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War and the Supernatural in Early Modern Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - War and Supernature (War and the Supernatural in Early Modern Europe)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2017-08-31

Religious warfare deeply marked Europe’s experience of early modernity. The German Peasants’ War (1524-5), Schmalkaldic Wars (1546-7, 1552-5), French Wars of Religion (1562-1598), and Thirty Years War (1618-1648) are only the best known of the many sixteenth and seventeenth-century wars in which religious rights and duties were central points of conflict.

The debates of intellectuals both Catholic and Protestant have much to tell us about the nature of this early modern religious warfare. Conducted inside Europe’s universities in the Latin language, these debates have previously been dismissed as irrelevant to the real world, but those universities were wealthy and prestigious institutions, very often intimately connected to government, and Latin served as Europe’s international learned language, so that scholars in Edinburgh, Heidelburg, and Salamanca could participate in the same conversation across national and confessional boundaries. Historians can gain profound insight into the dynamics of religious conflict from the study of the weighty Latin volumes that preserve these international debates and conversations.

It is especially important that the small numbers of radical Catholics and Protestants who favoured imposing their own version of Christianity on others by force were accused by moderates (no less religiously sincere) within their own communities of promoting wars incompatible with Christian orthodoxy. Religious faith, the moderates on all sides insisted, was a supernatural thing, a gift of God, rather than a natural thing, a creation of rational humans, and thus could not be imposed by force. Arguments for religious war in the sense of evangelisation by force were thus resisted by most of the educated European elite. The popular stereotype of a European continent dominated by hordes of religious fanatics flinging themselves mindlessly at each other is thus entirely misconceived. And even political historians examining the phenomenon of early modern religious war sometimes impose the modern categories of sacred (which they associate with the irrational) and secular (which they posit must be drained of the divine) on the past, mistakenly assuming that those who opposed evangelisation by force were somehow more secular than their opponents and composing a false history of secularisation on Europe’s early modernity.

Over four years, the project team will analyse, translate, edit, and publish these scholastic debates between religious militants and religious moderates on the role of force in religious life in order to inform and re-shape arguments among political historians on the nature of European religious warfare. It will attend both to those Franciscans who built on the theology of John Duns Scotus, and also to the Calvinist intellectual tradition; both groups were accused by their contemporaries of bring the supernatural too far into human life and endangering the natural sphere. Our aim is to compose a new trans-confessional history of Christian militancy in early modern Europe.

War and the Supernatural in Early Modern Europe (acronym, War and Supernature) is a European Research Council Starting Grant 2015 – 677490. It began in 2016 and it will conclude in 2020.
During this first period of our project, we have assembled an accomplished project team, and begun our weekly translation seminar, set up our website, held our first international advisory board meeting, made great progress with our editions of early modern texts, and made progress also with our personal research projects.

The Principal Investigator has assembled a team comprising the postdoctoral fellows Dr Floris Verhaart and Dr Todd Rester, and the PhD student Ms Karie Schulz. Dr Verhaart studied Classics and Slavic Languages at the universites of Leiden and Cambridge, and completed his D.Phil thesis at the University of Oxford in 2016. After working previously in the natural sciences, Dr Rester defended his doctoral thesis at Calvin Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, MI, USA) in 2016. Ms Schulz graduated summa cum laude from Hillsdale College with a BA in American Studies and German in 2014, and took her MA from Queen’s University Belfast in 2015. During this period the PI also drew up a project website for communication with the profession and the general public:

This strong team has begun its weekly term-time seminar meetings in October 2016, at which Dr Verhaart and Dr Rester present their translations of works by sixteenth and seventeenth century Catholic and Protestant scholastics. The other members of the project team, members of staff and graduate students from the School of History, and scholars from across the university then criticise these translations, and the final versions that result from this process are much stronger than could be produced by scholars working alone. This weekly seminar is vital for the general esprit de corps of the project team as well as for practical local information exchange. This local information exchange was reinforced on 19 June 2017 when we held our first International Advisory Board Meeting, and we able to receive valuable feedback on our work from a prestigious body of international scholars, including Dr Sarah Mortimer, Dr Jacob Schultz, Dr Richard Serjeantson, and Professor Brad Gregory.

In May 2017, we agreed with Routledge that our two volumes of edited primary sources, currently entitled Reformed Politics beyond Calvin: Reformed Intellectuals on War and Politics and Beyond Aquinas: Franciscans and Scotists on War and Politics in the Counter Reformation, will be published in their series Routledge Studies in Renaissance and Early Modern Worlds of Knowledge, edited by Dr Harald E. Braun, and that these volumes will be completed during 2020.

Each member of the team also has personal research to pursue. The PI is writing a history of early modern Scotist political thought, and during this period he has identified primary sources, reviewed secondary literature, and begun to compose an analysis of the relationship between Scotist doctrines of forced baptism and Scotist doctrines of holy war. Drs Verhaart and Rester have identified personal research topics to do with the relationship between faith and violence in early modern Europe. Ms Schulz has begun to write her Phd thesis, currently titled ‘The Reception of Calvinist Resistance Theory in Early Seventeenth-Century Scotland and England’. All members of the team have participated in a range of international conferences to publicise their research and test their conclusions.

We are currently in the advanced stages of planning a major international conference to take place in Belfast in June 2018 which will take ‘War and the University in the Sixteenth Century’ as its theme.
So far, Dr Verhaart and Dr Rester, with the occasional input of the project seminar, have translated substantial extracts, generally about 10,000 words in length, from important but neglected sixteenth and seventeenth century scholastics like David Pareus, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Guillaume du Buc, Lambert Daneau, John Punch, Juan Focher, John Mair, Anthony Hickey, and indeed John Duns Scotus himself.

Making these authors available in English translation will change very much the ways in which sixteenth and seventeenth century religious violence is discussed.

Working on these translations is also feeding our personal researches, and vice versa. For example, until I had begun to work on John Punch, and read the excellent work by Sylvain Piron and Elsa Marmursztejn on John Duns Scotus and his advocacy of the forced baptism of Jewish children, I would not have placed Scotus’s arguments on the obligation of the Christian prince to intervene in non-Christian families at the core of Scotist politics, and would not have thought to have included this in our volume of extracts. But now I see that Piron and Marmursztejn are quite correct, and the inclusion of Scotus, and Hickey’s commentary on Scotus, is essential to our volume on the Scotists and politics.