The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700. A Reassessment of the Counter Reformation

By Wright, A. D. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2000 | Go to article overview

The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700. A Reassessment of the Counter Reformation


Wright, A. D., The Catholic Historical Review


The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700.A Reassessment of the Counter Reformation. By Robert Bireley. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 1999. Pp. vii, 231. $39.95 clothbound; $19.95 paperback.)

The learned Jesuit author of this concise textbook is well known for his studies, in English and German, on the relations of Catholic counsellors, especially members of the Society of Jesus, and statesmen of early modern Europe, and on Catholic statecraft at that time more generally. In this work he explicitly refers to the influence of another great scholar of the Society John O'Malley not least in the precise choice of title. For the relegation to the subtitle of the idea of Counter-Reformation well reflects this volume's relationship to the famous essay of Henry Outram Evennett on the spirit of the Counter-Reformation. Like Evennett, Bireley argues for a period of Catholic renewal which, for all its special intensity, was not in any sense a mere reaction to or product of the Protestant challenge. As in Evennett's work too, there is stress here on institutional change, involving popes, bishops, and clergy, on new forms of spirituality, both in more traditional regular communities and in innovative groups pursuing a more active form of religious commitment, and on advances in Catholic education, for laity as well as clergy females as well as males. But Bireley extends his review beyond the Council of Trent and Europe to the further achievements of internal Catholic mission and overseas missions, while it is not surprising that this author devotes a chapter to Church-State relations in the period of religious wars yet puts the new religious orders in first place after the introduction. In the latter he explains clearly the evolution in understanding of the subject prompted by the work of Jean Delumeau and John Bossy and the chronological span of this volume, of course, offers an implicit comparison with Bossy's book on Christianity in the West. …

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