Church, Society, and Religious Change in France, 1580-1730

Church, Society, and Religious Change in France, 1580-1730

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    Church, Society, and Religious Change in France, 1580-1730
    Book Description:

    This readable and engaging book by an acclaimed historian is the only wide-ranging synthesis devoted to the French experience of religious change during the period after the wars of religion up to the early Enlightenment. Joseph Bergin provides a clear, up-to-date, and thorough account of the religious history of France in the context of social, institutional, and cultural developments during the so-called long seventeenth century.

    Bergin argues that the French version of the Catholic Reformation showed a dynamism unrivaled elsewhere in Europe. The traumatic experiences of the wars of religion, the continuing search within France for heresy, and the challenge of Augustinian thought successively energized its attempts at religious change. Bergin highlights the continuing interaction of church and society and shows that while the French experience was clearly allied to its European context, its path was a distinctive one.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16106-9
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  6. Prologue: the Fire and the Ashes
    (pp. 1-14)

    When the fog of war finally lifted on France during the last decade of the sixteenth century, it was well-nigh universally believed that the country had been reduced to a state of virtual collapse, cruelly damaged by a generation of endlessly recurring civil wars and the communal violence that accompanied them. The condition of Catholicism, its majority church and religion, was no exception. Contemporaries had long been accustomed to the denunciations of France’s Calvinists as well as the lamentations of France’s Catholics (especially the preachers) on the subject. The religious propaganda of the Calvinist presses painted a stark portrait of...

  7. Part 1: Foundations
    • CHAPTER 1 From Dioceses to Parishes: the Geography of the French Church
      (pp. 17-36)

      By any standard of measurement, the French church of the centuries before the revolution was one of the biggest and most imposing in Europe. And as the French monarchy itself expanded again from the mid-seventeenth century onwards, so did the church that corresponded to it. There were, of course, other ‘national’ churches, to use an anachronistic term, which were as big or even bigger – those of Poland, the Spanish kingdoms, or the Holy Roman Empire, for example. But viewing things purely in spatial terms does not provide the full picture. For one thing, France had long been the most...

    • CHAPTER 2 Wealth into Benefices
      (pp. 37-58)

      Across the ages the issue of the church’s wealth has been the subject of a shifting mixture of curiosity, debate and hostility. Questions concerning its proper size and purpose, as well as who was entitled to benefit from it, invariably helped to define and, at times, to polarise relations between the ‘church’ – in its narrow sense of the clergy – and the wider lay society. It was also inevitable that a religion which exalted poverty and detachment from material goods would have problems defending the wealth accumulated by the church over the centuries. The old-style anticlericalism, inherited from the...

  8. Part 2: Clerical Worlds in Context
    • CHAPTER 3 Clerics and Clergy: the World of the Seculars
      (pp. 61-83)

      If the previous chapter has suggested anything, it is that the French clergy were likely to be as heterogeneous, in terms of status, social origins and cultural attainments, as the benefice system that conditioned their behaviour and life-chances. Not only would the disparities between ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ clergy in general be enormous, but even among the great mass of ‘lower’ clergy there would also be marked differences. Yet although the benefice system may have been the matrix which ultimately ‘fixed’ all of these individuals within the French church, its peculiarities meant that a surprising amount of mobility was always possible...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Monastic Orders: Adjustment and Survival
      (pp. 84-104)

      It would not be exaggerating to employ the expression coined around the year 1000, ‘the white mantle of the churches’, to describe the presence of the religious orders within France, so heavily dotted was the landscape with old and new, male and female religious orders. It was in France, after all, that many of the greatest of them had been founded and where they developed with remarkable vigour over the centuries. And with the Catholic Reformation, the latest and perhaps the most intensive round of foundations ever began, adding new ‘religions’ – as religious orders were commonly described since the...

    • CHAPTER 5 From Mendicants to Congregations
      (pp. 105-128)

      With the overall membership of the monastic orders not rising markedly during the seventeenth century, the sharp rise in the numbers of male regulars must be credited to their ‘mendicant’ counterparts. This, too, is not surprising, given the scale and variety of the mendicants’ historical presence in France, but it results above all from the continuing resourcefulness of the French church, especially in the period we are dealing with, in ‘inventing’ new types of religious communities which stretched the continuum of mendicant religious life well beyond what previous centuries had managed to do. At the ‘new’ end of the spectrum...

    • CHAPTER 6 A Silent Revolution: Women as Regulars
      (pp. 129-152)

      Historians have long been aware of the upsurge in female orders and congregations during the seventeenth century, whose record is bettered only by the nineteenth, when more female religious orders were created than during any other period in the history of Christianity. But the scale as well as the significance of the seventeenth-century additions has often been difficult to grasp, for several reasons. One is a limited sense of the context and prehistory of the developments that occurred then: only when these are well understood – for they exhibit many of the characteristics we have seen among the male religious...

  9. Part 3: A New Clergy?
    • CHAPTER 7 The Bishops: Adaptation and Action
      (pp. 155-182)

      The reform of the church that was so universally demanded across sixteenth-century Europe depended crucially on the clergy, regardless of the conflicting views that emerged during the Reformation about the exact nature of their orders or ministry. As befitted the most distinctively ‘clerical’ of church councils to date, Trent went to great lengths to underline the centrality of clerical action at every level of the church, and its repeated emphasis on dioceses and parishes as the central units in church life was accompanied by corresponding demands on the clergy in charge of them. The council’s well-known but belated enthusiasm for...

    • CHAPTER 8 Remaking the Secular Clergy
      (pp. 183-207)

      The intricate layering of France’s secular clergy, which resulted partly from their differing social backgrounds and partly from the complex and essentially unchanged benefice system in which they were anchored, was bound to pose major problems for any attempt to transform them. Yet the generations of bishops portrayed in the previous chapter increasingly viewed their objective of a well-regulated diocese in terms of a disciplined, resident and conscientious lower clergy, of whom the parish priests were to be the lynchpin. But such a specific objective could not be pursued on its own, as if the parish clergy were merely the...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Triumph of the Parish?
      (pp. 208-226)

      The growing emphasis on thebon prêtrehas often been coupled with a development frequently designated as ‘the triumph of the parish’. In each case, the results are more visible during the eighteenth century, but their foundations are held to have been laid during the previous one. As with so many such endeavours, the drive to make the parish central and indispensable to the lives of ordinary Christians was portrayed at the time as a return to a putative status quo ante, but there was a large degree of innovation at work behind this rhetoric of returning to the proper...

  10. Part 4: Instruments of Religious Change
    • CHAPTER 10 Saints and Shrines
      (pp. 229-251)

      The historiographical commonplace, that pre-modern Europeans were surrounded, from the cradle to the grave, by the supernatural, loses none of its validity for being repeated one further time. Any historian attempting to inventory and analyse early modern religious practices can appreciate the appositeness ofMichelet’s phrase, ‘tout est dans tout’, but can also see that it hints at an intractable problem. It still remains far easier to make general statements about the pervasiveness of things religious than either to apprehend them at close quarters or to grasp their meaning for those who experienced them in one form or another. ‘Everything’ was...

    • CHAPTER 11 Sacraments and Sinners
      (pp. 252-276)

      It should be evident from the previous chapter that the religious aspirations and activities of the average Catholic (catholique moyen) of our period were not easily contained within the narrow confines of the local church or of an official canon. The very fragility of life itself in a century punctuated by war, famine and epidemic ensured that people would continue to seek ‘salvation’, in the widest sense of the term, wherever or in whatever form – the saints, relics, holy places, processions, pilgrimages – they could find it. As we saw, their instinct was to do so in groups rather...

    • CHAPTER 12 Religion Taught and Learned
      (pp. 277-309)

      One of the most enduring challenges posed by the religious upheavals of the sixteenth century to all of Europe’s churches was to ensure that their members acquired an understanding of the essentials of their religious beliefs and practices. Some elements of the challenge itself and the French church’s response to it have already surfaced, albeit obliquely, in previous chapters. This chapter will consider some of the major ways in which the French church met the challenge of educating its members. Although the discussion will fall under headings such as preaching, missions, catechism and schooling, it should be realised that these...

    • CHAPTER 13 The Forms and Uses of Spirituality
      (pp. 310-336)

      Any understanding of religious change during the period under consideration must include the major currents of religious thought, primarily of the ‘applied’ rather than speculative and academic kind. The instruments and techniques of religious change, as well as the religious practices examined in previous chapters, were all, to one degree or another, vehicles for conveying religious ideas that were themselves subject to recycling and further development by thinkers and writers of varying originality and appeal. In the case of seventeenth-century France, the claims of spirituality to be regarded as an agent in the process of religious change is enhanced by...

  11. Part 5: Movers and Shakers
    • CHAPTER 14 The Many Faces of the Confraternities
      (pp. 339-365)

      It may come as a surprise, in the light of the earlier discussion of preaching missions and catechism, and in particular of the efforts made to found confraternities that would perpetuate their effects, to learn that seventeenth-century France already had a dense network of confraternities. Its geography ensured that it would house both the northern and southern European variants of that elusive, malleable and endlessly changing phenomenon. Indeed, the discovery during the past century of the scale and historical significance of confraternities was due largely to the work of French historians, whose most influential figure, Gabriel Le Bras, regarded the...

    • CHAPTER 15 Dévots: the Pious and the Militant
      (pp. 366-393)

      The seventeenth century bequeathed many enduring terms to French culture, but few of them seem, even now, to belong so fully to thegrand siècleas the worddévot. There is a subtle but important difference between its singular and plural forms. To translate the singulardévotas ‘devout’ would not be inadequate, as it would convey most of the meaning of the original. But to renderdévotsas ‘the devout’ or ‘the devouts’ would be far less satisfactory, because the plural form meant so much more in the original French than either ‘devout’ or ‘devotion’. The termdévotsalways...

    • CHAPTER 16 Jansenists: Dissidents but Also Militants
      (pp. 394-424)

      It would be easy to conclude from the evidence of the previous chapters that, given the extent of the efforts and the moblilisation that France’s Catholic Reformation produced, success was merely a matter of time. But it is rarely the case that reform movements born under the sign of strife and division escape altogether from their clutches thereafter. In France, older divisions continued to exist – Gallicans versus ultramontanes, regulars versus seculars, for example. The brand new division between Protestants and Catholics was the most intractable of all, and will be examined in a separate study. There is one development...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 425-432)

    French historians of the seventeenth century have conventionally labelled this period of their history thegrand siècle, although the ‘greatness’ in question – essentially political and cultural – has mostly been associated with the rule of Louis XIV. Historians concerned with France’s religious history, on the other hand, have no less frequently used another label, thesiècle des saints, in order to emphasise the significance of the religious changes occurring then, but their ‘century’ has usually been shorter and earlier, stretching from the 1590s to the 1640s. That brevity is to some extent disguised by using the term ‘saints’ to...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 433-464)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 465-484)
  15. Index
    (pp. 485-506)