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The Catholic Historical Review 89.3 (2003) 555-556
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Hatred in Print: Catholic Propaganda and Protestant Identity during the French Wars of Religion. By Luc Racaut. [St Andrews Studies in Reformation History.] (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing. 2002. Pp. xiv, 161. $74.95.)
No one today questions the importance of printing for the success of the Protestant Reformation. Elizabeth Eisenstein's work in the 1970's made the case, and numerous historians since have affirmed her argument. As Luc Racaut points out, however, it is based almost entirely on a "German paradigm," which he argues does not hold for France. He proposes in this brief work, a product of the sixteenth-century French religious book project at St Andrews University, that French Catholics were highly successful in exploiting printing in defense of the traditional faith, and it was a major factor in keeping France Catholic.
Racaut emphasizes that printing in France, centered in Paris, had been from early on associated with such conservative institutions as the University of Paris and the Parlement, while much of French Protestant printing was done outside the realm and brought in. Therefore, the Catholics were in a better position to take advantage of printing for their polemical attacks than the Huguenots, in [End Page 555] part because Calvin was careful not to allow the use of Geneva as a source of polemics against the French crown. In addressing the issue of why the French religious wars were so violent, the author provides a valuable survey of the literature over the past three decades on the question of whether the violence was motivated largely by socio-economic factors or religious concerns. While he comes down on the side of religious motivation, he feels that Denis Crouzet has overemphasized eschatological anguish as an explanation for the religious violence. Racaut explains the Catholic violence against the Huguenots primarily as the result of a process of demonizing them through printed works. The remainder of the book is devoted to analyzing that process largely for the decade before the religious wars erupted in 1562.
The author first devotes a chapter to showing how Catholic printed works had an impact on public discourse despite a high illiteracy rate among the French people. He finds a close connection between the content of books, written mostly by theologians of the Sorbonne, and sermons, which, he allows, were the principal means of influencing the masses. He proposes that the term "propaganda" is appropriate for the content of the polemical works, even if it was directed almost entirely at the Catholic population to keep it loyal to the traditional faith. The Catholic authors used a long tradition of attacks on religious dissenters that dated back to Roman times. The fact that Protestant services were held in secret to avoid detection was turned into accusations of sexual orgies, ritual murder of children, and cannibalism, standard charges against heretics for over a thousand years. Equally common were charges that the Huguenots planned sedition against the king and plotted evil against the Catholic people. Another common theme of the Catholic polemics was inversion: The Huguenots were turning the world upside down, especially by giving a major role to women in religion. Last, Racaut discusses at length the Catholic comparison between the Huguenots and the Albigensians and the call for another crusade against heresy. For each of these Catholic themes, he also provides the Huguenot response. The most effective, he suggests, was the comparison between the martyrs of the early Church and the Huguenot victims of Catholic violence, although that lost some of its power when the Huguenots became involved in rebellion.
Racaut strongly emphasizes that the situation in France was far different from Germany, where the Catholics were constantly on the defensive. He argues that France should be seen as an example of the successful defense of Catholicism, but to some extent he undercuts his case by presenting the Protestant response to Catholic polemic as articulate and effective. Nonetheless, the book, based on a vast number of printed texts, is an...