Visions of episcopacy in seventeenth-century France

This book explores how conceptions of episcopacy (government of a church by bishops) shaped the identity of the bishops of France in the wake of the reforming Council of Trent (1545–63). It demonstrates how the episcopate, initially demoralised by the Wars of Religion, developed a powerful ideology of privilege, leadership and pastorate that enabled it to become a flourishing participant in the religious, political and social life of the ancien regime. The book analyses the attitudes of Tridentine bishops towards their office by considering the French episcopate as a recognisable caste, possessing a variety of theological and political principles that allowed it to dominate the French church.

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. That creativity also embraced the church’s episcopate: first, the social and educational features which would characterise it through the remainder of the ancien régime were defined during these decades. Less known, however, is the fact that these years were formative for the episcopate, and indeed for the entire French church, in yet another manner. From a long-term perspective, it is obvious that these dynamic decades saw an unprecedented evolution in ideology and a veritable outpouring of views, old and new, on the status of bishops, the theological significance

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even had their own official Assembly in which their mainly episcopal deputies could voice the church’s concerns and seek support from the crown. With privileges came responsibilities, however, for just as the church made demands on the temporal realm so it sought to gain from its connections with the church. As the self-proclaimed leaders of the French church, the bishops were at the centre of this far from straightforward exchange. The topic of church–state relations is a vast one, only aspects of which relate directly to the episcopate and episcopal ideology. What

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Introduction 22/3/04 12:11 pm Page 1 Introduction An overview of the Catholic episcopate in early modern Europe comments that ‘one of the most far-reaching if usually under-remarked changes of the Reformation period as a whole concerns the function and necessity of bishops in the church’.1 Although immediately applicable to those regions of the Reformation where bishops disappeared altogether from the ecclesiastical and political landscapes, this observation might appear to have no relation to Catholic Europe.2 Here, bishops not only survived but also

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Mirrors of French ideals?

period, probably because the civil wars discouraged it in favour of straightforwardly robust polemics. To compensate, Latin and vernacular editions of nonFrench episcopal literature were published to serve the needs of the French episcopate, a practice continued in the following century, with French editions of Possevin’s discourse on Borromeo, Giussano’s history of Borromeo and an abridged life of the archbishop of Milan based on existing literature.2 Then, as the French church recovered in the first decades of the seventeenth century, French writers began to compose

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chap 4 22/3/04 12:53 pm Page 109 4 Ecclesiastical monarchy or monarchies? Why did the French episcopate prove so tenacious in opposing the regulars’ calls for independence through the seventeenth century? Like the bishops’ quarrels with the curés, these were crises of authority in which the episcopate fought to assert its disciplinary supremacy over the religious orders. Yet the struggle between the bishops and the regulars was just one manifestation of a much larger complexity: the place of the episcopate in the church’s governing hierarchy. Not only did

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chap 1 22/3/04 12:11 pm Page 19 1 Catholic renewal and episcopal traditions in the sixteenth century In the eyes of its Catholic contemporaries in the early 1560s, the French episcopate must have appeared to be in an enviable position. A highly influential role in the formulation of the Council of Trent’s reform programme left its mark for posterity in the shape of the final decrees and earned its members the respect of the entire Catholic church, an impression not lessened by the fact that the French delegation had only been present at the Council’s final

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outcomes had profound implications for the chain of ecclesiastical government at every level of the Catholic church. Virtually every recent study of individual bishops and dioceses in France has catalogued instances of these recurrent disputes1 but, despite their collective importance, little effort has been made to place them within their national and international contexts, or to assess their accumulative impact on the French episcopate itself. Yet in studying the development of episcopal ideologies, it is hardly sufficient simply to treat particular squabbles within

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French clerical reformers and episcopal status

of the good bishop was established? In what ways did chap 2 22/3/04 12:12 pm Page 51 THE MOST PERFECT STATE 51 they use this material to formulate an adapted vision of episcopacy that was designed to respond to the needs of the seventeenth-century French church? In answering these questions, we may begin to appreciate fully the objectives of French clerical reformers and indeed to conceive their impact on the episcopate and, more broadly, on the French church. Just a cursory examination of the extant correspondence of French reformers reveals the web of

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The revolt of democratic Christianity and the rise of public opinion

prohibition of a new intake). The abbey was demolished, its inmates divided and transported to other unsympathetic houses, its graves emptied and the land ploughed to remove all traces of its existence. This sparked a train of events that, over the next fifty or so years, produced bitter divisions and frontal assaults on royal and Roman ‘despotism’. On one side were the episcopate, King and government, and on the other Jansenists, popular support and the Parlement of Paris and other provincial parlements. What interests us here is how the views of reforming clergy and their

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