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  • Law and Conscience: Catholicism in Early Modern England, 1570-1625
  • Gregory D. Dodds
Stefania Tutino . Law and Conscience: Catholicism in Early Modern England, 1570-1625. Catholic Christendom, 1300-1700. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007. xiv + 256 pp. index. bibl. $99.95. ISBN: 978-0-7546-5771-2.

In 1570 the pope excommunicated Elizabeth I. This is the starting point for Stefania Tutino's study of Catholic thought and identity in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. With the excommunication, the Elizabethan settlement could no longer function as intended and the English government had to reassess its approach to Catholics while English Catholics had to ask themselves some difficult questions. Was outright opposition to Elizabeth now required or were there ways to remain both loyal and Catholic? As Tutino illustrates, there was no single answer to such questions, but rather a fluid and evolving diversity of answers that were shaped not only by the shifting realities of Protestant England and the Roman Church, but also by a long Christian history of conflict between temporal and secular authority. This book does not seek to cover the state of the Catholic community in England, but rather is a focused study of the intersection of religious belief, loyalty, and the law. Examining how English Catholics sought to negotiate the jurisdiction of the state and the jurisdiction of the Church of Rome not only elucidates the mental world of English Catholics, but also expands our understanding of the evolving dynamics of English Protestantism. While the book primarily deals with theological concepts and texts, a few historical events shape the conversation, including the excommunication of Elizabeth, the first Jesuit missions to England, the accession of James I, and the Gunpowder Plot.

Central to the book's arguments are the writings of Cardinal Bellarmine and a series of Catholic apologists, especially Nicholas Sander and Robert Persons. Following Elizabeth's excommunication, Sander maintained an uncompromising stance toward the English church even up to the point of encouraging an external invasion. Bellarmine, on the other hand, began to elaborate a theory of Catholic jurisdiction over the conscience, rather than the body. Bellarmine's theories raised the possibility of physical obedience to the English state combined with spiritual loyalty to the Church of Rome. While the first half of the book focuses on the debate begun by the excommunication of Elizabeth, the second half centers on James I's oath of allegiance and the polemical battles that followed. A particularly insightful section suggests that James I was conversant with the implications of [End Page 1371] Bellarmine's position and adjusted the wording of the oath to target the consciences of English Catholics. Tutino carefully analyzes the oath's wording and the ensuing discussion by English Catholics about the oath and its consequences. This book does not provide definitive answers to the theological and political positions of English Catholicism. Tutino has done something far more important: she has opened up a fascinating subject and shown the complexity and multifaceted nature of the ideological struggle for religious identity. Unfortunately, she concludes her study with the death of James I. The issues discussed here certainly had significant ramifications for the reign of Charles I. Perhaps Tutino has a sequel in mind.

Tutino's book builds on the work of John Bossy, Christopher Haigh, Michael Questier, Alexandra Walsham, and others. This book, however, breaks new ground by locating a central ideological component of English Catholicism within the broader context of European Catholicism, both in contemporary and historical senses. Rather than interpreting English Catholicism as either an insular group or as a group that was shaped primarily by its interactions with the English church and state, Tutino demonstrates the international and historical context for English Catholic thought. The work of Peter Lake, Anthony Milton, and Kenneth Fincham, among many others, has significantly revised our understanding of English Protestantism. Tutino provides a corresponding picture of complexity and fluidity within English Catholicism. Just as anti-Catholicism was a "multiform, adaptable theme," so too were Catholic polemical forms. In the end, Tutino makes the argument that "one of the most important reasons for the centrality of the Catholic question in the history of England is that it originated...


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pp. 1371-1372
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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