Episcopal Reform and Politics in Early Modern Europe

Jennifer Mara DeSilva, ed.


This volume contextualizes the diversity of episcopal experience across early modern Europe, while showing the similarity of goals and challenges among various confessional, social, and geographical communities. (EMS 10)

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Early Modern Studies, Vol. 10

In the tumultuous period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when ecclesiastical reform spread across Europe, the traditional role of the bishop as a public exemplar of piety, morality, and communal administration came under attack. In communities where there was tension between religious groups or between spiritual and secular governing bodies, the bishop became a lightning rod for struggles over hierarchical authority and institutional autonomy. These struggles were intensified by the ongoing negotiation of the episcopal role and by increased criticism of the cleric, especially during periods of religious war and in areas that embraced reformed churches. This volume contextualizes the diversity of episcopal experience across early modern Europe, while showing the similarity of goals and challenges among various confessional, social, and geographical communities. Until now there have been few studies that examine the spectrum of responses to contemporary challenges, the high expectations, and the continuing pressure bishops faced in their public role as living examples of Christian ideals.

This volume of essays, all of which are based on original research, is quite distinctive in the way it presents the development of episcopacy in the age of the tridentine reformation. By presenting Europe’s bishops—from England to Italy—in their many roles, it shows just how difficult it was to reform such powerful figures. The essays unobtrusively introduce readers to the historiographies of several European countries, and thereby achieve a comprehensiveness that will encourage further reflection and, above all, further research on a major historical subject.

—Joseph Bergin, University of Manchester


Foreword: The Local Nature of Episcopal Reform in the Age of the Council of Trent—William V. Hudon

Introduction: A Living Example—Jennifer Mara DeSilva

Part 1: Episcopal Authority

A Hierarchy that Had Fought Episcopal Promotion during the Reign of Mary I (1553–58) and the Roots of Episcopal Resistance to the Elizabethan Religious Settlement—Raymond A. Powell
Bishops in the Habsburg Netherlands on the Eve of the Catholic Renewal, 1515–59—Hans Cools
Office and Patronage in Mid-Sixteenth-Century Tortona—Antonella Perin and John Alexander

Part 2: Pastoral Practice

The Absentee Bishop in Residence Paris de’ Grassi, Bishop of Pesaro, 1513–28—Jennifer Mara DeSilva
Papal Authority, Episcopal Reservation, and Abortion in Sixteenth-Century Italy—John Christopoulos
Ministering to Catholics and Protestants Alike: The Preaching, Polemics, and Pastoral Care of François de Sales—Jill Fehleison

Part 3: Clerical Reform

Gender, Resistance, and the Limits of Episcopal Authority: Sébastien Zamet’s Relationships with Nuns, 1615–55—Linda Lierheimer
Challenges to Episcopal Authority in Seventeenth-Century Padua—Celeste McNamara
Trials that Should Have Been: The Question of Judicial Jurisdiction over French Bishops in the Seventeenth Century and the Self-Narration of the Roman Inquisition—Jean-Pascal Gay


Jennifer Mara DeSilva completed a PhD in history at the University of Toronto, where she examined the role of papal ritual and the Office of Ceremonies in early modern Italy. Her published research includes articles that focus on the intersection of public display, diplomacy, social mobility, and ecclesiastical authority. Currently she is assistant professor of history at Ball State University.

Contributors include: William V. Hudon, Jennifer Mara DeSilva, Raymond A. Powell, Hans Cools, Antonella Perin, John Alexander, John Christopoulos, Jill Fehleison, Linda Lierheimer, Celeste McNamara, Jean-Pascal Gay


Historians specializing in religion and the church in early modern Europe explore the crisis and reform involving Catholic bishops during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Research Book News, December 2012

This volume is well worth the attention of a broad range of church historians and historians of religious culture. It examines crucial issues about religious authority and its exercises, issues that may have some interesting parallels today.

—Thomas Worcester, Sixteenth Century Journal, XLIV/2 (2013)

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