Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Church and Culture in Seventeenth-Century France

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Church and Culture in Seventeenth-Century France

Article excerpt

Church and Culture in Seventeenth-Century France. By Henry Phillips. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 1997. Pp. ix, 334. $59.95.)

The Catholic Reform movement began to have a significant impact in France during the seventeenth century, after the conclusion of the devastating religious wars. The Church undertook to assert its authority over society through its educational system, its missionary efforts in rural areas, and its promotion of activities designed to instill in the various segments of society a more intense religious consciousness. However, as Professor Phillips informs us, the reforming efforts of the French Church were hampered not only by secular trends within French culture, especially in science and philosophy, that became increasingly influential at this time, but by forces within the Church itself as well. In order to inspire in the hearts and minds of the faithful a greater respect for the authority of the Church, ecclesiastical officials at all levels undertook to develop a clearer understanding of Catholic tradition and doctrinal orthodoxy. This task proved to be impossible to accomplish given the profound differences of opinion that existed between Gallicans and ultramontanes,Jesuits and Jansenists, and the regular and secular clergy on these matters. Such differences of opinion inevitably weakened the authority of the Church at a time when the authority of the French state was increasing, often at the expense of the Church.

The authority of the Church was brought into question in the area of science and philosophy, not because Descartes and others intended to challenge that authority but because they challenged the authority of Aristotle, whose philosophy, configured to religious belief by medieval scholars, was viewed by the Catholic hierarchy as a whole as essential to the maintenance of that authority. …

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