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The Catholic Historical Review 90.1 (2004) 117-119
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Reform before the Reformation. Vincenzo Querini and the Religious Renaissance in Italy. By Stephen D. Bowd [Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought, Volume LXXXVII.] (Leiden: Brill. 2002. Pp. xvi, 267. €74; US $86.00.)
When one thinks of reform in a sixteenth-century religious context, in most cases Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Protestant reformers come to mind. Stephen D. Bowd in this well-written, well-researched, thoughtful book has presented the question of reform in a different context: Catholic reform that preceded Luther, Calvin, Münster, and Zwingli. The works of John O'Malley, John C. Olin, Elisabeth Gleason as well as Paolo Simoncelli, Massimo Firpo, Silvana Seidel-Menchi, Silvio Tramontin, Paolo Prodí, Ottavia Niccoli, and many others have been suggestive of the direction which Bowd has pursued in this excellent study. Bowd's focus is upon Vincenzo Querini and his friends, Tommaso Giustiniani and Gasparo Contarini, all Venetian patricians who pursued a spiritual journey as they served the Serenissima.. In the strict sense this book is not a biography of Querini, as the author notes, although Querini is the major figure in the pursuit of reform of the Roman Catholic Church before Luther. This work presents the reader with far more than biographical facts. Through the details of Querini's life (1478-1514) the reader is brought into the world of humanism, scholarship, and politics in the sixteenth century. Bowd demonstrates clearly how the specific aspects of Querini's life are related to his spiritual search and to the larger question of reform. In a carefully argued introduction the author sets forth the whole plan of the book. It was not the dire circumstances in which Venice found herself after her defeat at Agnadello by the assembled forces of the League of Cambrai that impelled Querini to seek the solace of the monastery. As early as 1501 Querini and Giustiniani had pledged to be chaste. The choice was not easy for Querini as he struggled with the reconciliation of chastity and civic life and duty. It was not despair with earthly life, however, which was the basis for his desire to withdraw from the world, but rather a profound love of Jesus Christ. Querini followed his friend Giustiniani into the monastery at Camaldoli in 1511. Gasparo Contarini warned Querini of the anger that his decision had evoked among some of the Venetian patriciate who accused him of disloyalty in abandoning his city in her time of need. The author gives an interesting account of the financial difficulties of Querini as he prepared to enter the monastery. The circumstances of many Venetian patricians were so extreme in 1511-1512 after the crushing defeat at Agnadello in 1509 [End Page 117] that it was often necessary to sell their personal effects including clothing. In spite of the difficulties Querini and Giustiniani tried to draw as many of their friends as possible to Camaldoli. Gasparo Contarini, on the other hand, hoped for salvation as well as tranquility in the city.
Dowd gives a balanced view of monasticism and monastic reform, the intellectual catalyst in the early Middle Ages; by the sixteenth century, however, the health of monastic life was less encouraging. Querini wanted to reform the organization of the Order which he had set out to do even before his ordination, by calling together a chapter meeting in Florence, much to the dismay of Pietro Dolfin and Francesco Soderini, protector of the Order. The hermits, aided by Giovanni de' Medici, the apostolic legate concerned with the Order, quickly obtained permission to summon a chapter meeting to consider "... union of monasteries into one body" (p. 115). Dolfin and Soderini were successful in thwarting the plans of Giustiniani and Querini. On July 4, 1513, however, Pope Leo X granted a privilege which allowed sweeping reforms in the Camaldolese order. All of the houses were to be brought into one body under San Michele di Murano and would be administered by prelates.
In May of 1513 Giuliano de...