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Reviewed by:
  • Jesuitische Missionierung, Priesterliche Liebe, Sakramentale Magie: Volkskulturen in Luzern 1563-1614
  • Maria R. Boes
Dominik Sieber . Jesuitische Missionierung, Priesterliche Liebe, Sakramentale Magie: Volkskulturen in Luzern 1563-1614. Luzerner Historische Veröffentlichungen 40. Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 2005. 298 pp. index. append. illus. tbls. bibl. €33.50. ISBN: 3-7965-2087-1.

This impressively researched, extremely well-presented, and beautifully published book depicts three major post-Tridentine developments in the Swiss town of Lucern: the arrival of Jesuits, their missionary methods, and resistance on the part of local priests against strict celibacy enforcement.

Proceeding from an assessment of Lucern's governing elite, whose economic outlooks seemed to have been connected to, if not driven by, religious Catholic policies — after all, the town's fiscal health depended on its exportation of mercenary forces especially to the Roman curia — the author cogently entitles the second chapter, "Eine Kriegsstadt frommer Frauen," a war town of pious women (34). Yet despite this keen observation of gender-imbalance, Sieber does not follow up on his own leitmotif. There are few references to how the post-Tridentine policies affected the majority of Lucern's inhabitants: women. In fact, while listing the enclosure of nuns as one of the major Tridentine objectives, followed by the reform of the clergy, he argues that the latter is of most interest since it provoked heavy resistance on the part of the priests. But so did the intended enclosure of nuns (see Ulrike Strasser's recent work for the nearby town of Munich, State of Virginity: Gender, Religion, and Politics in an Early Modern Catholic State [2004]).

The author excels in his analysis of Jesuit missionary methods. Backed by an array of primary sources and an impressive command of secondary literature, he points to a new thesis in evaluating their efforts, namely "Akkommodation," rather than presenting yet another one-sided indoctrination-from-above interpretation. Regular confessions are cited as the cornerstone of the Jesuits' plan for success. Sieber skillfully analyzes the way in which the Jesuits propagated frequent individual confessions: namely, by demonstrating, in addition to their religious benefit, tangible worldly objectives. Confessions, while dealing with religious aspirations, also addressed general human concerns and served to obliterate physical sufferings of all kinds. Thus the Jesuits popularized confession for the double purpose of soul-cleansing and medicinal healing. It became a "Wundermittel," a miracle cure (121). And so, apparently, did the Jesuits' widespread application of blessed religious objects. The Capuchins, who followed the Jesuits in their missionary objectives in Lucern and in the surrounding areas, went even further by extending their religious blessings to cure sick animals.

Sieber argues convincingly that neither the Jesuits nor the Capuchins invented [End Page 1238] these religious healing procedures. Instead, they lifted them out of contemporary popular healing practices and fused them into their religious core in order to entice people to come to confession and, consequently, obtain religious conformity. And this is the core of the author's thesis: the Jesuits' accommodation to local cultures.

While Sieber refreshingly points to a new direction in assessing local Jesuit missionary methods, he unfortunately downplays some of his own caveats. First, he never elaborates further on his statement that "open reaction to Jesuits would quickly lead to imprisonment" (73-74). Second, he does not fully analyze the danger to those lay people who had been practicing such healing acts long before the arrival of the padres. They were now perceived as criminal competitors and punished severely — sometimes even losing their lives. Unanswered, thus, looms the larger question: does the abrogation of traditional popular healing methods by a dominant religious clergy, to the detriment of its former practitioners, constitute an act of exploitation and an ethical misstep?

Maria R. Boes
West Chester University
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0236
Print ISSN
0034-4338
Pages
pp. 1238-1239
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-27
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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