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Peace in the Post-Reformation. (Reviews).

John Bossy, Peace in the Post-Reformation

The Birkbeck Lectures 1995. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. $49.95. ISBN: 0-521-64061-X.

The Birkbeck lectures are a series of four talks on a related theme given by a distinguished scholar. Past speakers include Outram Evennett and Denys Hay, whose Birkbeck lectures inspired redefinitions of the Counter Reformation and the fifteenth-century Italian church, respectively. In his lectures, collected in this volume, Bossy is aware of Evennett and Hay's contributions and suggests, like them, a new perspective for studies on post-Reformation Europe. His success is, however, somewhat mixed.

Rather than analyzing "peace," Bossy's focus is on what he terms the moral tradition on medieval and early modern Europe. This tradition is composed of three parts: "the notion or practical instinct that to be a Christian means to love your neighbour, and in particular your enemy; the fact that in these times and places it was very likely that people might be in a state of enmity towards others, which would call for arrangements of peacemaking. . . ; and the historic... connection between these arrangements and the sites, rites and persons of the church" (2). Bossy then traces the application and potential redefinition of this tradition in post-Reformation Italy, France, Germany, and England. Although each region has distinct responses to the moral tradition, certain themes reappear throughout Europe. Probably the most widespread theme is the tension between social discipline and the moral tradition, most pointedly described here for Borromeo's Milan. According to Bossy, Borromeo devalued the traditional role of the Catholic clergy as peacemakers in favor of "a command economy of salvation" (12). His contemporaries and successors did not, however, share Borromeo's attitude, and the moral tradition resurged in the later sixteenth century. Bossy also emphasizes the role of communion and, therefore, confession in maintaining the moral tradition; in France the installation of confessional boxes marks the decline of one visible manifestation of the moral tradition, the laying-on of hands (43). Bossy also examines key themes in the historiography of each region during the sixteenth century in light of the moral tradition: in France the concept of "community", and in Germany the rural Gemeinde. In England especially this approach leads Bossy in intriguing directions, such as questioning if "church papists" stayed in the Church of England because they had a stronger commitment to the moral tradition than recusants.

In a book this ambitious, certain difficulties are bound to arise. Implicit throughout is a medieval acceptance of the "moral tradition" that remains more asserted than proven. Bossy's focus also appears to be predominantly Catholic. While broadening his analysis would probably have been impossible given the lectures constraints, it leaves the reader wondering if some of the more effective or unusual challenges to the moral tradition have been omitted. The Germany lecture, where Bossy grapples the most with Protestant responses, is his least satisfactory chapter in part because of the difficulty of knowing to what confession he is referring. Despite these weaknesses, Bossy's lectures on the moral tradition are well worth reading because of the ideas they provoke about the analysis and impact of peace in post-Reformation Europe.
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Author:Edwards, Kathryn A.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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