Panel report: Catholic Historiography and Confessionalization

The Sixteenth Century Society and Conference (SCSC) promotes scholarship on the early modern era, broadly defined (ca. 1450 – ca. 1660). This year’s Conference took place in Bruges, Belgium (18-20 August 2016). The History & Theology Project organized a papel entitled ‘Catholic Historiography and Confessionalization’ (Sponsor: Ecclesiastical History Society; Organizer: Stefan Bauer). The panel was chaired by Simon Ditchfield (York).

In his paper, Boris Hogenmüller (Würzburg) dealt with ‘The authority of history in Melchior Cano’s De locis theologicis (On Theological ‘Places’)’. The great work of the Spanish theologian Cano (1506/9–1560) probably represents the first modern treatise on fundamental theology. Its intention was to present theologians with a rich supply of ‘places’ (loci), from which they could extract arguments in order to win discussions with pagans and heretics. Besides theology’s own ‘places’ (loci proprii) – such as the authority of Scripture – ‘other places’ (loci alieni) are provided as special sources of arguments. Among them, the authority of (secular) history occupies a central position. As a theologian, Cano used classical historiography (especially the writings of pagan historians such as Tacitus and Sallust) for argumentative support, especially in disputes with ‘heretics’ (that is, members of other confessions). He subordinated the historical assertions of the classical authors to the intentions of the loci. For theologians, according to Cano, these assertions were equally binding just as arguments from Holy Scripture or decisions of the General Church Councils. For this reason, profane history – as a locus alienus of theology – should not be assigned less authority than, for example, the apostolic tradition.

Stefan Bauer (York) discussed the ‘Limits of confessionalization in mid-sixteenth century Rome’. A central tenet of the theory of confessionalization – namely that religion and the State were closely interconnected in the development of modernity – played out in Catholic historiography in several ways. Works on ecclesiastical history were shaped by the necessity to justify the traditions of the Catholic Church. They were also informed by expectations of doctrinal correctness and conditioned by thought control. It was shown that the historian Onofrio Panvinio (1530-68) was able to maintain an idiosyncratic position in this emergent process of the confessionalization of historiography.

The paper by Andreea Badea (Rome) was entitled ‘Staging the Papacy: The meaning of historical factuality in Alfonso Chacón’s Vitae et gesta summorum pontificum’. How could the papacy be defended, in historical writing, against attacks from inside and outside the Church? An antiquarian might reply: “by writing a detailed history of the popes” — but such a work would only defend Catholicism as a confessional entity. In order to clear up inner-Catholic divergences, the Spanish antiquarian in Rome Alfonso Chacón (1530-99) decided to expand the chronological material which he had collected concerning the Curia as an institution. In his Vitae et gesta he documented not only the lives of the popes but also the institutional evolution of the court. This paper showed how this antiquarian shaped a confessional identity and reinforced the central role of the papacy by focusing on the Curia as an everlasting sacral complex.

Information on the panel participants:

Dr Boris Hogenmüller studied Classics and History; PhD, University of Würzburg 2008; Lecturer in Classics at the University of Würzburg and Gymnasium teacher in Hanau. Research interests: Ancient philosophy; Greek and Roman satire; Roman love poetry; Neolatin literature (16th century). Publications include: ‘Die “impii”: Melchior Canos Auseinandersetzung mit den Reformatoren in De locis theologicis“, Theologie und Philosophie 85 (2010), pp. 501-12; ‘Über die Orte der Theologie (De locis theologicis): Melchior Cano, Gaspard Juenin und Hieronymus Buzi im Vergleich‘, Würzburger Jahrbücher für Altertumswissenschaften 36 (2012) 169-84; ‘Eine bisher unerkannte Juvenalstelle in Melchior Canos De locis theologicis‘, Philologus 158 (2014), pp. 320-30.

Dr Andreea Badea,  PhD in History (2007), Bayreuth University, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute in Rome. She entered academia as a Lecturer at Bayreuth University until 2008. From 2008 to 2012, she moved on to the University of Münster as a researcher at the DFG-Project “Römische Inquisition und Indexkongregation in der Neuzeit”. She publishes on the entanglement of learned culture, historiographical practice, and Roman politics in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Dr Stefan Bauer, MA (Aachen), MA and PhD (Warburg Institute), is a Research Fellow in early modern history. He currently holds a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship at the University of York, UK, working on a project entitled “History and Theology: the Creation of Disinterested Scholarship from Dogmatic Stalemate (ca. 1525-1675)”. His special interests lie in the history of historiography as well Reformation and Counter Reformation Europe. Monographs: The Censorship and Fortuna of Platina’s Lives of the Popes in the Sixteenth Century, Turnhout, Brepols, 2006; Polisbild und Demokratieverständnis in Jacob Burckhardts Griechischer Kulturgeschichte, Basel & Munich, Schwabe & C.H. Beck, 2001.

A complete programme of the conference can be downloaded by clicking here: SCSC 2016.

Catholic Historiography and Confessionalization

Pleased to announce our panel “Catholic Historiography and Confessionalization” at SCSC Bruges, Fri 19 Aug 8.30am:


The Sixteenth Century Society and Conference (SCSC) promotes scholarship on the early modern era, broadly defined (ca. 1450 – ca. 1660).

For the full conference programme please click here.