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The Catholic Historical Review 89.2 (2003) 299-300

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Religious Authority in the Spanish Renaissance. By Lu Ann Homza. [The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, 118th Series.] (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2000. Pp. xxv, 312. $39.95.)

Lu Ann Homza's Religious Authority in the Spanish Renaissance will change the way historians have customarily interpreted Spanish religious culture in the first half of the sixteenth century. Not all readers will agree with her conclusions, but they will be hard-pressed to think about the intellectual currents of this era in the same way after having read this important new work. Homza effectively challenges traditional interpretations of scholasticism, humanism, and clerical authority in Renaissance Spain.

She frames each chapter as a revelation. According to her, things are never quite what the prevailing scholarship would have us believe. Homza effectively [End Page 299] argues, for example, that Juan de Vergara, often presented as the embodiment of Spanish humanism, was a more complex figure who borrowed heavily from scholastic methods and interpretation and did not divide his intellectual arsenal into carefully delineated compartments. By challenging the notion that humanism and scholasticism were mutually exclusive, Homza tackles head on the long historiographical shadow cast by Marcel Bataillon. Bataillon read Spain's ultimate rejection of Erasmian humanism as a step backwards and characterized much of the period after the 1530's as repressive and intolerant. Homza offers instead a less judgmental and rigid portrait of Spain's religious culture. Spanish intellectuals melded old traditions and new trends. Authors like Vergara may lose their status as paragons in the process, but they become more engaging as Homza traces their "energy and ingenuity" (p. 210).

In a similar fashion, she reinterprets the question of clerical authority in Spain. By looking at texts like confessors' manuals, Homza posits a more subtle image of Spanish clerics in this period. In her hands, they emerge as gentler, pragmatic individuals whose goals were not always stifling dissent and asserting their supremacy over the laity. Rather, she suggests, they were quite sympathetic to the needs of their flock and also quite willing to admit their own faults and shortcomings.

Although it is a critique that Homza acknowledges in her Epilogue, the only potential shortcoming of the book is her primary focus on the first half of the sixteenth century (though her texts range as far as 1570). Particularly since she intends to overturn the received wisdom about the repression and hegemony of the clergy, this is a limitation. The portrait of a clergy obsessed with establishing its authority over the laity owes much to post-Tridentine developments. In her defense, however, Homza rightly argues that if the first half of the sixteenth century is more nuanced than we would have expected, then the second half might be as well. It remains for future scholars to assess the validity of her assertion.

Some will be unsettled by Homza's work. Her attacks on the scholarship that has come before are unflinching. At the same time, however, her meticulous and engaging scholarship balances and even necessitates her sharp critiques. She ably confronts a range of sources with vexing methodological implications. Her prose is clear and her arguments persuasive. Overall, her work is a welcome breath of fresh air that will undoubtedly reopen old questions. Certainly, historians of Spain should read this work, but her book deserves a wider readership as well. The challenges she poses to questions of periodization and categorization should be a model for future studies of the religious, cultural, and intellectual currents of sixteenth-century Europe.


Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt
Cleveland State University



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