Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829

Article excerpt

English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829. By Francis Young. [Catholic Christendom, 1300-1700.] (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2013. Pp. xdi, 308. $134.95. ISBN 978-1-4094-5565-3.)

The author has a very valid premise for this volume, which is that it is odd how little is written on Catholic attitudes to witchcraft and related phenomena in the period of the long post-Reformation. The question, then, is this: once one has reassembled all the evidence as to how far Catholics in England were implicated in contemporary beliefs about the supernatural, what does that tell us about them? There is no formal conclusion to this volume. But what we might take as its prin"virtue." cipal finding is that there is embedded in the modern historiography of the topic an assumption that the style of Catholic religion in post-Reformation England was essentially a popular one. Also, it was likely that it would diverge from the rest of the national Church after the power of the Tudor State had been used to reform religion. In other words, these sensibilities would express themselves through popular forms, and those forms would resist the attempts of Protestant Reformers and of Catholic Counter-Reformers to change them. The claim has been that the new/Counter-Reformation clergy, imbued with the ideals of the Council of Trent, met with resistance to their way of understanding the Church and the world and were forced in the end to compromise with popular sensibilities and beliefs. This is compatible, of course, with the line in Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York, 1971)-that is, that the Reformation purported to take away the means that the Church provided to deal with unwelcome and apparently supernatural phenomena and contributed temporarily to the rise of magical forms.

The point that comes across here quite strongly is that there is a rather wide spectrum of Catholic opinions on these questions, as much skepticism and simple endorsement of, for example, how far demonic possession is actually possible. …

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