Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Creating Catholics: Catechism and Primary Education in Early Modern France

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Creating Catholics: Catechism and Primary Education in Early Modern France

Article excerpt

Creating Catholics: Catechism and Primary Education in Early Modern France. By Karen E. Carter. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 2011. Pp. xiii, 314. $40.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-268-02304-1.)

In this book the author revisits thorny questions that historians of the Reformations have pondered ever since they occurred: What was the nature and depth of religious belief, and how effectively was religious knowledge disseminated over time? To answer these, at least regarding France, the author examines catechisms and rural primary schools (petites écoles), for her the fundamental vectors of this process of creating and transmitting Catholic practice and belief. Thus, they were the centerpieces of the Catholic Reform. For the author's period of scrutiny, 1650 to the Revolution, three large and diverse dioceses in northern France- Auxerre, Chalons-sur-Marne, and Reims- offer rich sources essential for this study. Beyond the hundreds of catechisms, she deeply and fruitfully mines the plentiful visitation records.

The first part of the book examines the many catechisms produced by various bishops of these dioceses, essentially as texts to prepare children for first Communion. Their objective was not to inform young Catholics of the theological complexities of doctrine, but rather to have them memorize basic tenets as guides to moral behavior that the Church expected of the laity. In the second part, on primary education, the author moves from viewing the Reform from an episcopal (and thus top-down) perspective to one that explores the active role of the parish clergy; schoolteachers; and, above all, the laity in the Reforming process. Bishops may have had clear prescriptions in their catechisms, but visitation records reveal that Catholic parents were insisting that their children attend the cure's classes. Indeed, during the eighteenth century the laity hounded bishops to assign more priests and vicars to the parishes at the same time that the number oî petites écoles increased dramatically. …

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