into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and Catholicism "appealed to the population because it was generally adapted to local and communal needs and desires" (p. …

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