Early Modern English Catholicism. Identity, Memory and Counter-Reformation, edited by James E. Kelly and Susan Royal

in Journal of Jesuit Studies

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Catholic Christendom, 1300–1700. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2017. Pp. xiv + 258. Hb, $150.

This volume was compiled as a Festschrift to mark the retirement of Professor Eamon Duffy from his chair in Cambridge. The title is as broad as the book’s contents which stretch from early modern Catholicism to cover the English Jesuit, Joseph Reeve, who died in 1820. The volume’s expansive bibliographical notes demonstrate the important contribution this persecuted church is now seen to have made on many fronts in post-Reformation England. The book is divided into three major themes of “Identity,” a fashionable category in historical studies at the moment, “Memory,” and “the Counter-Reformation,” and generally maintains a revisionist line, emphasizing continuity with the medieval world. It acknowledges the need to encompass Scotland, Ireland, and Europe in order to re-orientate the traditional definition of English Catholic identity. The strong Introduction binds together a miscellaneous selection of subjects.

Within “Identity,” Brad S. Gregory’s article with his characteristic originality, makes a case for English Catholics being “modern” pioneers in the sense that circumstances forced them to separate religion from politics. He parts company with John Bossy who argued that they might be categorized as nonconformists. Gregory believes their clinging to a medieval past and powerful foreign allies made them distinctive. The same point is made in Gabriel Glickman’s exceptionally well researched and wide-ranging chapter which concentrates on a British, rather than English, Catholic community enhanced by its loyalty to the Stuart cause. Gregory makes the point that the earliest English Catholicism was more “porous” and improvised and less sectarian than it was to become. The reasons he cites for this are all related to its significant European involvement.

James Kelly illustrates a hardening of its identity through his investigation of relics collected by English Catholics, especially by exiled English female communities he has thoroughly studied. He notes how martyr relics facilitated states of mystical prayer. His survey of reliquary design (49) should have included the 1551 salt cellar adapted as a reliquary by the Poor Clares of Rouen. Thomas M. McCoog, S.J. charts the troubled relations over jurisdiction between the vicars apostolic and the English Jesuits and other regulars. The Society’s suppression in 1773 gave an entirely new twist to the old problem. English Jesuits survived and adopted new names, and English bishops became more sympathetic.

Part Two, “Memory,” begins with an analysis by Jaime Goodrich of a corporate ownership of English medieval mystical texts by the English Benedictine nuns of Cambrai, principally within the circle of Dame Margaret Gascoigne (1608–37), a disciple of Dom Augustine Baker (1573–1641). Liturgical texts were clearly a major influence. Parallels in the writings of Julian of Norwich and the Imitation of Christ open up possible new areas of research. In a chapter full of paradoxes, Susan Royal views English Catholics from a novel viewpoint by comparing and contrasting them with the Lollards. Both were viewed as carriers of the disease of heresy and as “bugbears” by the contemporary orthodox ecclesiastical establishment and both saw the value of communicating persecution and martyrdom through literature so as to demonstrate their respective historical pedigrees.

Matthew Martin’s piece on the poetry of Joseph Reeve, S.J., chaplain to the Cliffords of Ugbrooke, Devon, demonstrates how English Catholic gentry began to manage their estates more confidently thanks the Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791. Part 3 is a collection of chapters on the Counter-Reformation. Earle Havens and Elizabeth Patton subject a single-page manuscript of 1587 in the British Library to exhaustive analysis. This is an inventory of the receipt and distribution of six hundred Catholic books, mostly from Rouen where the Jesuit Robert Persons was actively encouraging the printing of English Catholic books. It reveals the importance of Catholic prison networks for keeping the faith alive and the role of women in book distribution. In his chapter, Bill Sheils develops his earlier work on Thomas Stapleton, the English secular priest and convert, a prolific author, and a first-generation English Catholic exile. He shows Stapleton’s theology shifting from Scholasticism to early humanist Augustinianism. Stapleton’s works were solidly rooted in the scriptural apologetic schools of Leuven and Douai, and his series of Promptuaria (A.F. Allison & D.M. Rogers, eds., The Contemporary Printed Literature of the English Counter-Reformation [Aldershot: Ashgate, 1989], nos. 1167–243), now largely neglected, were enormously popular as evangelizing tools for Latin-literate parish priests.

Eamon Duffy explores trends in English Catholic publishing abroad in the early modern period. He notes the rise of vernacular publishing under Mary Tudor, and argues that the emphasis on devotional works up until the 1560s was succeeded by a concentration on more apologetic and polemical texts as the sides of the religious divide hardened, though devotional works returned with the coming of the seminary priests in the 1580s. Duffy breaks new ground with his discovery of Simon Vereept as a major inspiration behind the Manual, a popular devotional work (A.F. Allison & D.M. Rogers, The Contemporary Printed Literature of the English Counter-Reformation between 1558 and 1640, 2 vols. [Aldershot: 1989–94], vol. 2, nos. 200–26).

In the final well-researched chapter, Susannah Brietz Montana seeks to situate the poetry of the English Catholic layman, John Austin (1613–69) in a broader context than merely a Catholic culture by closely examining his lyrics. His Devotions in the Ancient Way of Offices, which had many editions (Thomas H. Clancy, English Catholic Books 1641–1700 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1996), nos. 56–59.5) and were linked to the Blackloist controversy, was popular in non-Catholic churches. Brietz argues that this book was designed for prayer in both a domestic and collective setting.

The brief “Afterword” by John Bossy rounds the volume off, a particularly poignant piece since it must have been written shortly before his death in October, 2015. It has the feel of a whimsical retrospective review grounded in his magisterial work, The English Catholic Community 1570–1850 (London, 1975), although he shows some originality in concentrating on the English College of Douai’s sojourn in Rheims, where the Catholic League was dominant. Congregations, he argues, create communities, not martyrs, and he blames the 1570 papal bull and William Allen for killing off parish communities. In this, his swan-song, Bossy is generally kind to the volume’s contributors, but the sources he employs seem rather dated, and he is unhappy with the book’s three principal themes.

DOI 10.1163/22141332-00501008-09

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Early Modern English Catholicism. Identity, Memory and Counter-Reformation, edited by James E. Kelly and Susan Royal

in Journal of Jesuit Studies

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