The Pulpit and the Press in Reformation Italy

By Hudson, William V. | The Historian, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

The Pulpit and the Press in Reformation Italy


Hudson, William V., The Historian


The Pulpit and the Press in Reformation Italy. By Emily Michelson. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. Pp. 262. $39.95.)

The author of this study has produced a fine book that will broadly serve those interested in the religious, intellectual, and cultural history of early modern Europe. She argues that contemporary preachers and the church they served creatively adjusted to changed religious and geopolitical realities. In the process, Emily Michelson provides another contribution to the now vast array of works demonstrating the indefensibility of generalizations long applied to the religious history of sixteenth-century Italy.

The author examines the careers of prominent Italian preachers in the era, plus the volumes of literature they produced. The greatest strength of this book is found in chapters 1 through 5, describing those careers and that literature. Part of the story is strikingly familiar: mendicant personnel issuing tough criticism and moral encouragement to large, enthusiastic audiences. Other parts remain familiar, but perhaps mainly to specialists: an increasing number of bishops and their vicars delivering messages tied to decrees from the Council of Trent, and validating use of scripture for instruction of the laity, while simultaneously expressing decided discomfort with the intellectual capacity of their audiences. Still other portions will be eye-openers: Tridentine legislation producing nothing remotely resembling uniform preaching practice in contemporary Italy. Theoretical works on preaching generated in midcentury by Gian Matteo Giberti, Gasparo Contarini, and Marcello Cervini articulated no clear consensus on how to improve diocesan pulpits, and individual preachers seemed content finding their own way. Some, like Cornelio Musso, believed scripture to be completely inaccessible to the laity, while others, like Franceschino Visdomini, apparently disagreed vehemently, insisting that scripture speaks to everyone and should be used for the benefit of all. …

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