Confessional Polemics talk

My talk on “Uses of History in Confessional Polemics between Protestants and Catholics, c. 1500-1675” took place on 24 October 2016.

European History Seminar, 1500-1800. Past and Present Room, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London.



Reception of the Church Fathers: Conference report



The Reception of the Church Fathers and Early Church Historians, c. 1470-1650

Conference Organizers: Andreas Ammann, Bern; Sam Kennerley, Cambridge; Kirsten Macfarlane, Oxford.

On 23 September 2016, (lay) historians and literary scholars assembled at Trinity College, Cambridge, to reflect on “The Reception of the Church Fathers and Early Church Historians, c. 1470-1650”. One of their principal aims was to ponder what impact these earlier Christian sources had on the development of the early modern sense of the Christian past. Today’s scholarship investigating this reception comes in many forms. Andrew Taylor (Cambridge) paid very close philological attention to how Philo was read and edited in the 1550s. Richard Serjeantson (Cambridge) underlined (with reference to Arnaldo Momigliano) that scholars have only recently recognized that the foundations of historical scholarship were laid by church historians. He tracked the great controversy from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries about the place and the time of Emperor Constantine’s baptism, discussing the views of Bartolomeo Platina (d. 1481), Johannes Löwenklau (d. 1594) and Jean Morin (d. 1659). Anthony Grafton (Princeton) also quoted Momigliano as he had been “spot-on” in pointing out the importance of Eusebius for early modern scholars in the 1960s. In his talk, Grafton followed the “twists and turns” of the Eusebian revival in the Renaissance and Reformation. Eusebius’s inclusion of original documents in his Church History had paved the way for the documentary method of sixteenth-century scholars. Grafton told the story of how Eusebius inspired such diverse figures such as Paul of Middelburg (d. 1534), Guillaume Budé (d. 1540), Thomas Cranmer (d. 1556) and John Foxe (d. 1587). Eusebius’s practice of working with assistants might have inspired the team-work project of the Magdeburg Centuries. Cristina Dondi (Oxford) presented her data-based project “The Fifteenth-Century Book Trade”, which allows scholars to retrace the distribution of incunables across the world. Material evidence (bindings, signatures, marginalia etc.) is used to identify the movements of early printed books. Madeline McMahon (Princeton) explained how Desiderius Erasmus (d. 1536) elevated the reception of a church father to a new level by fashioning an image of himself based on Jerome; this was, in turn, a Jerome based on his own image. Erasmus’s editing became a “form of theology”. In his Defence of the Apology, John Jewel (d. 1571), on the other hand, pointed out the weaknesses of church fathers. Many humanists had seen the fathers as both authoritative and fallible, so McMahon also offered insights into how fifteenth-century humanists studied the church fathers in discerning fashion. Poggio Bracciolini (d. 1459), for example, juxtaposed church fathers such as Augustine and Jerome, recognizing how they had differed in their opinions on numerous points. Alex Wright (Cambridge) concentrated on William Cave’s Primitive Christianity: or, the Religion of the Ancient Christians in the First Ages of the Gospel. Cave (d. 1713) studied the genre of commendatory letters and was the first English scholar to write a literary history of the Church. Sam Kennerley (Cambridge) traced an aspect of a “change in direction” of early modern Catholicism by exploring how patristic studies were extended to the East. This outreach was supported by Marcello Cervini (Pope Marcellus II, d. 1555). Sundar Henny (Bern) dealt with presentism in seventeenth-century patristics in Zurich, while Cornel Zwierlein (Bochum) investigated Non-juror patristic studies and the Levant. Mark Vessey (Vancouver) reviewed aspects of Erasmus’s method as found in his Ratio seu compendium verae theologiae (1518/19). In a thought-provoking talk, Nicholas Hardy (Cambridge) examined how political circumstances, patronage as well as the disciplinary conventions of controversial theology conditioned the writings of Isaac Casaubon (d. 1614). Such influences made Casaubon, like other humanists, a flexible and inconstant figure, to whom even the term “scholar” in the strictest modern sense should perhaps not be applied. Jean-Louis Quantin (Paris) gave the keynote lecture to conclude the conference. His overview of the geography of patristic printing was a history of patristic studies in disguise. He recounted how Venetian publishing became increasingly disconnected from patristic scholarship and how Paris printers then ascended to market dominance. Was it beneficial for patristic studies, however, that only one order (the Maurists) came to monopolize this field so strongly? Or did this very monopoly contribute to a slowdown of patristic studies from the eighteenth century onwards? Quantin left this interesting question open.

In conclusion, one could not have wished for much more from this high-powered short conference, both in terms of variety and intellectual stimulation; perhaps only the participation of theologians might have added more viewpoints. After the end of the conference, a book-launch followed to celebrate the new volume edited by Scott Mandelbrote and Joanna Weinberg, Jewish Books and their Readers (Leiden, 2016). The book was presented by Thomas Roebuck (University of East Anglia).


Conference Overview:

Panel 1. Chair: Andreas Ammann (University of Bern)

Andrew Taylor (Churchill College, Cambridge): Reading Philo in the 1550s

Richard Serjeantson (Trinity College, Cambridge): Reborn in Rome? The baptism of Constantine and the writing of church history, 1475-1650

Anthony Grafton (Princeton): The reception of Eusebius as a church historian

Panel 2. Chair: Emily Michelson (University of St Andrews)

Cristina Dondi (Lincoln College, Oxford): The circulation of the early editions of the fathers: an evidence-based approach

Madeline McMahon (Princeton): Feuding Fathers: John Jewel reads Jerome on the Origenist Controversy

Alex Wright (Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge): ‘Letters and Learning’. William Cave’s ‘Primitive Christianity’ (1673) and the early modern study of ‘literae commendaticiae’

Panel 3. Chair: John-Paul Ghobrial (Balliol College, Oxford)

Sam Kennerley (Trinity College, Cambridge): The globalisation of patristics in the circle of Marcello Cervini

Sundar Henny (Universität Bern): Presentism in Seventeenth-Century Patristics

Cornel Zwierlein (Ruhr-Universität Bochum): Non-Juror Patristic studies and the Levant

Panel 4. Chair: Joanna Weinberg (University of Oxford)

Mark Vessey (University of British Columbia): The renaissance of late antiquity in Erasmus’ ‘Ratio seu compendium verae theologiae’ (1518/19)

Nicholas Hardy (Trinity College, Cambridge): Isaac Casaubon, the fathers, and post-Reformation theological controversy

Keynote lecture. Respondent: Scott Mandelbrote (Peterhouse, Cambridge)

Jean-Louis Quantin (École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sorbonne, Paris): A European geography of patristic scholarship, sixteenth to the seventeenth- century

This conference report has now also been published on H-Net (H-Soz-Kult). Click here.


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.

Islam, the Turks and the Making of the English Reformation

I would like to draw attention to a new book. John Foxe wrote the first English history of the Ottoman Empire in his magnum opus, The Acts and Monuments (1570). He exceeded contemporary representations in his extremely negative image of Islam and the «Turks,» who were identified as Antichrist and the epitome of wickedness.By juxtaposing Foxe’s work with that of his sources, fascinating conclusions can be drawn. The author analyzes the factors prompting Foxe to insert a lengthy digression on a topic that does not directly concern the main theme of his ecclesiastical history, shedding new light on the established notions of his historiographic methodology and his perception of Catholicism as the greatest enemy of «true religion».

Toenjes, Christopher: Islam, the Turks and the Making of the English Reformation.The History of the Ottoman Empire in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016).

Inside Dee’s Miraculous Mind

In three evening lectures at the Royal College of Physicians, Deborah Harkness, Katie Birkwood, and Bill Sherman explored the world of Tudor polymath John Dee (1527–1609). Harkness gave fascinating insights into Dee’s conversations with angels, his search for Truth (with a capital T) and his great imagination, which made him go beyond the knowledge contained in his own book collection (even though he possessed the largest library in England at the time, consisting of 4,000 volumes). Birkwood gave the audience an idea of how many decisions go into creating a book exhibition, from the choice of books to their physical presentation. Sherman went “Back to the Future” with John Dee, showing a scene from Derek Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee, which jumps back and forth between the time of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II. This led Sherman to reflect on some markers of modernity put down by Dee that were recognized as such only much later. The audience members joined the conversation with numerous questions on topics ranging from alchemy to Greek philosophy; in fact, their curiosity exceeded the time allotted for the discussion.

2 3 4 5 Polymath

Venue: Royal College of Physician, London

‘The Renaissance library and the worldview of John Dee’, Deborah Harkness, professor of history, University of Southern California

‘Curating Dee: behind the scenes of ‘Scholar, courtier, magician’’, Katie Birkwood, RCP rare books and special collections librarian

‘Back to the future with John Dee’, Bill Sherman, head of research, Victoria & Albert Museum

‘In conversation’, followed by exhibition viewing

Matthew Parker: Origin Stories for Ecclesiastical Policy

Parker portrait

As the subtitle of a recent conference in Cambridge succinctly states, Matthew Parker (1504–1575) was an ‘archbishop, scholar and collector’. As archbishop of Canterbury, Parker was expected by Queen Elizabeth to make Protestant reform irrevocable in England. One of his key achievements in this capacity was editing the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1563, which officially defined the beliefs of the English Church. These articles made it clear that the king or queen of England was also the head of the Church and that the authority of the pope was not to be recognised; they also stated that the Bible and religious services could be in English.

Since ecclesiastical reform in England had not yet been fully established and accepted by the population, Parker looked for examples from history to justify the independence of the English Church. He set in motion a research project which resulted in a collection of over 450 medieval manuscripts, including ‘many (if not most) of the oldest of all books in English history’ (see Christopher de Hamel, The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College Cambridge, London 2010, p. 9). Many of these manuscripts came from monasteries which had been suppressed under Henry VIII from around 1540 and, particularly, from cathedral priories where important libraries had been preserved. These manuscripts provided proof that the ecclesiastical policy under Elizabeth was legitimate. The oldest complete copy of the Gospels in the West Saxon dialect of Old English (MS 140), for example, proved that the vernacular was used for Bible translations before the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Thus English had traditionally been an integral part of religious life. Parker also put together a rich collection of chronicles with the aim of documenting the unbroken continuity of the English Church from the early Middle Ages onwards. Parker, it seems, was convinced that religious autonomy was taken away in 1066 when England became an outpost of Europe and that the country had previously preserved the truest form of Christianity (de Hamel, pp. 9, 15). As Parker’s contemporary John Foxe stated, Parker’s book collection showed that ‘religion presently … is no new reformation of thinges … but rather a reduction of the Church to the pristine state of olde conformitie’ (Gospels of the Fower Evangelistes, 1571, sig. ¶iir; see also David Crankshaw and Alexandra Gillespie, ‘Parker, Matthew’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Madeline McMahon expressed this idea beautifully in her paper by saying that it was Parker’s aim to supply ‘origin stories for the English episcopacy’.

Parker’s relationship with German Protestantism was influenced by Martin Bucer (d. 1551), who became Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge in 1549 and was involved in the revision of the Book of Common Prayer (this was explained well in Brian Cumming’s paper). But it was a letter from Matthias Flacius, forwarded to Parker in 1560, which arguably gave a strong stimulus to his research and collecting – or, as Anthony Grafton put it, ‘transformed his life’. Flacius had requested material on English history for his own collaborative project, the Magdeburg Centuries, in which a large-scale Protestant version of ecclesiastical history was produced. This new kind of history was essentially based on manuscript research. In Flacius’s case, a team of about 15 scholars was involved. Grafton (going beyond the article by Norman Jones, ‘Matthew Parker, John Bale, and the Magdeburg Centuriators’, Sixteenth Century Journal, 1981), found similarities and differences between Flacius’s and Parker’s teams. Both teams recognised the importance of historical arguments for present-day theology. Both Parker and Flacius used a characteristic red crayon or pencil to mark manuscripts. The English team, however, was much smaller, i.e. only about three persons were involved, notably John Joscelin and Stephen Batman (Simon Horobin presented an in-depth paper about the latter). According to Grafton, the Magdeburg team was highly systematic, whereas Parker’s team, lacking  manpower, followed the rule of improvisation. Paul Nelles, in his talk, confirmed that our knowledge about Parker’s team and how they organised their work is very limited.

Parker not only collected manuscripts but was also responsible for publications and editions. Most famous among these are his De antiquitate Britannicae ecclesiae of 1572 (tracing the fortunes of the Church in Britain from late antiquity onwards) as well as his edition of the Bishop’s Bible (1568). This Bible was, as Scott Mandelbrote reminded us, subjected to constant revision. Debora Shuger in her talk concentrated on the paratexts in this Bible and found that Parker’s own religious position is difficult to pin down. In some respects, he seems to have broken with Reformed readings of the Bible; Shuger questioned, in conclusion, whether Elizabethans thought of their own religiosity in confessional terms at all.

Apart from in David Crankshaw’s opening paper, Parker’s functions as a religious administrator and leader were only lightly touched upon during this conference; one wonders if a more thorough investigation of these roles might add to our understanding of his activity as a scholar and collector.

Stefan Bauer, University of York


Matthew Parker: Archbishop, Scholar and Collector. A conference on collaborative scholarship, the retrieval of the past and the cultures of the book in sixteenth-century England. Organised by Anthony Grafton, Scott Mandelbrote and Bill Sherman. Parker Library, Corpus Christi College/CRASSH, University of Cambridge, 17-19 March 2016.


  1. 00 am Welcome and introduction: Tony Grafton, Scott Mandelbrote, Bill Sherman

10.15 am David Crankshaw (King’s, London): “A Man of Stomach”: Matthew Parker’s Reputation


Thomas Roebuck (UEA): Matthew Parker and Anglo-Latin Historiography

Elizabeth Evenden (Brunel): Matthew Parker and Arthurian Romance in Early Modern Europe


Scott Mandelbrote: Parker and the Bible

Brian Cummings (York): Parker, Bucer, and the Book of Common Prayer

5.00 pm PLENARY (CRASSH): Matthew Parker, Sacred Geography and the British Past (Alexandra Walsham, Cambridge)



Stefan Bauer (York), Chair

Maddy McMahon (Princeton): Parker and Ecclesiastical History

Anthony Grafton (Princeton): Parker and Flacius


Paul Nelles (Carleton): Parker as Collector: The View from the Continent

Simon Horobin (Oxford): Batman and his Associates

Mirjam Foot: Matthew Parker and the Bookbinders of his Time


Bill Sherman (V&A/York): In the Margins of Parker

Alexandra Gillespie (Toronto): Digital Approaches to Parker

Jeffrey Todd Knight (Washington): Parker and the Working Copy

With a presentation of the digital project on Parker’s printed books by Andrew Dunning (BL) and Alexandra Gillespie

5.00 pm PLENARY (CRASSH): Matthew Parker and the Church of England (Debora Shuger, UCLA)


9.30 am PLENARY (CRASSH): Matthew Parker’s Scholarship (James Carley (Toronto/ Kent)


Kathryn James (Yale): Parker in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Lori Anne Ferrell (Claremont): How the Parker Society Got its Name

12- 1 pm Roundtable on Parkerian Legacies: Confirmed speakers include: Elisabeth Leedham-Green (Cambridge); Stephen Archer (Cambridge); Arnold Hunt (London). David McKitterick to chair.