Shadows of Doubt: Language and Truth in Post-Reformation Catholic Culture.
This dense but fascinating work argues that post-Reformation Catholicism helped create not only modernity but postmodernity as well. And by postmodernity Tutino means above all doubt about accessibility, knowledge of, or expression of, truths or the Truth. She explores these doubts and epistemological anxieties through case studies of the works of several intellectual figures from the two centuries or so after the Council of Trent. Most of these figures are Jesuits or ex-Jesuits (such as Jesuits Pedro Juan Perpinan, Famiano Strada, Francisco Suarez, Leonardo Lessius; and ex-Jesuits Agostino Mascardi and Paolo Beni).
T. carefully examines both well-known, well-published authors such as Suarez and Lessius and more obscure authors like Mascardi and Beni, whose work may remain in manuscript form or in little-known published editions. T. shows Mascardi to have foreshadowed Paul Ricoeur by several centuries through his sophisticated analysis of narrative and employment as the way historians save the past from obscurity and yet remain without certitude about a past that is at least partly lost to the present. Mascardi expressed the "epistemological and existential anxiety of humans insofar as they simultaneously exist in time and are devoured by it" (73). In Beni, T. finds an early modern voice that challenged a hermeneutic of ecclesiastical history as a story of undoubted, unchanging continuity, and pointed instead to post-Reformation culture as a "mix of certainty and uncertainly, truth and verisimilar, facts and interpretations" (99).
T. masterfully explores the concept of the oath as a not-so-successful means of guaranteeing the truth of spoken or written language; she shows clearly how Suarez and Lessius dissected the gaps between the words of an oath and the variable intentions of those swearing it.
This well-researched study could benefit from some additions, perhaps another chapter or two. T. speaks often of "post-Reformation Catholic culture," thus implying that Catholicism in the early modern period is to be understood as in relation (hostile or otherwise) to the Protestant Reformation. But most scholars today speak of early modern Catholicism as a kind of world church in the making, in which interaction with cultures around the world altered Catholicism as Catholic missionaries sought to spread the gospel. The kinds of doubts about truth claims T. wishes to highlight were abundant in post-Columbus Catholic culture, and the Jesuits play a central role here too, from the mid-1500s onward. Thus, it seems imperative to complement her research with questions about language and truth that emerged from, for example, attempts to express Christian doctrines in the languages of North American natives. (See the many volumes of Jesuit Relations written in 17th-century Canada.) And something should be added on Jesuits such as Mateo Ricci in China--a favorite topic among scholars in recent years. Jesuit creation of dictionaries for various languages and the intellectual difficulties involved in such work should be examined as well. Could Christian theology be expressed in the native languages of Asia and the Americas? Or was such theology inextricably tied to classical culture and the Greek and Latin languages? Was "universal" truth "particular" after all?
The Council of Trent has often been presented as condemning in no uncertain terms Protestant teaching. Yet the "canons" of Trent name no Protestants whatsoever, and the council's formula of si quis dixerit ... anathema sit (if anyone were to say ... let him be anathema) left room for doubt as to whether anyone actually held the opinions being condemned. Also, Trent refrained from issuing a decree on papal authority, even though rejection of that authority was the one thing all Protestants could agree on. Trent was cautious, above all, and it was reluctant to say too much, or anything at all, in areas where the bishops themselves were in disagreement--and there were plenty of such areas. Doubts and disagreements abounded at Trent. This, too, should be part of T.'s book.
I mention these matters because I believe that T.'s overall argument is quite convincing, and that her work merits more than a nod by scholars and students. T.'s argument could be strengthened with some additions and with more attention to the fact that most of her authors were Jesuits for at least part of their adult lives. What was/is it about the Society of Jesus that favors honest doubts over dubious certitudes?
Thomas Worcester, S.J.
College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2015|
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