The Early Modern Papacy. from the Council of Trent to the French Revolution 1564-1789

By Cesareo, Francesco C. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2003 | Go to article overview

The Early Modern Papacy. from the Council of Trent to the French Revolution 1564-1789


Cesareo, Francesco C., The Catholic Historical Review


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The Early Modern Papacy. From the Council of Trent to the French Revolution 1564-1789. By A. D. Wright. [Longman History of the Papacy.] (London; Harlow, Essex: Longman. 2000. Pp. ix, 335. Paperback.)

While the Council of Trent did not issue any decrees relating to the office of the papacy, the Council left the interpretation of its decrees to the pope. In many ways, this bolstered the position of the papacy, which had suffered in the wake of the Protestant challenge. Yet, the common view of the papacy from the conclusion of the Council of Trent to the outbreak of the French Revolution has been one of decline and stagnation. It is this interpretation of the papacy that A. D. Wright challenges. Looking back from the ability of the papacy to emerge from the post-Napoleonic era renewed and vigorous, Wright believes that the conventional view of the early modern papacy warrants reconsideration.

This study rests on a reassessment of historical interpretations that have colored the way in which the papacy has been viewed. Critiquing the view of the papacy presented by Ludwig von Pastor as incomplete, Wright takes exception with the interpretation of Paolo Prodi, to which this book is a direct response, and Adriano Prosperi. Wright questions Prodi's insistence on the role of the local history of central Italian territories as the "key to the whole cycle of papal history" (p. 4). This perspective is too narrow for Wright and fails to take into account the universal concerns of the papacy. Thus, Wright presents a more comprehensive understanding of papal policies than one finds in Prodi's argument. Similarly, Adriano Prosperi's emphasis on the Roman Inquisition as the source of the pope's authority is problematic for Wright since such a view is not applicable outside of Italy and betrays a narrowness in scope. Responding to such views, this study argues that the early modern popes were "conscious of the wide range of their functions and responsibilities, well beyond Rome, Italy, and even Europe" (p. 12).

In demonstrating this view of the papacy Wright focuses on the diversity of roles that the popes of the early modern period assumed-Bishop of Rome, Metropolitan of the Roman ecclesiastical province, primatial head of the Italian Church, patriarchal leader of the Catholic Church in Western Europe, Supreme Pontiff, and ruler of the Papal States in Central Italy. …

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