Trent and Beyond

The Council, Other Powers, Other Cultures

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Michela Catto, Adriano Prosperi
Mediterranean Nexus 1100-1700 (English, Italian, and Spanish Edition)
  • Bristol, CT: 
    Brepols Publishers
    , January
     619 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This volume publishes thirty papers delivered at the conference “Trent and Beyond: The Council, Other Powers, Other Cultures,” at the Centro per le scienze religiose, Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Trento, Italy, on October 5, 2013. Its aims were commemorating the Council of Trent, investigating the non-European impact of the Council, and considering the non-Catholic view of the Council. The chapters, in five European languages (English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish) cover a wide range of subjects, among them catechism, conversion, heresy, historiography, indulgences, the Inquisition, the Jesuits, literature, missions and evangelization, the Protestant Reformation, provincial councils, and the sacraments. Also discussed are individuals such as Aretino, Beccadelli, Beza, Bucer, Giacomo Castelvetro, Contarini, Foscarari, Jean Raymond Merlin, Morone, Muzzarelli, and Toribio of Mogrovejo, and locations including Bologna, Cyprus, Geneva, the Holy Roman Empire, Ireland, Milan, Portugal, Rome, Spain, Venice, Brazil, Peru, China, and India.

The first essay, by Adriano Prosperi, is based on his “Prolusion” to the conference; it is not a formal introduction or summary, though it does present some of the themes found throughout the book. Writ large, these are church leadership, Protestant reactions, and global context. The latter is given the most space in this introduction, as Prosperi focuses on the worldwide impact of European religious change in the sixteenth century, noting that the establishment of Christian missions in the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese explorers and priests was undertaken during the Reformation—an era during which “reformers denied the Roman Church the right of being acknowledged at the true church” (14). The crisis of a collapsing church at home made the “discovery” of a vast number of unchurched peoples around the world considerably more important to the Catholic Church, as religious orders were moved to preach what they considered the true Apostolic faith in the missions. While successful evangelization became a focal point for Catholic literature, it had little impact on the Council of Trent itself. On the other hand, the Catholic Church after Trent was decidedly and enthusiastically global, and the definitions it established, along with the centralization that developed while it was still meeting, helped create a standard interpretation for an intercontinental application of one form of Western European belief and culture. 

The chapters which follow speak to Prosperi’s “Prolusion” in different ways. Wolfgang Reinhard, Colm Lennon, and Eleonora Belligni, for example, confront the myths and historiography of the Council, noting the purposes that such interpretations have served, including defending the Irish Catholic church against hostile Protestant rulers. Emidio Campi, Ian Hazlett, and Diego Pirillo discuss Protestant reactions, focusing on the Reformers’ views of councils and centralized power. Giovanni Pizzorusso, Luis Martínez Ferrer, and Evergton Sales Souza, considering the virtual elephant in the room (the failure of the Council to confront missions), note the gap between what the Tridentine church in Europe looked like (or aspired to) and what the missions could practically accomplish in the Americas.

Some articles raise more theoretical questions than others. These include the chapter by Pierre Antoine Fabre, which observes that the history of art in the missions is also a history of displacing local art and devotion. In a similar vein, Geneviève Gross takes up and broadens the focus Pirillo raised on an increasingly centralized religious authority, looking at the impact of Calvin’s death on the organization of the Company of Pastors. Sabina Pavone addresses the necessity of taking the long view when attempting to determine the impact of the Tridentine decrees, using India as an example. Iva Manova studies the use of the Roman Catechism, written for parish priests, as a basis for the religious education of Muslim converts.

The original research published in Trent and Beyondis certain to be influential. Wietse de Boer traces shifts in the understanding of the cult of the saints and reinterprets the 1563 decree “On the invocation, veneration and relics of saints, and on sacred images” in light of a controversy immediately preceding the calling of the Council. Enrique García Hernán investigates Ignatius Loyola’s instructions to Jay, Laínez, and Samerón, his envoys to the Council. He concludes that despite some tensions regarding the innovations of the Society of Jesus, Loyola played an important and collaborative role in the discussions. Unfortunately, as happens with most multi-author volumes, the editors have made no effort to connect this article with that of Paul Oberholzer, which analyzes thirteen letters sent by Polanco from the Council, most written either in the immediate aftermath of a session or after a conversation with Laínez. Indeed, each chapter is a stand-alone piece, which is regrettable, as some attempt at connections among the articles, perhaps in the form of section summaries, would have added to the interest each one generates.

This hefty volume is aimed largely at graduate students and scholars of history, and will also be of interest to specialists in theology, literature, and the study of material culture. The book is attractive, with a limited number of plates, and contains a short general index but no bibliography. Each chapter includes footnotes and ends with an abstract in English (even the articles written in English). The translations are of generally high quality, although one may find reasons to quibble, as for example the use of “Trentine” instead of the far more common Anglicization “Tridentine” in the Prosperi article and several inconsistencies in translation of names. Of greater import is a lack of attention to detail in some abstracts, including that of García Hernán, the second sentence of which is garbled, and which promises (but does not deliver) an appendix. Several others show evidence that they were not translated by a native English speaker. 

Catto and Prosperi are to be congratulated on providing scholars with a valuable set of essays on disparate topics, written by eminent scholars of several generations and nationalities. However, the lack of consideration for gender studies, and the dearth of scholars from Asia and Africa, and indeed of subjects related to Africa, are to be lamented.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kathleen Comerford is Professor of History at Georgia Southern University.

Date of Review: 
April 27, 2018


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