The Catholic Reformation

The Catholic Reformation. By Michael A. Mullett. (New York: Routledge. 1999)

By calling his book The Catholic Reformation, Mullett wants to draw attention to the late medieval roots of Catholic reform in the early modern period. Divided into seven chapters, the focus of this informative study is on the institutional Church’s attempts to reform itself before the Protestant Reformation and on its continuing effort of renewal after 1517. A first chapter on the medieval background of the Catholic Reformation gives very useful summaries on the various movements of reform undertaken by popes and bishops. It stresses the importance of the impulse of reform, even under the worldly pontificates of Alexander VI and Julius II, and rightly discusses in some detail the significance of the Observance movement among the religious orders. Both Savonarola and Luther, Mullett reminds us, emerged out of the mendicant reform movements. Moreover, many of the doctrinal and disciplinary provisions of the Council of Trent had already been anticipated by reform councils and reforming bishops in the fifteenth century and by the Fifth Lateran Council on the eve of Luther’s revolt. The two following chapters follow in some detail the history of the Council of Trent and the new religious orders, drawing on recent as well as standard scholarship. Although the Society of Jesus occupied a great deal of the author’s attention, Mullett manages to convey the full panorama of institutional renewal in the Catholic Church during the later sixteenth century. The institutional angle is continued in Chapter 4 with a chronological discussion of the pontificates from Julius III to Clement VIII and a brief introduction of the work of several prominent reform bishops, notably Gian Matteo Giberti and Carlo Borromeo. Two more chapters (5 & 6) give a rapid survey of the progress of Catholic reform in the different countries of Europe. Mullett’s discussion of Italy and France is particularly interesting and original; there are also shorter treatments of the other countries of Catholic Europe and sketches of Catholic missions overseas. With a concluding chapter on Catholic Reformation and the arts, Mullett has offered the reader an informative and competent summary of the Catholic Reformation. The strength of this book lies in its extensive discussion of doctrine, liturgy, and the institutional history of the Catholic Church. However, The Catholic Reformation might prove to be too difficult for beginning students, who may need a more extensive orientation in the political and social context of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

R. Po-chia Hsia
New York University
(author of:The World of Catholic Renewal 1540-1770, 2nd Edition (New Approaches to European History) )

Another useful book on this topic is The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700: A Reassessment of the Counter Reformation by Robert Bireley.

(The above prompted by watching the movie Luther, which the German Lutheran church sponsored.)

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