The Pulpit and the Press in Reformation Italy

By McGinness, Frederick | The Catholic Historical Review, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

The Pulpit and the Press in Reformation Italy


McGinness, Frederick, The Catholic Historical Review


The Pulpit and the Press in Reformation Italy. By Emily Michelson. [I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History.] (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2013. Pp. x, 262. $39.95. ISBN 978-0-674-07297-8.)

Emily Michelson delves into the world of preachers, pulpit literature, and Catholic clerical book production in "Reformation Italy" from roughly 1530 to 1570-the years preceding, during, and following the Council of Trent (1545-63). She claims that Italian Catholics remained so because "so much of the Tridentine reform agenda was entrusted to preachers and ... in the end preachers were perhaps most responsible for the suppression of heresy and the reformation of Catholic identity in Italy" (p. 181). She reconstructs the growing fear that many Italian diocesan clergy and mendicant preachers experienced and the urgency they felt to counter the rising tide of Lutheran ideas flowing into Italy, above all that of sola scriptura that seemed to lure many Italian laymen and laywomen to want to read scripture in their own language and-what was to be feared-usher in the same type of social and political upheaval that northern Europe faced in the wake of the Reformation. She maintains that Italian clergy (not all to the same degree) awoke to these pernicious influences and by the end of the Council reasserted their authority. Through vigorous preaching and the wide publication of sermons, treatises for laypeople, and other types of printed pulpit literature, they got the upper hand. She cautions readers that Catholic responses to the religious crisis of "Reformation Italy" "could be as diverse as the new concessions they opposed" (p. 8) and that it is historically inaccurate to picture in these years "black legends and stereotypes about lockstep and unthinking Catholic conformity" (p. 174).

Michelson reviews the activities of now well-known Catholic reformers like Gian Matteo Giberti, Luigi Lippomano, Cornelio Musso, Gabriele Fiamma, Girolamo Seripando, Francesco Panigarola along with some other less-studied mendicant and secular clergy. She sees the laity's demand for scripture as countered successfully by the clergy's maneuvers to keep scripture out of lay hands and reservBaltic ing to itself alone the interpretation of scripture and exposition of doctrine, while "foster[ing] Catholic piety and construing] devotion as a shield against heresy" (p. 98): "ultimately, the solution they [the clergy] proposed for scripture was primarily against reading, certainly individual reading" (p. …

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