Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Early Modern Period in the First 100 Years of the Catholic Historical Review

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Early Modern Period in the First 100 Years of the Catholic Historical Review

Article excerpt

Sixty-two reviews of books about Martin Luther were published in The Catholic Historical Review (CHR) in its first 100 years, more than about any other individual of the early modern period. This fact emerges from the present survey of the CHR's treatment of this period, which ranges roughly from 1450 to 1700. The survey is divided into three sections: the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Catholic Reform. For the purposes of this article, they are taken to constitute the early modern period; indeed, there is little in the CHR for this period that does not fit into one of these categories. Under Renaissance is understood the cultural and intellectual movement that goes under this name, not all the facets of the chronological period from roughly 1450 to 1600 that is often named the Renaissance.

For the early modern period understood in this sense there appeared 176 articles, about 1.7 articles per volume and roughly 2800 book reviews, so about twenty-nine per volume.1 The decade from 1955 to 1965 marked a notable increase in attention to the early modern period. The number of reviews picked up considerably, jumping to 35.6; the number of articles grew less so, to two per volume. The lower figure for the earlier period is explained by the fact that only in 1921 did the CHR explicitly expand its coverage from the history of American Catholicism to general church history, even though before 1921 it did publish occasionally on topics beyond American Catholicism. Moreover, it was often difficult to secure review copies of European publications, a situation that further deteriorated with World War II and its immediate aftermath.

Twenty-two articles were published on the Renaissance, with ten of them devoted to the Italian Renaissance, and 295 book reviews, with 107 of these dealing with the Italian Renaissance in one form or another. Not surprisingly, two principal figures, the Christian humanists Desiderius Erasmus and St. Thomas More, appear frequently but surprisingly less often than Luther. Each drew two articles; there appeared fifty-seven reviews of books about Erasmus and forty-four reviews of books about More. Two principal questions characterized the CHR's treatment of the Renaissance. Was it essentially a pagan movement, as maintained by Jakob Burckhardt in his classic The Civilization of the Renaissance (Basel, 1860), a view that predominated in the scholarly world in the first half of the twentieth century, or could it be evaluated as Christian? Related to this was the assessment of Erasmus; was he to be considered a sincere Catholic or basically a figure of the pre-Enlightenment? A second question that arose regularly was the relationship between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Was there a clear break, or did the Renaissance emerge smoothly from the Middle Ages, and did it constitute progress over the Middle Ages?

Maurice Wilkinson, writing from St. John's College, Oxford, published an article, "Erasmus," in 1923 in which he defended the Catholicism of Erasmus amidst the otherwise pagan learning of the Renaissance. He did not "lay the egg that Luther hatched," as many of his critics asserted, though some of his statements pointed in this direction/ In 1921, Wilkinson had published Erasmus of Rotterdam (New York) in which he had taken the same position, and an unsigned reviewer had reviewed the book favorably in the CHR/' But Wilkinson evidently had encountered criticism, and in a short article in October 1924, "Erasmus, the Sorbonne, and the Index," he rather lamely defended the Church's later strictures against Erasmus, whose works may at times have been "frivolous and unsuited to the seriousness of the times" and whose scholarship may have been occasionally sloppy. He wrote:

But we need not hesitate to say with Colet that the name of Erasmus is imperishable; but the unprejudiced will not on that account charge the church with obscurantism for the check which was imposed on the promiscuous circulation of his works. …

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