The Council of Trent and the Parish

12/20/2013 in Parish Research Today

From 4 to 6 December 2013 an international conference on the Council of Trent took place in Louvain. It was organized by Violet Soen and Wim François (KU Leuven) and its title ‘The Council of Trent: Reform and Controversy in Europe and Beyond (1545-1700)’ reveals its wide scope; papers discussing religion in oversees Spanish colonies were welcomed along with papers on the Rituale Romanum. Arthistorians, historians, theologians and literary scholars discussed in English, French and German the many perspectives used in their research on Trent and its implications for religious Europe. Keynote speakers were amongst others: John O’ Malley, Emidio Campi, Nicole Lemaitre and Simon Ditchfield. Although the parish was not central at this conference, many lectures and talks touched the subject of the religious community and church. My own paper emphasized the complexity of the implementation of the decrees and local parish life in Ghent at the end of the 16th century. By comparing the actions and reactions of the St James parish after the fall of the Calvinist Republic to the formal secular and ecclesiastical legislation inspired by Trent, the overlaps and discrepancies between law and practice were highlighted. Obviously catholic renewal at the end of the 16th century was not a straightforward, nor a top-down process following the decrees but was made possible by the active involvement and interest of lay parishioners in their parish.

Other papers touching the subject of renewal of parishes in the Southern Netherlands came from Stefanie Beghein (Antwerp University) who discussed the changes in music culture in Antwerp parishes between 1550 and 1700 and Jeffrey Muller (Brown University) who interpreted the restoration of St James in Antwerp after 1585 as a creative and public act of the parish community. According to his research this restoration illustrates that the parish was a mediator between the ecclesiastical decrees and local religion. Other presentations touched the subject of parish clergy and pastoral reform. As the proceedings of this conference will be edited and most likely published in 2014, I will not go further into detail here. One example of a study of the parish beyond Europe should be mentioned in order to give a more balanced impression of the conference. Benjamin Ehlers (University of Georgia) definitely crossed several geographical boundaries as he illustrated the practical impossibilities of Catholic Reformation in a Spanish military parish in Oran. Instead of reforming the church, the immediate task of the Oran clergy was protecting the faith in the face of North African corsairs and renegade Christians. The military-religious policy of Spain resulting in the expulsion of the Moriscos in 1609-1614 hindered the further stabilization of this parish. Ehlers ‘s presentation reminds us again of the great variety among Early Modern parishes.

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