Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Saints and Signs: A Semiotic Reading of Conversion in Early Modern Catholicism

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Saints and Signs: A Semiotic Reading of Conversion in Early Modern Catholicism

Article excerpt

Saints and Signs: A Semiotic Reading of Conversion in Early Modern Catholicism. By Massimo Leone. Edited by Gustavo Benavides, Kocku von Stuckrad, and Winifred Fallers Sullivan. [Religion and Society, Vol. 48.] (New York: Walter de Gruyter. 2010. Pp. xi, 652. $196.00. ISBN 978-3-11022951-6.)

Massimo Leone's book intends to demonstrate the author's semiotic hypothesis that saints rank among the more important communication media or "signification simulacra" of Catholicism, (pp. 1-2). His case study is the contributions made to the early-modern definition of sainthood by hagiography on the four early-modern saints canonized in 1622: Ignatius of Loyola (chapter 2, pp. 23-203), Philip Neri (chapter 3, pp. 205-319), Francis Xavier (chap ter 3 , pp . 3 2 1 - 4 79) , and Teresa of Ávila (chap ter 4 , pp . 4 8 1 - 5 30) .

For Leone, the early-modern conception of sanctity largely differed from the medieval conception (p. 531). Teresa best embodies Leone's first premise: that, in contrast to medieval saints, early miracles depend more on the transformation of souls than of bodies (pp. 531-32). Neri, Ignatius, and Teresa can be cited to exemplify Leone's argument that early-modern Catholicism conceives spiritual change as mainly an internal and intimate process of conversion (p. 533). In this sense, the hagiography of Teresa especially emphasized the role of individual will and moral responsibility in conversion (p. 501).

The portrayal of Ignatius as a new St. Francis of Assisi (p. 90) best illustrates Leone's point that early-modern representations of sainthood serve as different experimental fields (laboratories) of spiritual and religious identity through a reshaping of previous saints (p. 534). The intention to address different constituencies is clear in the cases of Xavier (non-European public), Neri (poor classes), and Teresa (women). …

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