The Impact of the European Reformation: Princes, Clergy and People

By Tracy, James D. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

The Impact of the European Reformation: Princes, Clergy and People


Tracy, James D., The Catholic Historical Review


Early Modern European

The Impact of the European Reformation: Princes, Clergy and People. Edited by Bridget Heal and Ole Peter Grell. [St Andrews Studies in Reformation History.] (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2008. Pp. xii, 305. $124.95. ISBN 978-0-754-66212-9.)

Insofar as Reformation studies have in the past been guided by grand syntheses, the focus has been on modernization, and especially on ways in which Protestantism has been seen as providing an impetus to modernization. As Bridget Heal remarks here, most scholars nowadays pursue their own paths, no longer feeling a need to respond to the grand syntheses. Hence this volume is intended to "counteract" the trend toward "fragmentation" by providing "a broad perspective on the impact of the European Reformation" (p. 1). But a broad perspective may simply display the centrifugal tendencies instead of counteracting them, and that is largely the case here.

Three of the essays do address elements of the modernization thesis in one way or another. Luise Schorn-Schütte (chapter 5, "The 'New Clergies' in Europe: Protestant Pastors and Catholic Reform Clergy after the Reformation") surveys recent literature and concludes that overall trends were largely similar in both religious camps: Clerics were not only more educated; they were also more and more likely to come from bourgeois households. In effect, Max Weber's Protestant-inspired modernity here gives way to the "confessionalization" thesis, according to which rival churches worked in tandem to change the outlook and behavior of ordinary believers. Christopher Haigh (chapter 6, "The Clergy and Parish Discipline in England, 1570-1640") argues, as against the distinction that Margo Todd has recently made between the Kirk of Scotland and the Anglican Church, that ministers and churchwardens in England worked effectively and largely behind the scenes to maintain parish discipline. More interestingly, and against his own previous understanding of things, he contends that anticlericalism is a constant in religious history, rising to prominence "sometimes and in some places" largely in response to "clerical sensitivty to criticism" (p. 125). Alexandra Walsham (chapter 10, "Sacred Spas? Healing Springs and Religion in Post-Reformation Britain") shows how Protestant writers came to accept and promote many of the holy wells of pre-Reformation Britain, not because of their association with popish saints, but because their waters were found to contain minerals thought to have curative power. …

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