Heresy, Culture, and Religion in Early Modern Italy: Contexts and Contestations

By Hudon, William V. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Heresy, Culture, and Religion in Early Modern Italy: Contexts and Contestations


Hudon, William V., The Catholic Historical Review


Heresy, Culture, and Religion in Early Modern Italy: Contexts and Contestations. Edited by Ronald K. Delph, Michelle M. Fontaine, and John Jeffries Martin. [Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies Series, 76.] (Kirksville, Missouri: Truman State University Press. 2006. Pp. xiv, 265. $4995.)

This handsome volume is a Festschrift in honor of Elisabeth Gleason. As such, one might expect essays reinforcing her fairly traditional approach to early modern Italian religious history, but it contains some surprises in the introduction and twelve collected essays.

In the opening pages, John Martin abstracts the contributions, but adds the argument that an intellectual "tyranny" of traditional monolithic images about early modern Italian history, not to mention the radical oversimplification they require, has now been overcome. The images are well known: victimized spirituali, proto-totalitarian intransigenti, 1542 as the history turning point, et cetera. Instead, historians have found and adopted a "complexity," Martin suggests, for which there was "little room" in early histories of the Counter-Reformation. Part one, "Reformers and heretics: new perspectives," then follows with pieces by Massimo Firpo, Michelle Fontaine, and Paul Murphy. These hold together nicely, showing three different reasons why old categories about who was or was not a heretic, when heresy grew or was repressed in Italy, and when it was not, simply no longer work. In his essay, Firpo speculates-in the absence of evidence-on the reasons behind Lorenzo Lotto's entry, just before his death, into an oblate community at the Holy House of Loreto. Readers of Firpo's other works will likely find his insistence that "overly rigid categories" don't work in explaining Lotto more than a little remarkable. Fontaine's study on the rapid weakening of heretical thought in Modena after 1550-well before the so-called intransigenti allegedly seized control of the direction of the Church-is excellent. This piece, plus Murphy's treatment of inconsistent supervision over preachers in Mantua under Ercole Gonzaga, a bishop considered an "iron" ruler even by Ludwig von Pastor, will leave readers craving more.

Part two, on the cultural contexts of reform, which features contributions by Ronald Delph, Frederick McGinness, Paolo Simoncelli, Paul Grendler, and Marion Leathers Kuntz, is less coherent. These essays show the broad context of reform action, but the subjects are disparate. Delph illustrates the attractiveness of humanist notions of restoration among supporters of dredging operations on the Tiber, where ideological motivations mixed with more mundane economic concerns. Grendler shows why the standard notion of early modern universities as bastions of traditional learning resistant to change needs revision. Students driven to attend the University of Padua by tradition, like Gasparo Contarini, later took part in decidedly non-traditional reform, promoting new learning. Kuntz delineates the union of ideal political and religious justice in the doge of sixteenth-century Venice, returning to the written works of Guillame Postel, which, over the years, she has mined so thoroughly. …

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