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  • La révolution des paroisses: Culture paroissiale et Réforme Catholique en Haute-Bretagne aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles
  • Megan Armstrong
La révolution des paroisses: Culture paroissiale et Réforme Catholique en Haute-Bretagne aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles. By Bruno Restif. [Collection «Histoire»] (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes. 2006. Pp. 415. €24,00 paperback.)

At first glance Restif's book looks much like the many other well-researched regional studies that have emerged over the last two decades from French presses. It is a close examination of parochial religious life and religious institutions in the region of Haute-Bretagne during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Divided into three parts, La révolution des paroisses looks exhaustively at a wide array of documents including ecclesiastical records (episcopal and parochial), art and architecture, and con-temporary printed texts.The three parts cover, respectively, the institutional and cultural character of religious life in Haute-Bretagne during the sixteenth century (part 1), efforts at reform by sixteenth-century Catholic authorities and devout laity (part 2), and the emergence of a distinct interpretation of early modern Catholicism in the parishes of the region (part 3). What sets apart Restif's book, to my mind, is its complex portrayal of the multilayered and multidirectional nature of reform in the early modern parish. Aware that church reform began much earlier, Restif nevertheless argues that it was during the sixteenth century that we first find the full arsenal of medieval reform tactics effectively deployed. Restif is unwilling to attribute French parochial reform wholly to the Council of Trent (1545–63). As he rightly points out, Tridentine reform did not embrace all Catholic reforming currents. In this regard, Restif is in agreement with the recent work of Alain Tallon and Barbara Diefendorf, among others, that make a case for a distinctly French brand of spiritual life throughout the Early Modern period.

Restif says that his book reverses the traditional trend of top-down studies of parochial reform to better understand the character of the Catholic Church by the seventeenth century, though this is a bit of an overstatement. Much of the recent scholarship on lay piety has done the same, not to mention the regional studies of Phillip Hoffman and Keith Luria to name two. I also find the emphasis upon the seventeenth century as a period of "Christianization" somewhat dated, even when used specifically to discuss missions. This was certainly the view of some of the reformers of the time, in particular the Protestants and certain humanists, but is this a fair assessment of the views of the missionaries and the parochial clergy? Did they truly believe that the men and women of Haute-Bretagne were not "Christian," even though the majority in this region were practicing Catholics? The rhetoric of Catholic reform tended to steer clear of any such bold statement, instead discussing the need for better spiritual education and spiritual rejuvenation, for cleric and laity alike. On the topic of terminology, I am also not convinced that the "révolution" cited in the title accurately characterizes the reforming impulses coursing through the parishes of early modern Haute-Btretagne. [End Page 376]

These quibbles aside, Restif's book paints a detailed, layered portrait of Catholic reform in action.True, it would be nice had Restif been able to devote more time to the discussion of specific personalities and/or devotional practices. However, this is a broadly conceived study.What gives it particular richness is Restif's portrayal of parochial reform as something ultimately negotiated by the clerics in interaction with one another, and also in interaction with their parishioners. Lay dévots played a critical role in disseminating reform by funding missions, organizing confraternities, rebuilding and decorating churches, and in general supporting the work of their clergy.Episcopal canons, with and even without the energetic support of their bishops, set about imposing more rigorous standards of behavior and education upon parochial clergy, as well as uniform liturgical practices.The parochial clergy, along with the missionizing orders, mediated the absorption of these reform decrees within their own constituency. Restif's study consequently illuminates reform that is actively shaping the base of the...


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