The Conquest of the Soul: Confession, Discipline, and Public Order in Counter-Reformation Milan


Carlo and Federico Borromeo achieved fame by turning Milan into the foremost laboratory of the Italian Counter-Reformation. This monograph, the first on the subject to appear in English, interprets their program of penitential discipline as a quest to reshape Lombard society by reaching into the souls of its inhabitants.
This integration of the public and private spheres had vast implications - the transformation of the clergy into a professional body, a bureaucratic-juridical turn in sacramental practice, interventions in the ritual order (notably the introduction of the confessional), and new models of disciplined and 'civilized' behavior.
Catholic confessionalism thus conceived had decidedly mixed outcomes. While it transformed the religious landscape forever, its deepest ambitions foundered amidst political opposition, popular resistance, and bureaucratic accommodation. Milan was never to be a city on a hill.

2001 Winner of the Howard R. Marraro Prize of the American Catholic Historical Association.


EUR €125.00USD $155.00

Biographical Note

Wietse de Boer, Ph.D. (1995) in History, Erasmus University Rotterdam, is Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University, Indianapolis. His recent publications focus particularly on the cultural aspects of the Italian Counter-Reformation.

Review Quotes

' Wietse de Boer elegant geschriebenes und klar argumentiertes Buch bereichert die wohlbekannten Tatsachen der Gegen-reformation in Milan durch eine Reihe von neuen Perspektiven...Dieses Buch beruht auf massiver archivalischer Forschung und gründlicher Kenntnis der Sekundärliteratur in mindestens fünf Sprachen (Englisch, Italienisch, Französisch, Deutsch, und Holländisch).' Marc R. Foster, ZKG, 2005. ' This handsome volume is the latest in a truly distinguished series, the list of whose authors reads like a Who's Who of early modern historians. Wietse de Boer's book is eminently worthy of inclusion in such a series. He has made a great contribution to early modern Italian religious history...This erudite study […] is required reading for students of European society in the age of the Reformation.' William V. Hudon, American Historical Review, 2002. ' …a challenging and valuable contribution to our understanding of the place of Borromeo and his successors in the development of the Counter-Reformation and a healthy corrective to recent scholarship about the privatization of the sacrament of confession.' Thomas Deutscher, Renaissance Quarterly, 2002. ‘ …an excellent institutional history…a convincing analysis of a particulary important region.’ R. Emmet McLaughlin, Sixteenth Century Journal, 2002.

Table of contents

Preface Abbreviations List of Figures, Table and Illustrations PART I. STRATEGIES Introduction to Part One 1. Asserting Hierarchy: The Clergy and the Early Counter-Reformation 2. Discipline of the Soul: Confession, Conversion, Coercion 3. Constraints of the Body: The Confessional and Church Design 4. The Politics of Civility: Federico Borromeo and The Later Counter-Reformation PART II. ADVANCES AND RETREATS Introduction to Part Two 5. The Administration of the Sacraments: Piety and Obligation 6. Governing the Soul: The Limits of Discipline 7. Priestly Exercises: Schoolroom and Confessional 8. Defining the Sinful: The Case of Superstition Conclusion Select Bibliography Indices Index of Personal Names Index of Place Names Index of Subjects


Those interested in early-modern Italian and European history; history of Christianity, especially Catholicism; Reformation and Counter-Reformation studies; Renaissance studies; history of church architecture; history of popular religion and gender.