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  • The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War: Kings, Courts, and Confessors
  • R. Po-chia Hsia
The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War: Kings, Courts, and Confessors. By Robert Bireley. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2003. Pp. xii, 300. $65.00.)

Thanks to the scholarship of Professor Bireley, a Jesuit historian at Loyola University Chicago, we know the important role played by two Jesuit confessors in the politics of the Thirty Years' War. Adam Contzen and William Lamormaini, confessors to Maximilian of Bavaria and Ferdinand II of Austria respectively, exerted significant influence during the earlier phases of the war in shaping a perspective of holy war against heretics. In his newest book, Bireley has built on his expertise in Central Europe to expand the study of Jesuit confessors to the courts of Paris and Madrid. Three questions guide this thorough archival research: first, what influence on policy in the war did Jesuits exercise in France, Spain, Bavaria, and Austria? Second, is it possible to identify a common Jesuit definition of the relationship between religion and politics during the war? And finally, what were the principles and policies of the generals in Rome as they navigated the conflicting interests of Catholic princes and popes?

Based primarily upon the correspondence of the generals in Rome (Vitelleschi and Carafa) with various Jesuit provinces and court confessors, Bireley's study is divided into nine chapters. After an introduction to the structure, constitution, and history of the Company, especially in regard to the service of Jesuits as confessors of princes (a role that St. Ignatius approved), Bireley guides the reader through the intricate history of war and diplomacy in seven chronologically organized chapters before offering a succinct conclusion in Chapter Nine. The general narrative of the war is skillfully employed to frame the specific analysis of Jesuit confessional politics. Bireley introduces each Jesuit confessor, analyzes his role in the respective courts of Vienna, Munich, Paris, and Madrid, follows the balancing acts of the generals in Rome, and evaluates the impact of the advice of conscience in the formulation of princely diplomacy. Some results of this careful scholarship confirm received notions of the Thirty Years' War while others open up a fresh perspective.

In terms of the three general questions formulated by Bireley, Jesuit confessors exercised the greatest influence on policy in Vienna and Munich. Lamormaini and Contzen helped to define a militant stance toward Protestants, especially in the years from White Mountain to the Edict of Restitution. When [End Page 555] the fortunes of war turned against the Catholic cause, they still resisted concessions to Protestants. Jesuit influence in Munich showed a consistency even after the death of the militant Contzen and his replacement by the more moderate Vervaux. Both men advocated the interests of the Catholic Wittelsbach and Catholic estates in the empire over Habsburg interest. In the Viennese case, it is refreshing to learn that Ferdinand II, often characterized as a militant absolutist Catholic prince, showed more political pragmatism than his father confessor. In Paris, French Jesuits expressed a strong Gallicanism, motivated in part by fear of a second expulsion and in part by their complete dependence on the kings and their ministers. Jesuit influence was weakest in Madrid, where other religious orders remained strong and where Spanish policy tended to see the conflict in the Empire as more of a dynastic than a religious conflict.

The second conclusion of the book is the great diversity of opinion amongst Jesuits regarding the war. The picture of a monolithic Society in the seventeenth century is certainly outdated. Bireley's further contribution is to show that even the generals could exercise little restraint over individual Jesuits, who published inflammatory treatises that were politically damaging during the war. In their desire to gratify princely patrons and safeguard the conditions for Jesuit ministry, Vitelleschi pursued a policy that ran contrary to expressed papal diplomacy and reflected the complexities of individual conscience during the European war of religion.

R. Po-chia Hsia
Pennsylvania State University


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pp. 555-556
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