Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Joseph Bergin's "Church, Society, and Religious Change in France"

Joseph Bergin is professor of history at the University of Manchester, and a Fellow of the British Academy. His books include Cardinal Richelieu, The Making of the French Episcopate and Crown, Church and Episcopate under Louis XIV.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Church, Society, and Religious Change in France, 1580-1730, and reported the following:
The seventeenth-century French church took the post-Reformation process of reform and religious innovation much further than any other part of Catholic Europe. But after the ravages of the wars of religion the obstacles were numerous and formidable, and nowhere more than among the religious orders inherited from the Middle Ages, the subject of Page 99. France was home to some of Europe’s greatest monastic orders (e.g. the Benedictines, Cistercians), whose influence outside of France was of great importance to both the French monarchy and the French church. But these orders also belonged to the age-old benefice system inherited from earlier centuries, one which the monarchy as well as the social and ecclesiastical elites had powerful vested interests in preserving. Such interests were a major obstacle to successful reform among the orders, yet such reforms did materialise during the seventeenth century, notably among the Cistercians. One of their most celebrated reformers was Abbot Rancé of La Trappe, a well-born cleric who experienced a personal conversion in the early 1660s and who subsequently reformed La Trappe itself. But having reformed his abbey, he refused the usual and expected role of leader of a reform movement, but settled instead for that of a mentor and spiritual writer of wide-ranging influence. This case-study suggests how slow-burning a process the reform of French Catholicism in general was, yet by the early eighteenth century, many of the educated elites of Catholic Europe regarded it as the model to follow. My book offers an in-depth analysis and explanation of this unlikely transformation.
Learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Read about Joseph Bergin's teaching and research at his University of Manchester faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue