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The Catholic Historical Review 90.1 (2004) 135-136
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The Eagle and the Cross: Jesuits in Late Baroque Prague. By Paul Shore. [No. 16 in Series 3: Original Studies Composed in English.] (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources. 2002. Pp. xiii, 267. $22.95 paperback.)
It is a difficult task to study the old Society of Jesus in early modern Bohemia. Relatively few records of the mid-eighteenth century are extant in the Historical Archives of the Jesuits in Rome, and the archive of the former Bohemia Province is scattered today in several holdings in Prague and Vienna. Moreover, Czech historians have not generally looked kindly on the Society, identifying it with repressive Habsburg rule and the suppression of Czech language and culture after the Battle of White Mountain. Anyone who approaches the task needs a good command of Latin, German, and Czech, as well as a good knowledge of the general history of the Society. For these reasons, Shore has restricted his investigation to the last three decades of the old society in Prague.
This informative and competently researched study is divided into eight chapters. An introductory chapter discusses the limitations of the highly formalistic Jesuit sources, especially the Annual Letters (a point repeated several times in later chapters), and outlines the themes to be followed in the book. Chapter Two, entitled "From Victory to Crisis (1556-1765)," gives a sketch of the history of the Society in Counter-Reformation Bohemia, and emphasizes the privileged position the Jesuits enjoyed in consolidating Habsburg rule and Tridentine Catholicism in an erstwhile Hussite and Protestant country. A subsequent chapter surveys the literature on the Baroque and offers interesting and insightful discussion of Baroque mentality and culture, with its many contradictions and tensions. The next four chapters arrange material gleaned from the author's diligent perusal of Jesuit sources and group the large amount of information into four themes: missionary and religious work (Chapter Four), relationship with Jews (Chapter Five), the education endeavor of the Jesuits (Chapter Six), and individual biographies of leading Prague Jesuits (Chapter [End Page 135] Seven). A final chapter traces the fortunes of individual members after the dissolution of the Society and offers reflections on the character of the pre-suppression Order. Three appendices on names, monetary units, and the coadjutores temporales round up this informative study.
Students of Czech and Catholic history will find rich details in this impressive work. While many features of the Bohemian Jesuits echo familiar themes in Jesuit history—the tension between adhesion to an elitist estate society and popular mission, the contradiction between scientific work and repression of 'superstitious' and Protestant ideas, etc.—three points, it seems to me, are original to the Bohemian experience. First, the proximity of one of the largest Jewish communities in Catholic Europe preoccupied the Society in Prague, and Shore has found fascinating material on conversion and polemics. Second, the tension between a universal culture (Catholic-Latin and Habsburg-German) and particularist identity (Bohemian-Czech) is highlighted in many places in this book, and paints a picture far more complicated than the simplistic contradistinction between German-Habsburg Catholic repression and Czech-nationalist liberal emancipation in the established historiography. And finally, the Bohemian province, together with the two Belgian provinces, were among the most productive Jesuit provinces in supplying missionaries for overseas missions. While Shore touches on this theme, one wishes for a closer analysis between the enumeration of Bohemian Jesuits abroad and the domestic religious dynamics at home.
A good study is one that inspires as many questions as it answers. The reader may want to know more about the overall strength, the economy, and the social background of Bohemian Jesuits; at times, one longs for a thicker historical-contextual analysis rather than the thematic-formalistic depiction that is offered in the book. While the sole reliance on Jesuit sources gives a deeper profile to the Jesuits, the absence of other contemporary sources render Prague and Bohemia more like stages upon which the fathers performed their multifaceted roles. To harp on this...