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The Catholic Historical Review 88.2 (2002) 314-316

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Book Review

Die Erforschung der Kirchengeschichte:
Leben, Werk und Bedeutung von Hubert Jedin (1900-1980)

Die Erforschung der Kirchengeschichte: Leben, Werk und Bedeutung von Hubert Jedin (1900-1980). Edited by Heribert Smolinsky. [Katholisches Leben und Kirchenreform im Zeitalter der Glaubensspaltung, 61.] (Münster: Aschendorff Verlag. 2001. Pp. vii, 116. DM 34,-.)

Hubert Jedin was probably the most important historian of the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century. He established his reputation in 1937, as a young man of thirty-seven, with his two-volume work on Girolamo Seripando, the theologian, prior general of the Augustinian order, cardinal, and papal legate to the last period of the Council of Trent. His four-volume history of that council, completed in 1975 and exemplary in its thoroughness and respect for the sources, is and will remain for about as long as one can imagine the standard work on the subject. The first two volumes, which appeared in 1949 and 1957, shattered the stereotype of a council going about business as usual and subservient to the will of the reigning pope. The ten-volume Handbook of Church History that he edited remains the most thorough such survey available in English, and it has served teachers well as they scramble to put together materials for a class that begins in a half-hour. These works are only the tip of the iceberg in a career where the quality of the scholarship is as impressive as the quantity. Although his formal teaching career was short, he directly and indirectly influenced several generations of students in Germany and Italy. He was a peritus at Vatican Council II. After his retirement in 1965 he spent nine months at the Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin. As Joachim Köhler in the present volume says of him, with perhaps slight exaggeration, Jedin was one of the great figures of the Catholicism of the twentieth century (p. 70). [End Page 314]

In 1980, the year he died, he was honored with a volume of the Annali dell'Istituto storico italo-germanico in Trento that reviewed his career and achievement. The current volume is a collection of papers read at a conference in Bensberg in 2000 commemorating the hundredth anniversary of Jedin's birth. Although there is considerable overlap between the two volumes, the authors are, with one exception, different, and those in the current volume obviously feel freer to criticize Jedin than did their colleagues a generation earlier. The multiple authorship in both volumes has the advantage of providing a variety of perspectives on Jedin. It also means that in neither volume is there a single piece that pulls the materials together and offers a comprehensive critique.

We need to be grateful, nonetheless, for what we are served. In the present volume the first contribution by Raymond Kottje is the most detailed study available on Jedin as a young man up until his escape in 1939 to Italy from Nazi Germany. This account through some new details puts flesh on information about Jedin already well known, and it make slightly less mysterious the emotional tensions Jedin suffered especially just after his ordination to the priesthood that almost led to a breakdown. The third contribution, by Kohler, deals with the impact that Jedin's homeland, Silesia, had on him, with his anguish over the fate it suffered at the end of the war, and with his dismay at the Vatican's failure to speak out against it. These are the two most biographical contributions, both somewhat dependent on Jedin's own Lebensbericht.

Giuseppe Alberigo describes and assesses Jedin as an historian. He shows how Jedin tried to move German historiography of the Reformation era beyond the German framework that held captive both Catholic and Protestant historians, and how he especially wanted to move Catholic historians beyond apologetics. As much as Alberigo admires Jedin, he correctly calls attention to his failure to appreciate social history and even religious history (as distinguished...


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