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  • Converting Bohemia: Force and Persuasion in the Catholic Reformation
  • Marie-Elizabeth Ducreux
Converting Bohemia: Force and Persuasion in the Catholic Reformation. By Howard Louthan. [New Studies in European History.] (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009. Pp. xiv, 351. $120.00. ISBN 978-0-521-88929-2.)

Converting the Czech lands to Catholicism after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 presented a major challenge to Ferdinand II, emperor and king of Bohemia, to the Bohemian Church and the Roman Curia. It was also a long-term undertaking—which can be regarded as persisting, with changing forms, of course—until the Edict of Toleration, issued by Emperor Joseph II in 1781. As both a political and religious process, the recatholicization was the subject of much discussion and polemic in Czech historiography, and these discourses have undoubtedly played a decisive part in forming "modern" Czech national identity in the late-nineteenth century and in the first half of the twentieth. Howard Louthan offers the English-speaking reader an ambitious undertaking together with a rich and dense reading. As he says from the outset, he did not want to write a history of the Czech lands between 1620 and 1781 but, rather, aimed to provide an interpretation of the confessional change and the creation of a new Catholic identity. According to Louthan, Bohemian and Moravian cases offer a unique opportunity for examining the problem of the Counter-Reformation in the broader field of early-modern history on the Catholic Reformation. Second, he argues, that the re-establishment of the Catholic Church was "less a product of violence and force than of negotiation and persuasion" (n.p.). The point is difficult to prove with certainty, and Louthan's conclusion gives place again to force. Each chapter may then be viewed not only as a step moving those main arguments forward but also as an entry in itself, which merits a more comprehensive discussion that that allowed in the context of a brief review. Louthan is aware that "for the great majority of the Bohemian populace, the Catholicism they were expected to observe demanded right actions and appearances" and that it was "orthopraxy, rather than orthodoxy" (p. 8). However, the book is more a study of [End Page 821] intellectual history than a history of social religious practices and behavior. Politics are discussed only in chapters 1 and 4 and the conclusion.

At first, Louthan addresses the non-Catholic situation prevailing in the Czech lands until 1620, resulting from the lingering effects of former Hussitism with its two major sixteenth-century offshoots, Utraquism and the Bohemian Brethren. He discusses what is now one of the most delicate points in Czech religious history: the doctrinal nature of Utraquism and its relationship both to Catholicism and to Lutheranism at the time of the Battle of White Mountain. He then describes the sometimes conflicting situation existing between the Society of Jesus and other Catholic religious orders, institutions, and individuals and enlarges on what he calls, with true insight and exactitude, antiquarianism. He successively considers an impressive number of printed texts—catechisms, sermons, songbooks, and translations of the Bible—passing on relics in translation, education, pilgrimage, and missions and ending with the "making" of St. John Nepomucene and the attempts to convert the Jews of Prague through the famous story of Simon Abeles, a murdered young boy.

Converting Bohemia is unquestionably the result of a very thoughtful analysis. It is brilliantly written with a number of well-chosen ideas and fine remarks. Yet the author wrote it for a broader audience, and sometimes it proves difficult to mesh his scholarly accuracy with more general assertions, which aim to reintegrate the Bohemian case both in the wider European context and in recent historical paradigms. At times, this approach, which combines a larger assertive narrative with an impressive number of details, may not always win support nor lead in a well-substantiated direction, as, for instance, when deducing a successfully constructed Catholic identity in the populace as an effect of manifold antiquarian prints, which, however, were mostly published in Latin. The poet and musician Adam Michna of Otradovice seems to have composed his hymnals for Marian congregations rather than...


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